NEWS:   The federal government has removed bacon, pork chops, pork links, ham and all other pig products from the national menu for 206,000 federal inmates.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, as quoted in the Washington Post, the move had nothing to do with religious dietary restrictions (Muslim or Jewish) and was purely about prisoners’ lack of interest in eating pork products:

The Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for running 122 federal penitentiaries and feeding their inmates three meals a day, said the decision was based on a survey of prisoners’ food preferences:

They just don’t like the taste of pork.

“Why keep pushing food that people don’t want to eat?” asked Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the prison bureau. “Pork has been the lowest-rated food by inmates for several years,” It also apparently got more expensive for the government to buy, although he did not provide specifics.

Ross said that based on annual surveys of inmates’ food preferences, pork lost its luster years ago. To wit: In the last two years, the federal prison menu dropped to just two pork products, he said.

“And we were paying more than what we’d like to pay,” Ross said.

“People are more health conscious these days,” he said. “Some people choose to be vegetarian or vegan. That’s their preference.” As of last week, the prison menu had added an “economically viable” turkey bacon substitute.

Observant Muslims and Jews are forbidden to eat pork, and the prison system has long made accommodations for them by providing alternatives to pork and halal and kosher foods. Ross declined to say whether there has been an increase in Muslim or Jewish inmates in recent years and whether that may have factored into the survey responses.

Those in the pork industry expressed skepticism of this explanation:

The National Pork Producers Council isn’t buying it. “I find it hard to believe that a survey would have found a majority of any population saying, ‘No thanks, I don’t want any bacon,’” said Dave Warner, a spokesman for the Washington-based trade association, which represents the nation’s hog farmers.

“We’re going to find out how this came about and go from there,” Warner said. “We wouldn’t rule out any options to resolve this.” He said the association “is still formulating our strategy” to reverse the prison decision.

Numerous blog headlines reported this item as “Obama Administration Bans All Pork Products from Prison Menus,” but no extant news accounts have documented that this policy decision was made at any level higher than that of the Bureau of Prisons. As expected, though, many spun the news as indicative of the administration’s caving in to the demands of Muslims, despite the lack of any evidence that that was the case:

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights advocacy group, said: “We hope it’s not an indication of an increasing number of Muslims in the prison system.”

Hooper predicted that anti-Islam groups would spin the decision into a case of the federal government acting under pressure from Muslims.

“This is just the kind of thing that drives them crazy,” he said. “It will stoke the fires of Islamophobia based on the usual conspiracy theories.”