America's new problem: Pigs that are too porky

Americans hoping to pig out on holiday ham this year may be out of luck. American pigs are now too fat to make for good ham.

The bizarre turn of events started earlier this year as a lethal virus spread throughout pig herds, killing millions of piglets. Farmers decided to make up for the shortage by feeding their surviving pigs for longer, thinking that more pork poundage would lead to more money from sales.

That was a fine idea in theory. Hogs are fatter than ever, weighing an average 215 pounds each, and are bringing in hefty revenue this year. But here's the problem: The pigs' legs grew much larger than the size Americans are used to.

People prefer the 7-pound half ham in a spiral cut for their holiday celebrations -- and these days, a 7-pound half ham is hard to find. Half hams are clocking in now at a meaty 12 to 13 pounds, which is far too big for American celebrations.

They're awfully expensive, too. The retail price of ham has soared 26 percent to a record $3.43 a pound. Blame that cost increase on that deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which reduced the number of pigs available for slaughter this year by 5.2 percent.

So, fewer hams are on the market this year because of the virus, and the ones that are for sale are jumbo-sized and will drain a holiday food budget. What's an American family to do?

One option is passing bacon around the dinner table instead, although that may not hold much appeal for holiday diners. Those fatter pigs are producing more pork bellies, which are used to make bacon, and the wholesale price is down 27 percent over the last year to 93 cents a pound.

American pigs were the butt of plenty of jokes on Twitter Thursday as news of their huge hams spread. "Even the things that make Americans fat are too fat," wrote one user. "Further proof there's absolutely nothing wrong with the U.S. food system," wrote another.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.