Japan: Where has all the butter gone?

Where is the butter? — cry Japanese consumers who have been hunting everywhere for the dairy product. The drastic reduction in raw milk production, complicated by hikes in the price of grain as well as changes in the global patterns of dairy product consumption, have caused a serious butter shortage in Japan. Empty shelves in the dairy section of grocery stores across the country have not seen a shipment of butter for days, and stores are posting signs apologizing for the shortage.

Butter shortage
An empty shelf at a grocery store with a sign explaining that the management does not know when the next shipment of butter will come.

While many bloggers complain about the shortage and the inconvenience caused by it, the blogger at Bebe Kobo, who operates a small-scale family-run dairy farm, gives their insight into the problems the dairy farmers are facing, which have resulted in this butter shortage:


As has been covered in TV and newspapers, the shortage of butter is serious.


The cause of the shortage, as reported already, is said to be the shortage of milk.
The consumption of milk has been stagnant, and in 2006 milk was seen being disposed of in Hokkaido. Also, a large number of cows were slaughtered.
Before that, they could not get rid of powered skim milk, so dairy farmers were forced to buy powered skim milk in big bags the size of cement bags, such that the cost was deducted from their pay checks through the co-op. Also, at the year-end, they were forced again to buy a huge amount of butter with money deducted from their pay check (which seems unbelievable today).


The stagnant consumption of milk — there are a few causes. There are many different kinds of soft drinks. Milk consumption at school is decreasing because of the low birthrate. Allergies, and some people who are not even allergic but frantically make milk sound like a bad thing… I found some terrible blog(s) that put down milk and said that they hoped that dairy farmers would vanish.


In particular, a book by Shintani Hiromitsu titled “The lifesyle that does not make you sick” from Sunmark Publishing. It was a remarkable hit.
This book was written from a point of view that says that “milk is bad”, something which made not only dairy farmers but also sensible academics angry, and also critically damaged the image of milk that was already suffering the sluggish consumption.


The consequences of mass slaughtering of cows certainly hit consumers directly. The butter shortage is one of these consequences.
For a calf to grow old enough to produce milk, it takes more than 2 years.
You cannot go against natural law.


Dairy products are not chemical products. If the structure for raising cows in a healthy manner does not function, things like shortages in butter happen frequently.
I sincerely ask you consumers for your understanding.

Then in a different entry posted on a later day, the blogger lists the major factors cause the current butter shortage.

1 EU加盟国(フランスなど)が乳製品の輸出のための補助金が付かなくなり、従来日本などに輸出されていたバターが国内消費に回されていること、中国やロシアやインドなどの生活水準が上がり、そちらにバターなどが流れているという事情も輸入バターの不足に繋がっています。

1. In the EU countries (such as France), dairy export is no longer subsidized, and butter that has previously been exported to Japan and other countries is now been allocated to domestic consumption. Also, the fact that people's living standards in China, Russia, and India have been rising and that butter has been diverted to these places, has caused a shortage of imported butter.

2 加えて豪州は2年連続の大干ばつ。酪農家の飼料代高騰の大きな原因になっている他バターなどの輸出量に影響を及ぼしています。

2. In addition, Australia has been experiencing the Big Dry for two consecutive years. This has not only caused a rise in feed prices but has also affected the amount of butter exported.

3 国内事情は前の日記に書いたように牛乳不足でうまくバターなどに牛乳が回りません。

3. The domestic situation is that, as I wrote in my diary before, milk is not allocated sufficiently because of the shortage of milk.
Also, because skim milk is produced when butter is made, if powdered skim milk cannot be sold then stockpiles build up, creating a situation in which the quantity of butter produced cannot be increased all at once.
For example, things like canned coffee taste better when fresh milk is added instead of skimmed milk, and so the supply of fresh milk is diverted for this, intensifying the fresh milk shortage.


In any case, unless a well-balanced supply-demand measure for dairy products is taken drastically at the national level, I am concerned that the butter shortage will be repeated. All the fuss over butter is one part of the “food self-sufficiency” problem.


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