Bacon Shortage Looming. But the new Flexitarians might not Notice…
September 26, 2012
The droughts that ravaged crops across North American and Russia have had a huge impact on the food supply, livestock and farmers but now it may be time to hit the “panic” button – one pig group is predicting a BACON SHORTAGE.
“A world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable,” the National Pig Association in the UK said this week.
The droughts meant less feed to go around and farmers had to take drastic measures. One farmer fed his cows candy to survive, while others have pared their herds. The NPA warned that he number of slaughtered pigs could drop by 10 percent in the second half of next year and that could cause theprice of pork products to DOUBLE.
The group is taking the situation so seriously, they have launched a “Save Our Bacon” campaign.
The price pressures on food and meat are no joke. Recent unrest in the middle east was in large part sparked by rising food prices following droughts in grain producing areas like Russia and Argentina. This year’s crop failure in the US may bring unpredictable consequences in the coming year.
But in an interesting parallel development, US consumers seem to be eating less meat – a trend worth noting due to the impact of industrial animal husbandry on climate, water, and land resources.
Americans eat more meat than any other population in the world; about one-sixth of the total, though we’re less than one-twentieth of the population.
But that’s changing.
Until recently, almost everyone considered their dinner plate naked without a big old hunk of meat on it. (You remember “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner,” of course. How could you forget?) And we could afford it: our production methods and the denial of their true costs have kept meat cheap beyond all credibility. (American hamburger is arguably the cheapest convenience food there is.) This, in part, is why we spend a smaller percentage of our money on food than any other country, and much of that goes toward the roughly half-pound of meat each of us eats, on average, every day.
But that’s changing, and considering the fairly steady climb in meat consumption over the last half-century, you might say the numbers are plummeting. The department of agriculture projects that our meat and poultry consumption will fall again this year, to about 12.2 percent less in 2012 than it was in 2007. Beef consumption has been in decline for about 20 years; the drop in chicken is even more dramatic, over the last five years or so; pork also has been steadily slipping for about five years.
No. It’s not the non-existent federal War on Meat that’s making a difference. And even if availability is down, it’s not as if we’re going to the supermarket and finding empty meat cases and deli counters filled with coleslaw. The flaw in the report is that it treats American consumers as passive actors who are victims of diminishing supplies, rising costs and government bias against the meat industry. Nowheredoes it mention that we’re eating less meat because we want to eat less meat.
Yet conscious decisions are being made by consumers. Even buying less meat because prices are high and times are tough is a choice; other “sacrifices” could be made. We could cut back on junk food, or shirts or iPhones, which have a very high meat-equivalent, to coin a term. Yet even though excess supply kept chicken prices lower than the year before, demand dropped.
Some are choosing to eat less meat for all the right reasons. The Values Institute at DGWB Advertising and Communications just named the rise of “flexitarianism” — an eating style that reduces the amount of meat without “going vegetarian” — as one of its top five consumer health trends for 2012. In an Allrecipes.com survey of 1,400 members, more than one-third of home cooks said they ate less meat in 2011 than in 2010. Back in June, a survey found that 50 percent of American adults said they were aware of the Meatless Monday campaign, with 27 percent of those aware reporting that they were actively reducing their meat consumption.
What’s Driving the Trend?
We needn’t wonder about the cause of this drastic drop, since we can ask the experts themselves. CME Group—one of the world’s largest derivatives exchanges and owner of the Dow Jones Index—issued its own analysis. CME points to increased feed costs, which raise the price of animal products, and revealingly, they also note:
“Add in the efforts of a large number of non-governmental agencies that oppose meat consumption for reasons ranging from the environment to animal rights to social justice and one could conclude that it was amazing that consumption held up as long as it did.”
Exactly. People are choosing to eat fewer animals, and not just to save money—although that’s a compelling reason. The signs to support this idea are all around us.
A Kansas State Study concluded that animal protection campaigns have tangibly reduced demand for poultry and pork; aNation’s Restaurant News cover feature titled, “Veggie-heavy brands see growth in sales, popularity with consumers,” touted the growth in meat-free eating; and a global food-industry consulting service made clear that the campaigns about the problems of mass meat production are “impacting consumer markets.” A USA Today article from March summed it up: “Whether due to rising prices, concern for the environment, or a growing emphasis on health, Americans are eating less meat.” The pressure is being felt all over, and for the first time in decades, our overconsumption of meat is beginning to get reined in.
The Big Surprise
Interestingly, the numbers and headlines aren’t being driven by an influx of new vegetarians and vegans. Last year, a national poll found that the number of vegetarians in America remained at about 5 percent. But the same poll found that a whopping 16 percent of people now eat vegetarian more than half time. In other words, take 50 million people and put them on a so-called “flexitarian” diet, and the shrinking figures for meat consumption start making sense. Put another way, while Americans may not exactly be turning to vegetarianism in droves, tens of millions of people are deciding that the American diet need not be so heavy in animal products. And anyone concerned about animal suffering, the planet, or public health should be able to agree that’s a good thing.