There is a bacon shortage in the United States. Let that sink in for a minute, and then hear it again. There aren't enough piglets in the United States to produce enough bacon. Vegetarians everywhere are laughing at the plight of carnivorous breakfast lovers. A strange virus that is killing baby pigs by the millions is truly disrupting the lifestyles of many Americans, who recognize the importance of bacon.
The virus, which does not affect humans or other animals, has caused a diarrhea epidemic amongst the pig population of the U.S., which quickly dehydrates the young animals, leading to death. Porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) is particularly potent in cold weather, and consequently, the number of pigs affected has skyrocketed since December. And you thought all you had to fear from the Polar Vortex was the cold.
PED has spread to 27 states since it was reportedly first introduced in May, with speculation that it originally came from China. However, scientists are still unclear as to how the virus managed to travel across the ocean to the States, and the pork industry has dedicated $1.7 million to researching the disease. Thus far, the estimated death toll attributed to PED stands between 2.7 and 6 million pigs. Moreover, the disease seems to be spreading quickly, with reports from Canada and Mexico of similar problems.
The U.S. is one of the largest producers and exporters of pork, and the pig shortage has already driven up prices by 10 percent or more. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the $5.46 per pound price of bacon today is a 13 percent increase from prices one year ago. Given that the overall pig population has already shrunk 3 percent, it seems that prices will only go up.
PED's effect on piglets is especially unfortunate because pigs take about six months to reach market maturity, which means that if piglets are dying after only a few weeks, it will take a significant amount of time to replenish the American pork stock. While farmers and scientists are searching for a vaccine, the federal government has yet to approve one for use.
Ultimately, while farmers are certainly taking some financial stress from their pigs' untimely death, rising pork prices will cover their costs. Unfortunately, it is the bacon-loving consumer who will have to take the brunt of the hit, with prices this summer projected to be 10 percent higher than they were last year.
Anyway, bacon may be bad for fertility, so maybe this shortage isn't all bad. Guess now's as good a time as ever to see what it's like to go on a meatless diet.