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Local Businesses Struggle As Pork Prices Soar

May 24, 2019

At small butcher shop Jerry & Son Market in Nanticoke, owners John Gerrity Jr. and his wife Joanne started to see the price of pork increase before Easter and it hasn’t come back down.

“It should be down by now but it isn’t. For how high it is right now, it’s going to go up again because the Fourth of July is hot dog season,” John Gerrity said, while cutting porterhouse steaks Thursday. “We’re losing money.”

Pork prices have increased up to 40 percent as China struggles with a deadly swine disease that has sent shockwaves through global meat markets.

China produces and consumes two-thirds of the world’s pork, but output is plunging as Beijing destroys herds and blocks shipments to stop African swine fever. Importers are filling the gap by buying pork as far away as Europe, boosting prices and causing shortages in other markets.

For the most part, the Gerritys have not yet passed the price increase onto customers at the sixth-generation family meat market, except for the price of scrapple going up 30 cents a pound. They sell about 12 pounds of scrapple a week.

“Right now, we’re trying to hold steady. We don’t try to take anybody over. When suppliers gouge us right before the holidays, we just swallow it and then we pray it comes down,” John Gerrity said. “We’ve been waiting for it to come down for a while. Usually, the week before Easter, people are done processing stuff for the holidays so pork starts coming down. It continued to rise.”

If the price of pork continues to go up, he said they will have no choice but to raise prices for customers.

“We are held hostage,” Joanne Gerrity said. “The good thing on our part is that swine flu isn’t here.”

The Gerritys get their processing pork from the Midwest and pork chops from Hatfield in Pennsylvania.

The U.S. supplies China with pork all the time. Now that China’s suppliers can’t sell pork because of the swine disease, the country is buying more pork from the U.S., they said.

 

“They are buying more now because where they were buying from has that swine flu,” John Gerrity said. “They’re not letting any pork products back in the country from China. If you have American-made pork and it goes to China and gets processed into something, they won’t let that come back in. Normally they would have but they won’t because of the disease. Our government is stopping everything from coming in so we don’t get it.”

African swine fever doesn’t harm humans but is fatal and spreads quickly among pigs. It was first reported in August in China’s northeast. Since then, 1 million pigs have died and the disease has spread to 31 of China’s 34 provinces, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

“The disadvantage is a higher price for us but not the disease for the U.S.,” Joanne Gerrity said, emphasizing they will continue to sell quality meat. “Maybe we have to pay more but we’re not going to be subjected to the disease.”

Rising pork prices also have impacted Stookey’s Famous Bar-B-Que in West Nanticoke, a local staple that has been in business for 93 years.

Owner Ralph Frank said he has seen the price of pork increase by a dime a pound. Selling pork is the core of his business and he buys about 1,000 pounds of pork a week. Seventy-five percent of his business consists of selling the popular pork BBQ sandwiches.

Frank also has not yet increased prices for customers but he said he may be forced to if the cost of pork continues to go up.

“I’ve looked at some of the news stories about pork prices and it does not look good,” he said.

Contact the writer:

dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh

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