Around the world, bacon is a black market currency
What do you do with 100 kilograms of stolen bacon? That’s a question one group of criminals in Marlborough, New Zealand, had to answer last week after stealing over 220 pounds of breakfast meat from a wholesale food retailer. One surprisingly viable option is to trade your stolen bacon for weed. “We’re aware [bacon] is often stolen in large quantities, then sold online through social media,” explained Phil Thomson, CEO of the software security platform Auror, in an email. “And we’ve even seen reports where items like bacon have been used as currency by criminals to barter.”
Criminals in New Zealand are allegedly bartering bacon for pot, and though there’s no concrete cannabis-to-bacon exchange rate, Thomson has some ideas about what you can get from a pack of bacon based on observation. “It’s reasonable to speculate that it’s roughly a ‘packet-for-packet’ exchange,” he explained. In other words, one packet of bacon is good for one packet of weed, likely no more than a couple of grams.
Bacon seems like an impractical black market currency, but there are some clear benefits, specifically the lack of a clear sign of wrongdoing. Stacks of bacon in the fridge, though unusual, aren’t necessarily red flags in the same way stacks of cash might be. Hoarding bacon isn’t technically illegal, after all, and low-level drug dealers in New Zealand are using this to their advantage.
“We’re aware of incidents where police in New Zealand raided a known ‘tinny house’—a house known for casually selling small quantities of cannabis—only to find there was no cash on the premises,” said Thomson, who has worked with police department to prevent robberies in the past. “But they did find freezers stocked full of bacon packets,” indicating that one of the primary currencies for weed in these homes was bacon.
The link between bacon, drugs, and the black market has been well-documented, and it’s a worldwide problem. According to Auror’s research, bacon is “the leading category of theft for grocery retailers. In our experience, that’s not merely because meat is an expensive item, but because it’s worth a fair amount on the black market.” The Global Retail Theft Barometer also highlighted meat as a popular item to shoplift from supermarkets.
Many of the folks allegedly stealing meat from stores are doing so to fund drug habits. In November 2015, Vice profiled a serial bacon thief in Leicester, England who sold his stolen goods on the street and to pubs that then cook and serve the street meat to their customers. The thief, referred to only as Scott, would then take his earnings to buy bags of heroin. After picking up a leg of lamb at Sainsbury’s, Scott told the reporter, “Stick this down your trousers, sell it down the pub, and that's a bag of heroin right there.” Being able to skip the middle step, and trade the bacon directly with dealers for drugs instead of selling to people on the street, sometimes even from the back of vans, makes sense for the shoplifters. If anything, drug dealers in New Zealand are doing the drug users a favor by accepting bacon as cash, saving them an extra step.
But trading bacon for drugs isn’t the only way to make a profit, and according to Thomson, “Offenders will usually try a few different ways to get rid of the meat once it’s stolen, rather than put all their bacon in one basket.” Most of the selling of stolen bacon globally happens face-to-face, and another factor that makes this situation in New Zealand slightly different is the use of social media to unload the surplus. “In this instance, these brazen offenders have offered up all 100kg of stolen bacon on a Facebook page for about a third of the total retail value,” added Thomson, referring to the most recent case in Marlborough.
“One method we’ve observed is where a person will post on a local community group page,” Thomson said. “The meat will be posted as a surplus of ‘a gift’ at a great cash price.” Some back and forth, and you could be the proud owner of a stolen pork roast, because again, it’s hard to prove that these posters are criminals and don’t just have a surplus of bacon.
So if you see someone online offering bacon for a price that seems too good to be true, chances are good that it’s stolen. But if you’re looking for good deal on a dime bag, you might want to get to New Zealand with some bacon in your carry-on.