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Tossed Out

Hog virus causing spike in price of bacon

Hog producer Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill., lost one full month of piglets to the PED virus. (Peter Gray/Harvest Public Media)
Hog producer Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill., lost one full month of piglets to the PED virus. (Peter Gray/Harvest Public Media)

Shoppers are already paying more for pork and bacon than they did last year and many economists expect those prices to continue climbing for the next few months.

Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, watches the market for lean hog futures– the anticipated price of hogs heading to market soon. The futures price hit record-highs in early March, Hurt said, which will translate to expensive and bacon in the supermarket in the coming months.

“Our most recent data on pork is it’s up about 4.5 percent versus a year ago at the grocery store,” Hurt said. “Bacon is at about 8 percent higher. And I think those percentages are going to grow into the spring and summer,” he said.

It’s mostly thanks to Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PED). The virus, which first appeared in the U.S. in March of last year, has been devastating to newborn pigs, which have a weaker immune system.

Hog producers are reporting widespread losses from PED, but the government doesn’t issue real-time counts of all the lost pigs. The uncertainty in supply triggered the recent wild speculation in the hog market and is causing the record-high prices. 

Once they contract the disease, piglets can’t properly digest milk from their mother, and millions in the U.S. have died as a result. The disease isn’t transmittable to humans. A PED vaccine for hogs  is still going through the formal approval stage.

While the prices of products other than meat have largely been holding steady so far this year, if you’re thinking about pork for a summer barbecue, you may want to brace for some “sticker shock” at the butcher’s counter.

 

More: Virus continues to rip through hog farms