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Forget the ‘crisis’ and enjoy bacon now

'Bacwon't actually be scarce United States. The amount pork available per persAmerictoday 46 pounds is expected drop 44.6 pounds next

"Bacon won't actually be scarce in the United States. The amount of pork available per person in America, today 46 pounds, is expected to drop to 44.6 pounds next year," said Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice president of the American National Pork Board.

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Updated: November 4, 2012 6:06AM

Now’s the time to invest in pork-belly futures. No, don’t call your broker (the Chicago Mercantile Exchange phased out bellies last year), visit your grocer.

The price of bacon, pig producers warn, will shoot up next year. We’re not advocating hoarding, but some stocking up on pork seems prudent.

“A world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable,” the British National Pig Association warned last week. European Union herds have been cut by an average 5.2 percent, according to the trade association.

Farmers globally have been thinning herds because of massive increases in the cost of pig feed, a result of the summer’s droughts. All protein prices will go up, but pork will be most expensive because pigs eat mainly corn and soybeans, two crops that were hard hit. (Beef cattle mostly eat grass, up until they’re fattened for market.) Higher costs to raise swine and fewer hogs on the market mean you can expect less bacon for your buck in 2013.

Bacon won’t actually be scarce in the United States, said Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice president, communications, for the American National Pork Board. The amount of pork available per person in America, today 46 pounds, is expected to drop to 44.6 pounds next year, according to Cunningham.

But demand is high. America’s ever-fattening taste for pork has expanded bacon-enhanced menu items by some 60 percent since 2001. Diners dote on such dishes as bacon-fat popcorn topped with bacon at Revolution Brewing, 323 N. Milwaukee; the “bacon bomb” (pork and beef sausage wrapped in bacon) at Paddy Long’s Beer and Bacon Bar, 1028 W. Diversey, and bacon-bourbon truffles at Katherine Anne Confections, 2745 W. Armitage; not to mention bacon pie at Bakers Square and bacon sundaes at Burger King.

No wonder Joanna Pruess wrote in her 2004 cookbook, Seduced by Bacon (The Lyons Press, $24.95), “Bacon is far more than a food. Can it be a religion?”

The Pork Board calculates that “in 2012, we expect to slaughter 112,569,000 pigs — which when extrapolated out would result in about 2,347,907,918 pounds of bacon.” Foodservice outlets, which purvey about 43 percent of the bacon eaten in this country, used 1.3 billion pounds of cured pork bellies last year.

“The belly used to be a drag on the market,” Cunningham said. No more.

USDA figures put the average advertised price of a pound of bacon at $4.27 last week. That’s down from $4.82 in September 2011, likely a temporary drop due to extra pigs hitting the market as farmers cut down their herds. Once the impact of lower porcine production kicks in, though, prices will rise.

“Any reductions in per capita supplies in 2013 are virtually certain to push retail prices to new record levels,” Cunningham predicted.

You can hedge your piggy passion a bit, but don’t try to fill your freezer with enough bacon to last till the prices drop — that’ll likely be in 2014. The USDA advises that bacon can be frozen only up to four months before quality begins to suffer.

So what’s a bacon lover to do?

Go hog wild while you can still afford it, and pig out now.

Leah A. Zeldes is a local free-lance writer.

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