Say goodbye to bacon and hello to fake meat.
Internet bacon mania has been waning for a while. Since President Trump’s trade war with China created a bacon glut last year, fast food makers have revived the trend IRL by putting the cured pork product on everything. But infection and economics are poised to end epic bacon time once and for all. Don’t worry: there’s already a meat lined up to replace it. The internet went gaga for bacon thanks to aggressive marketing from the food industry. With soy prices bottoming out, food industry marketers are already trying to tempt internet users and fast food fans with soy-derived meat.
A pig disease outbreak in China is destroying the world’s pig population. While African swine fever isn’t harmful to humans, it’s devastating to pigs, spreads rapidly and has no cure. China produces half of the world’s pork supply and consumes 60% of it. The Chinese pig population dropped by 20% two months in a row in February and March and the Dutch bank Rabobank predicts that it will drop by 30 or 40% in 2019 overall.
Over 60% of meat consumed in China is pork. With China’s 1.386 billion people eating an average of nine million tons of pork per month, international pig sellers are rushing in. Nikkei Asian Market reported that French pork exports jumped 51% due to the outbreak.
While China clamors for pork, soy prices have plummeted. Chinese pig farmers use soy as feed. With ASF decimating pig herds, there are far fewer snouts to feed.
The U.S. is the world’s second largest pork exporter after the EU. But Trump’s trade policies prompted the Chinese government to impose a 62% tariff on American pork. But the pork problem’s growing and already likely bigger than China’s reporting. The USDA warns that the notoriously secretive Chinese government has vastly underestimated the African swine fever’s death count.
China’s insatiable demand for pork could be a boon for American farmers, commodities brokers, exporters and more. And with Trump needing every vote he can get in 2020, it seems likely something will give on Chinese trade agreements.
If China starts gobbling up American pork, it’ll have a direct effect on your drive-thru order. First, dash all hopes for the McRib’s return. McDonald’s scarcest sandwich appears to be tied, in some inscrutable way, to pork prices.
While the McRib will stay elusive, Baconators and other cured pork-sporting fast food items could likewise grow scarce after a short period of abundance. In January, after Trump’s trade deals with pork-loving countries like Mexico and China slashed pork prices, McDonald’s went hard on bacon. If pork belly prices rise, they’ll surely walk back the bacon options.
The internet’s love affair with bacon, already on the wane, will probably vanish too. The internet’s embrace of epic bacon culture was propelled by a pork industry marketing push. Since the pork industry will have all the demand they can handle, the artificial celebration of salt and fat will cease sizzling.
And while bacon’s off the viral internet marketing menu, soy is primed to take its place. The price of pork doesn’t rise alone: chicken and beef are expected to become more expensive with it. But, as noted earlier, the price of soy is bottoming out as the need for soy in pig feed flatlines. That’s a big profit margin opportunity for fast food makers in a time when profit opportunities are scarce.
Soy is going to be a tough sell, considering how angry online conservatives adopted “soy boy” as an insult for liberals. But while soy is tough to sell, it’s not impossible. And that’s what we’re seeing with the impending national rollout of Burger King’s soy-derived impossible burger.
Allegedly, Impossible Foods, the company behind Burger King’s new meatless burger, creates fake meat that’s indistinguishable from the real thing. Thanks to a canny combination of science fiction allure and environmental-friendliness, Impossible and the non-soy derived meat substitute beyond burger has attracted high profile investors like Bill Gates and Google as well as positive media attention.
Reddit comments about Impossible Meat and Beyond Burger mix enthusiasm with skepticism, as the following comment sums up: “When I see this post and all the top comments are mentioning Impossible Burger by name and with proper capitalization, well, draw your own conclusions.” But if soy prices drop and stay low, we better get used to astroturfing campaigns as they will be many more to come.
The rise of fake meat isn’t a bad thing. Meat and dairy account for 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions but only providing 18% of the world’s calories. reducing beef consumption would be an enormous environmental boon. Still, it’s important to remember that the coming online enthusiasm for fake meat will be as artificial as the meat itself. If soy prices rise, stick with impossible burgers when online marketers try to make bacon epic again.