ObamaEconomy Jacking Up The Price Of Sweet, Sweet Bacon

Now it’s personal, and, as DrewM points out, it’s a friggin’ brilliant DC idea to turn food and feed into fuel

Mr. Pope is the chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer by volume. He doesn’t mince words when it comes to rapidly rising food prices. The 56-year-old accountant by training has been in the business for more than three decades, and he warns that the higher costs may be here to stay.

Courtesy of? “I’m not going to say, ‘a political policy,'” he tells me. (His senior vice president, a lawyer by training, sits close by, ready to “kick his leg” if his garrulous boss speaks too plainly.) But politics indeed plays a large role, as Congress subsidizes favorite industries and the Federal Reserve pursues an expansive monetary policy.

We’ll ignore the part about Smithfield Foods hiring low income workers, many of who were illegal aliens, um kay?

It’s also a business under enormous strain. Some “60 to 70% of the cost of raising a hog is tied up in the grains,” Mr. Pope explains. “The major ingredient is corn, and the secondary ingredient is soybean meal.” Over the last several years, “the cost of corn has gone from a base of $2.40 a bushel to today at $7.40 a bushel, nearly triple what it was just a few years ago.” Which means every product that uses corn has risen, too–including everything from “cereal to soft drinks” and more.

What triggered the upswing? In part: ethanol. President George W. Bush “came forward with–what do you call?–the edict that we were going to mandate 36 billion gallons of alternative fuels” by 2022, of which corn-based ethanol is “a substantial part.” Companies that blend ethanol into fuel get a $5 billion annual tax credit, and there’s a tariff to keep foreign producers out of the U.S. market. Now 40% of the corn crop is “directed to ethanol, which equals the amount that’s going into livestock food,” Mr. Pope calculates.

Not just Bush, Clinton pushed it too, as have then Senator campaigning for President Obama. This is a D.C. problem of both parties, who are slowly getting wise (too slow) to the hard fact that using food as fuel is a Bad Idea.

Now food price inflation is popping up across the country. A pound of sliced bacon costs $4.54 today versus $3.59 two years ago and $3.16 a decade ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ground beef is $2.72, up from $2.27 in 2009 and $1.74 in 2001. And it’s not just Smithfield’s products: “You eat eggs, you drink milk, you get a loaf of bread, and you get a pound of meat,” he drawls. “Those are the four staples of what Americans eat in their diet. All of those are based on grains.”

Hey, remember when Liberals and wishy washy Republicans gave Sarah Palin a load of guff about food price inflation? Oh, and, hey, remember one of the news sites giving Palin crap was …. The Wall Street Journal, the same outlet the above story is from? Me thinks the WSJ owes Sarah a wee bit of an apology.

Food price inflation isn’t a problem confined to America’s shores. “This ethanol policy has impacted the world price of corn,” Mr. Pope says. The Mexican, Canadian and European industries have “shrunk dramatically. . . . We have an unsustainable meat protein production industry,” he says. “We’re built on a platform of costs, on a policy that doesn’t make any sense!”

Nor does the science. The ethanol industry would supply only 4% of the nation’s annual energy needs even if it used 100% of the corn crop. The Environmental Protection Agency has found ethanol production has a neutral to negative impact on the environment. “The subsidy has been out there since the 1970s,” Mr. Pope says. “If they can’t make themselves into a viable economic model in 40 years, haven’t we demonstrated that this is an industry that shouldn’t exist?”

Darn it, we really need to breed the unicorns to provide fuel quite a bit faster!

Anyhow, what does this all mean? Higher bacon prices!

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