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Margaret Brown’s Blog

Tips for Avoiding a Bacon Shortage

Margaret Brown

Posted October 5, 2012 in Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Our increasingly volatile climate has taken it too far. The warm winters and stifling summers are one thing, but not the bacon. NO, NOT THE BACON!

It all started when the National Pig Association of the United Kingdom issued a press release saying “a world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable.” To be clear, this doesn’t mean we won’t have any bacon, only that it will be more expensive. Still, people were quite alarmed.

Why is this happening?

As a result of this summer’s drought—the worst in 50 years—the national corn crop is 13 percent smaller than it was last year. Less corn means more expensive corn, and this isn’t good news for livestock farmers. For example, pig farmers, many of whom operate with already small profit margins, have been unable to afford corn feed at these higher prices and, as a result, have had to significantly downsize their herds.

So this means that while we’ve got plenty of bacon for now, next year we may not be so lucky. And droughts like the one we experienced this year are likely to become the norm instead of the exception.

In an effort to keep public panic at bay, I bring you three simple tips to avoid ever being without bacon.

1.       Get that pig out on some pasture and mix it up--their diet, that is.

Unlike ruminant animals—such as cows and sheep—pigs respond well to corn. But like anything, it should be eaten in moderation. Pastured pig farmers vary significantly in their feeding practices, based on the regional ecosystem and local agricultural products. Still, the basic idea is the same: allow your pig access to fresh air and natural forage, feed them a variety of foods, and limit their corn intake (it’s expensive, after all!).

 At Spring Lake Farm (pictured above), the pigs eat grass all day. Additionally, farmer Ingimundur Kjarval mixes his own feed using 60-70 percent homegrown hay, some corn, and small amounts of soy and minerals. This gives his products a unique flavor and makes his entire operation more resilient. Now those are some pastured pigs!

Pigs aren’t too proud for leftovers either. In New York, dairy and apples are our largest agricultural products. As a result, pig farmers sometimes feed their pigs whey (byproduct of cheese, butter, or Greek yogurt production) or unsellable apples. It makes for a better tasting pig and also reduces food waste, a significant problem!

2.       Eat everything but the squeal. (According to Wikipedia, this is a common American idiom about sausage making.)

Bacon is great. Really, really great. But pigs have lots of tasty parts. Try to eat less popular cuts as well. Making the most of each pig saves money and stretches our national pork supply a little farther. Lard leaf pie anyone?

3.       Cool it with the bacon wrapped bacon.

Yes, bacon is delicious. Yes, it tastes good on everything. But let’s just calm down a little. We are going through more than 100 million pigs a year. We can’t raise that many pigs on pasture. It is as simple as that.

So there you have it. Three easy steps to make sure you are never without bacon.

Though I’ve written this blog in a carefree tone, the effect of this summer’s drought on our livestock farmers is serious and very worrisome. Our current food system doesn’t work for farmers and it doesn’t work for consumers. Our farmers work hard to produce an enormous amount of food yet they’re struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, we’re facing a national obesity epidemic. We need to change the food system so it works for all of us. At NRDC NY, we’re starting in our region by working to rebuild regional production, distribution, and demand. Learn more about what NRDC is doing to help farmers in the New York region and transform our food system.

 

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Comments

Walter JeffriesOct 7 2012 01:05 PM

Pigs don't need corn, soy or other grain crops. We raise pigs on pasture. The forages make up the vast majority of their diet. We add dairy to that which is primarily the whey, a left over of cheese making from a nearby creamery just over the mountain from us. That supplies the amino-acid lysine. We also grow turnips, beets, pumpkins, kale, rape and such out in our pastures to feed our livestock. This way we're able to successfully raise our ~400 pigs on pasture without commercial feeds or buying grain. The result is a higher quality pork from humanely raised pigs. They're happier and that makes for better meat.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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