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Does the US Actually Have a Pork Surplus?

Tim Nelson
Does the US Actually Have a Pork Surplus?

If you’re a bacon lover who’s been scanning the headlines recently, you might’ve been alarmed by Smithfield Foods’ recent prediction that we’ll be dealing with a pork belly shortage in 2020. Spurred by fears of African swine fever rippling through China’s sizable pig herd, the concern is that there won’t be enough of the pig parts needed for everyone to enjoy their precious bacon.

According to new reporting from Bloomberg, it seems like those fears of a baconless planet might be misplaced— at least for now. U.S. government data released earlier this week suggests that more than 40 million pounds (about 18,000 metric tons) of pork belly were stored in refrigerated warehouses across the country as of September 30. For context, that’s the highest total of unused, refrigerated pork belly that American (factory) farmers have had on hand at any point in time since 1971.

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Naturally, that bounty of pork belly is the product of U.S. producers bolstering their reserves over the course of the summer in response to supply issues in China, where millions of pigs have already fallen victim to African swine fever. U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that the herd of domesticated hogs in the US grew to 77.7 million for the period ending September 1, a record that hasn’t been matched since 1943.

But if you’re outraged by the prospect of so much potential bacon sitting around unused, don’t be. Pork exports— especially to China— are already trending towards record highs, so don’t expect all that perfect pork belly to stay put forever. And if China’s supply continues to be decimated, the trend towards exporting will only accelerate.

For now, the answer is yes, The U.S. currently has a glut of pork, but it’s only a reaction to more global fears of a shortage in the months (maybe even years) ahead. So if you do happen to see bacon on sale at your local supermarket, stock up. Down the road, it might not be as easy to come by.