The first Pork War was in the early 1880s between the German and U.S. governments. At that time, Germany started inspections of pork for the roundworms that cause trichinosis, and refused to allow American pork into the country without inspection. (To a degree, this was for health reasons, but it was also to help German pork sell.) Americans pooh-poohed the German public health fears, and argued that it wasn't the government's prerogative to do such food inspection. So Chancellor Otto von Bismarck outlawed American pork imports to Germany entirely in 1881.

Americans couldn't believe that Germany would do such a thing, and called for tariffs on German goods in retaliation. President Chester A. Arthur commissioned a study and found that American hogs did often have the trichinae worms, and after that several bills for pork inspection were introduced into the U.S. Congress. None passed, though, and the U.S.'s pork exports were shrinking rapidly. Despite continued protest that food inspections were not the government's business, the pork industry gradually came to the conclusion that it would be better to allow government inspection so that their product would be welcome anywhere. In 1890, an agreement was reached for mandatory inspection of pork, with the caveat that if inspected American pork was not allowed into Germany, the U.S. would consider blocking German products from the U.S. But instead, Germany dropped its import barriers the next year.

There have been numerous other incidents that have been called a "pork war"; just about any time that a country has raised tariffs on pork (Latvia did this in 1999 to keep out pork imported from Estonia and Lithuania) or done anything to make importing easier (there were demonstrations in the Czech Republic when the European Union was going to subsidize pork exports, but the Czech Republic remedied this by passing protectionist measures). Even Israel has been involved in a pork war, when Russian immigrants wanted to be able to sell pork in their delis in the residential areas of this country where Jewish (and Muslim, for that matter) dietary law rules the stomachs of many residents. Since "pork" is also short for "pork barrel politics," wasteful government spending that benefits only the people who voted for the legislator proposing the spending, crackdowns on government waste are also sometimes called "pork wars."

Carlson, Laurie Wynn. Cattle: An Informal Social History. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

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