UPDATE: As our friends at TIME Moneyland have helpfully pointed out, and as economists from Adam Smith on down have long maintained, just because there’s less of something doesn’t mean we won’t be able to get it anymore — it’ll just mean prices will go up. So no, the “unavoidable” global bacon shortage turns out to be pretty avoidable after all. According to TIME’s Brad Tuttle, here’s what’s really happening:
Because this year’s drought wreaked havoc on the world’s corn crops, the price of corn has risen substantially. And because corn is used, among many, many other things, as feed for pigs, it is more expensive for farmers to raise pigs. Farmers pass along those costs to stores, and perhaps even decide that they don’t want to be in the pork business anymore.
The expected damage to consumers? Price hikes of 5 to 10 percent. A blow, but — as much as we love commenter jnemesh’s term for it, below — hardly the Aporkalpse.
Parks & Recreation‘s Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman) has only cried twice. But a problem is looming that could again inspire tears in the small-town parks department director: a bacon shortage.
The European Union reports that pig herds around the world are “declining at a significant rate.” And this could lead to a serious pork (and most crucially, bacon!) shortage — a problem that Britain’s National Pig Association chairman, Richard Longthorp, now warns is “unavoidable.”
“British supermarkets know they have to raise the price they pay Britain’s pig farmers or risk empty spaces on their shelves next year,” he says in a press release.
Oddly, this shortage isn’t coming on the heels of restaurant chains across the world adding copious amounts of bacon to nearly every dish on their menus. Rather, the issue is economic: the ever-rising prices of pig feed are making the business of pig farming a tougher one to manage.
The NPA has launched a “Save Our Bacon” campaign to convince consumers to purchase local bacon, a show of solidarity to persuade supermarket chains to stock the homegrown meat and pay farmers a higher price.
Sow herds have been shrinking across Europe for the last 12 months. Numbers show that Italian herds are down 13 percent, Sweden 7 percent and Ireland 6 percent. The NPA says that declining herds dropping slaughtering rates by even just 2 percent cause prices to increase 10 percent on store shelves the next year. The association anticipates a 10 percent drop in slaughter rates, potentially doubling the cost for pork across Europe.
The issue isn’t reserved to just Europe. In the U.S., the government has created a pork-buying program to ensure pig farmers don’t go under. Even China has added more pork to its cold storage, an insurance against a potential shortage or spiking prices.
As the pork warning signs start coming, consumers won’t likely notice anything for at least six months, as the higher prices filter through the supply chain. With that delay, expect pork shortages and bacon hoarding to get even more intense over the next few months. There’s never a dull day in the world of bacon.