COLLEGE STATION, Texas –The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recently discussed whether there could be an impending bacon shortage in 2020.
Last month, a Bloomberg report quoted Smithfield Foods Inc. officials saying a pork shortage could happen in the US with the growing demand in China following its African Swine Fever crisis. Smithfield stated that it will still supply the US customers first next year, but the demand from Asia’s largest country could make margins much tighter.
However, David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, said at this point, a pork shortage is more of an expectation than current reality.
“I’m just not convinced yet that these reports aren’t sensationalizing the situation a bit at this point,” he said. “There are contradictory production and economic factors at play in the market, and I think it will take some time to play out.”
Anderson did acknowledge that China will be a new factor for US pork in the foreseeable future. Still, Anderson noted the recent USDA report that US production and pork cold storage supplies are at record levels.
Despite a 62 percent tariff, Chinese demand for pork continues to rise and led to prices so high that US pork remains competitive.
Anderson said the American appetite for bacon continues to grow as well. He cited a National Pork Board (NPB) study that found US consumption of bacon increased 2.4 percent from 2001-2013, with Americans consuming about 1.1 billion servings of bacon annually. NPB also found that bacon is becoming more popular outside of breakfast.
“We’re producing more and more hogs here at home, and pork bellies are only one cut, but we have to remember America’s appetite for bacon,” Anderson said. “Bacon is on everything these days.”
Anderson also said cold storage holdings could indicate bacon-producing companies and restaurants are building supplies in case there is a shortage and prices begin to rise. But he noted that large belly stocks are related to record hog and pork production.
He expects pork belly prices to be “on a rollercoaster for a while now” as the American and Chinese continue to negotiate the needed meat.
“All these stories could be true in the future even though they appear to be at odds with what is going on with production,” Anderson said. “We’ll just have to wait and see if export growth is larger than production growth to the point it cuts into domestic supplies and causes prices to rise here at home.”