The alarming headlines came quickly Wednesday morning: “Now It’s Getting Serious: 2017 Could See a Bacon Shortage.” “Nation’s bacon reserves hit 50-year low as prices rise.” “Everyone Freak Out! America Is Running Low on Bacon.”
And panic people did.
The source of the anxiety was a recent report from the USDA, boosted by the Ohio Pork Council, which reported that the country’s frozen pork belly inventory was at its lowest point in half a century. Pork belly is the source of the greasy meat slices people love to put on everything.
At the end of 2016, the reserves held just 17.8 million pounds, down more than 35 million pounds from the year prior.
“Today’s pig farmers are setting historic records by producing more pigs than ever,” Rich Deaton, the president of the council, said in a statement. “Yet our reserves are still depleting.”
The organization even created a website: baconshortage.com. And many outlets – USA Today, NBC, CBS, Men’s Health and Business Insider – ran with the news.
But the truth is this: The frozen reserves are just that – reserves. There will be no rationing at breakfast, or for your burgers (or BLTs, or quiche, or roasted bacon-wrapped rabbit.)
“To imply that there’s going to be some shortage of bacon is wrong,” said Steve Meyer, the vice president of pork analysis for EMI Analytics, in an interview as the bacon reports spread. “There’s plenty of hogs coming. There’s going to be plenty of bacon.”
Meyer, who also works as a consulting economist to the National Pork Producers Council, did explain that frozen pork belly inventory is down dramatically, and said that the price of belly has gone up 50 cents a pound in the last two months.
“But it’s not as if we’re going to run out of bacon,” he said.
Deaton of the Ohio Pork Council acknowledged in an interview that the creation of baconshortage.com was merely a marketing opportunity.
“If somebody Googled that, they’d get on our website, and the information there is actually to quell the fears that we’re going to run out,” he said. “The demand is high and us pig farmers, not only in Ohio but throughout the U.S., have risen to the occasion and are going to meet that demand.”
To create a panic “was not our intent,” Deaton added with a laugh. “We can’t control how the news is interpreted.”
(A similar panic took hold back in 2012, thanks to clever stoking from the obscure National Pig Association of the United Kingdom; the shortage was debunked then, as well.)
But – we repeat – bacon lovers have nothing to fear. According to Meyer, the United States produces almost 75 million pounds of pork belly every week.
“We’re going to slaughter about 3 percent more pigs this year than we did last year – a record number,” he said. “Bacon production will be higher than it’s ever been.
“We export some of that, but the market for bacon is so good in the United States,” Meyer added, “because everything tastes better with bacon on it.”