Last December, a massive demand for bacon drained the supplies of frozen pork belly in the country, bringing it to a record low. In fact, U.S. bacon reserves are estimated to be at their lowest in 50 years.
The pork industry, however, remains confident that it can meet demand and prevent any serious bacon shortages.
Lowest Pork Belly Supply Since 1957
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that cold-storage pork belly supply dropped to 17.7 million pounds last month, the lowest December stores since 1957 records. In contrast, December 2015 saw over 52.3 million pounds of the meat in storage.
“Veterans of the industry say clearly this is record-breaking stuff,” said market analyst Russell Barton in a Washington Post report.
Non-profit Ohio Pork Council president Rich Deaton confirmed that their reserves of pork belly, the cut from which bacon is made, keep depleting.
“Today’s pig farmers are setting historic records by producing more pigs than ever.”
Stabilizing Prices By Summer
As a result, prices are surging.
According to the council, prices have climbed 20 percent in January. Last Tuesday, wholesale prices were marked at $1.71 per pound or around 37 percent higher at the same time last year, while retail prices have not increased significantly but could still rise as the industry tries to catch up.
For pork industry economist Steve Meyer, the current situation reflects excellent movement of products in the fourth quarter of 2016. He isn’t worried about short-term shortages, foreseeing a pork production hike of around 3 percent in 2017.
Officials also pinpointed higher foreign demand as a factor in the inventory decline, where hog farmers export an estimated 26 percent of their total production.
The likely situation: Bacon may cost a little higher as winter proceeds, but prices should return to stable by summertime.
“Rest assured [the] pork industry will not run out of supply,” Deaton assured.
The pork industry also initiated ways to keep pace with demand, including building new processing plants in the next couple of years. These efforts prove crucial in the face of greater bacon demand in fast food and other restaurants, including in McDonald’s all-day breakfast offering.
So whether one is concerned about his stash of good ol’ bacon at breakfast time or enjoying delicacies such as bacon apple pie, bacon doughnuts, and chocolate-smothered bacon, there is no need to panic just yet, as bacon is likely here to stay.
Potential Health Effects
However, the American favorite is hounded not just by supply issues but also safety concerns, as studies sound the alarm on bacon’s potential health effects. Along with other processed meat products, bacon has been tagged as a potential carcinogen.
In a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, these processed meat products were found to contain "theoretical hazards." In particular, high intake of red meat is identified as carcinogenic and associated with colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer to a certain degree.
The World Health Organization has also slapped a Category One rating, the same classification as cigarette smoking, on bacon, sausage, ham, and other processed meats.