The world’s pork industry has been on the rise since the 1970s, and global production surpassed 110 million tons in 2014. Pork is the world’s most widely-eaten meat by a substantial margin, besting both chicken and beef. The pork industry includes all forms of pig meat, including fresh and processed meats. In fact, 78% of all pork consumed has been processed in some way, being turned into such commodities as bacon, sausage, lunch meats, and other popular products.
China dominates the world pork industry, topping the charts for both pork production and consumption. In 2012, China produced 50 million tons of pork. This accounted for almost half of global production. Despite this, the country still has a regular annual net import of pork. Chinese domestic demand for pork has been increasing since the 1970s and the end of the Cultural Revolution. European Union member nations are collectively the second largest producers and consumers of pork, with the United States being third.
There is a global trend away from small swine farms and toward larger, commercial farms. Swine farms specialize in different areas, and few farms raise their pigs from birth to slaughter. Instead, most focus on either the breeding and raising of young piglets, or for caring for adult pigs until it is time for slaughter. Today most pigs are fed with nutrient-fortified mixes of grains, such as corn, barley, and soybeans. Farmers also differ in the conditions in which they raise their pigs. Some keep their animals in small indoor pens with tightly-regulated temperatures and constant ventilation. Others opt for open barn buildings, and still others send their pigs outside to roam in expansive fields. The latter is still especially popular in Spain, Sweden, and Brazil. A pig is typically considered ready for commercial slaughter when it achieves a weight of 240-290 pounds, or 110-130 kilograms.
Pigs were first domesticated and used for food in China, around 4900 BC, and later in Europe by 1500 BC. Explorer Hernando de Soto brought pigs to the Americas in 1539, where they became quite popular among native groups in North and South America. Historically, the most important distinction in animals utilized in the industry between “lard pigs” and “bacon pigs.” People used the lard from pigs for everything from frying and baking fats to the lubricating of machines, while bacon pigs were for eating. Recently, the swine industry has been able to increase production by using modern advances in science and technology to improve farm efficiency and the living conditions of pigs. Indoor pigs can now benefit from temperature regulation, preventative drugs, ventilation, and nutritiously formulated foods.
Most countries regulate the pork industry with laws against animal cruelty, as well as against certain medicines, hormones, or chemicals. One of the most common supplements given to pigs is ractopamine, which promotes the growth of more lean meat and less fat. This supplement is legal in the United States and other smaller pork-producing countries, but is illegal in China and the European Union. This has made trade between the top three producers more difficult, and some U.S. producers have simply stopped using the supplement so they can more easily export their products and expand their markets. The European Union recently passed a law mandating that pregnant sows must be kept in open barn housing, rather than in individual stalls. For many small operations, rebuilding barns to accommodate this law is too expensive, and estimates say E.U. pork production will fall by at least 5% over the next few years.