The world may have to make do with less bacon in the future. In fact, Britain's National Pig Association, the trade group representing pork producers, is warning that a world-wide shortage of pork and bacon in the year ahead is "unavoidable."
The association has issued data showing that pig herds in Europe are in rapid decline. Producers have thinned their herds to cope with the high cost of feed, which has been driven up by rising commodity prices.
Pushing for higher prices
But the warning also seems to have something to do with the farmers' standoff with British supermarkets over pricing. The retailers, it seems, have been reluctant to raise pork prices to the extent the farmers say is necessary because it might drive away customers.
Still, the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) doesn't completely dismiss the idea of declining pork herds, especially after this summer's drought.
"High feed costs from lower U.S. corn and soybean production is expected to reduce U.S. pork production in 2013," USDA said in a recent Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook. "Per capita consumption of pork products in 2013 are expected to decline by 1.23 percent. Next year, per capita consumption of red meat and poultry is expected to drop below 200 pounds per person for the first time since 1990."
Exports are rising
USDA notes U.S. pork exports increased more than eight percent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2012. In the first 6 months of 2012, China was the third largest foreign destination for U.S. pork products. Exports in 2013 are expected to be about equal to shipments in 2012, meaning there won't be an increase in exports to keep pace with increased demand. It also means any shortage in Europe is not likely to be alleviated by increases in U.S. pork.
In Britain, pork producers say the only way to increase supplies of bacon and other pork products is for consumers to be willing to pay more for it.
"British supermarkets know they have to raise the price they pay Britain's pig farmers or risk empty spaces on their shelves next year," said National Pig Association chairman Richard Longthorp. "But competition is so fierce in the high street at present, each is waiting for the other to move first."