Will we be buying bacon and pork sausages next year?
There could soon be a global pork shortage, and a sharp rise in prices, the National Pig Association warns. But will British consumers be willing to pay more to save their bacon and sausages?
Served as bacon rashers in an English breakfast, roasted with crackling, stir-fried in a noodle dish or used as the key meat in a regional sausage recipe, pork is the most eaten meat in the world.
"Pork has always played an important part in British cuisine," says Phil Brady, spokesperson for the British Sausage Appreciation Society.
Save our bacon
So much so, there are more than 470 recipes and flavours of British sausages in use today.
"We are a nation of pork producers and eaters," says food writer Karen Burns-Booth.
"And the low cost makes it accessible for families for good meals."
But the cheapest of red meats that provides the flavour base for the nation's beloved bangers is under threat.
An escalating crisis in the global pork industry could put an end to "cheap" cuts and bargain pork prices.
Simon Haigh is a partner at the Bolster Moor Farm Shop in Huddersfield, winner of numerous awards for its prime-cut sausages and pork pies.
"There's so many things you can do with pork," he says.
"Bacon, sausages, roasting, frying, grilling. You can do everything."
But home cooks may soon find their pork-based repertoire is more limited.
Drought in the US - the world's largest producer of maize - has caused a global shortage of cereals, which in turn has rapidly driven pig-feed prices up.
Now the cost of producing a pig is "much higher" than the price the farmers can sell their animals for, explains Stephen Howarth, senior analyst at industry experts AHDB-Bpex.
Know your bangers and bacon
- Sausages got their nickname "bangers" during WWII when their high water content often caused them to explode
- Despite popular belief, today's sausages do not need to be pricked as this lets out the flavour. They will only burst if heated too quickly
- Bacon can either be dry cured with a salt based mixture or wet cured by being soaked in brine. Dry curing involves rubbing the meat with salt and then maturing and air-drying it for up to 20 days
- Today different types of cures are used to flavour bacon, such as maple cure and sweet cure, using sugar
It isn't the first time there has been a dramatic rise in the cost of pig-feed. Prices spiked sharply in 2008 and again in 2011, but harvests this year have been particularly bad.
However pork prices at retail level have changed little over the past few years says Mr Howarth, meaning that many farmers are no longer making a profit.
Elsewhere in the EU, the price of pigs has already "gone up quite dramatically" over the past month, partly down to the introduction of new pig welfare regulations, which the UK already observes.
The UK imports about 60% of its pig meat from other EU countries, and the industry is expecting the amount of pork available for importing to be significantly less over the next year.
The National Pig Association warns that unless pork prices go up by a "modest amount now" to keep pig farmers in business, shortages will bring "inevitable record prices" in 2013.
Stephen Howarth says "chances are that there'll be upward pressure on prices" but cautions: "You never quite know what the market will do."
British consumers may love their cooked breakfasts and bacon butties, but will they be willing to fork out extra for their pork?
"Those who were willing to pay would still be able to get it, but some may find it more difficult," says Stephen Howarth.
"It will be interesting to see how they react."
While rising prices would see some shoppers struggling to keep cooking with costly meat, the NPA is urging people to support British farmers by buying Red Tractor logo pork products, even if it means paying a bit extra.
"Shoppers have said in surveys that they'd be prepared to pay a few pence more to buy quality pork and support pig farmers," says Phil Brady.
Stephen Howarth agrees that there "is a section of the population" already looking out for British pork and "prepared to pay a bit extra" for its provenance and to support farmers.
If shoppers find themselves priced out, are there alternatives?
Mr Brady suggests trying out some of the cheaper and "less popular cuts", such as shoulder or belly, "which are in fact some of the tastiest".
"It might actually encourage people to be more adventurous."
But Stephen Howarth says that even traditionally cheaper cuts may become difficult to buy at bargain prices, as supermarkets' special promotions of pork cuts could disappear.
Karen Burns-Booth suggests that shoppers might look to replace fresh pork with "tinned meat products".
However industry experts agree that even if prices soar, pork will still remain the most affordable red meat when compared with beef and lamb.
"It's still good value for money," says Simon Haigh.
"Beef's gone up recently, lamb's gone up recently and it's not really deterred the consumers so I don't see why it should if pork goes up."
Phil Brady agrees: "Pork is the best value of all the red meats. Even if it did go up by a few pence it would still be great value and I'm sure that people will continue to buy it."
The test for pig farmers is if they can survive 12 months in such a difficult economy.
If they can get through that, says Stephen Howarth, "the long-term outlook isn't too bad", if next year's northern hemisphere grain harvest (for pig feed) improves.