Listeners to last week's show know we raise a few hogs each year on the Old
Solar Farm. As our two pigs were nearing full size, the national market
price for a full-grown hog was just $16 per hundred pounds. That's 16
cents a pound-- about the lowest price ever (after adjustment for
inflation). One of our beautiful, 250-pound Duroc hogs, containing a
year's supply of pork for two or more families, is worth only about $40 on
the open market. At that price, farmers lose between $50 and $75 on each
pig they raise. Compare $40 for a whole hog to the cost of a supermarket
ham or a breakfast muffin with sausage! The current price of the pig just
doesn't make any sense.
Recent reports state that the cost for a barrel of crude oil is also near
its lowest ever. One barrel of crude oil, containing 42 gallons of this
non-renewable fossil fuel, costs about $11. Contrast that with the price
of a gallon of spring water, or a quart of motor oil! In the short term,
many experts expect the prices of both oil and pigs to continue to fall,
maybe into the single digits.
Although $40 is a ridiculous price for a hog, it seems more credible that a
hog's worth is equivalent to almost four barrels of oil, which is over 150
gallons. What's going on here?
Both hogs and crude oil have a real value as well as significant
externalized costs that aren't considered or reflected in their current
prices. The similarities between these disparate industries are uncanny.
The combined forces of the market, government subsidies, regulations, and
short-sighted accounting make this situation very destructive to society
and to the environment.
Both industrial hogs and crude oil benefit from enormous government
subsidies and tax breaks even as they cause serious negative environmental
effects. Last month <I>Time Magazine</I> detailed some of the subsidies
enjoyed by one large hog producer. In addition, taxpayers effectively
provide a $36 tax benefit to large producers for every sow they put into
production. Because each female pig produces 20 piglets a year, and the
industry giants have been adding hundreds of thousands of sows, there's a
serious glut of pigs. As the price falls, the government tries to help by
buying pork in large quantities for school children, charity and Russian
aid, resulting in more financial gains for the largest producers.
As for crude oil, in order to insure that the fossil fuel giants can buy it
for $11 in the Persian Gulf, we pay $20 to $30 per barrel in taxes to
defend their ability to buy oil there.
Low, subsidized prices encourage more consumption of both oil and hogs,
which increases their environmental damage. The environmental effects of
burning fossil fuels (climate change and air pollution, to name just two)
and the long-term effects of enormous quantities of pig wastes are
expensive problems caused by these industries that will cost future
Low prices also promote concentration of ownership in both industries. The
Exxon-Mobil Oil merger is a recent example. The increase in the number of
giant farms which can more effectively capture government subsidies and tax
benefits accelerates the loss of small farms and increases problems in the
The average citizen would be at as much of a loss in dealing with a live
pig as with a barrel of crude oil; helpless without the increasingly long
and concentrated chain of processor, wholesaler and retailer required to
get our food and energy.
Fortunately we're not dependent on the mainstream market for hogs. We'll
trade some of this local meat with friends, sell some to folks who
appreciate fresh pork raised outdoors on a mixed diet, without antibiotics
or medications, and we'll keep some for our growing extended family.
We're also fortunate not to have to depend on oil for heating. The sun
streaming through our south windows, supplemented with a wood stove at
night keeps us warm.
Low prices for industrial hogs and crude oil, together with the global
economy and growth-oriented economists, are leading this society on a very
dangerous and destructive path. We need to find ways to feed and power
ourselves with fewer externalized costs.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $12 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are