Why Japan’s Butter Supply is Declining: Butter Shortages in Japan Explained

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  • Butter has been a staple in Japan, and every year, the Japanese consume about 70,000 to 80,000 tons of butter with 10,000 tons of the total consumption being imported. In part of 2015, the sale of butter in Japan had again been limited to only one item per customer. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, the shortage of butter in the country has been recurring since 2008.

    Japan Butter Blues

    Butter Production and Distribution in Japan

    butter shortage factory

    Most of Japan’s butter supply comes from Hokkaido. Butter is produced by separating extracted raw milk from cows into skim milk and cream in a centrifuge. The cream is pasteurized, churned and kneaded into butter while the skim milk is dehydrated into a powder. About four liters of milk are required to produce 200 grams of butter. There are 10 regions in Japan that collect raw milk. The collected milk will then be sold into dairy industry companies. About 90% of the collected raw milk for butter production comes from Hokkaido, producing around 115,000 tons of raw milk this year. Since 1966, Hokkaido has been designated by the government to produce and distribute butter to Tokyo and other urban areas around Japan.

    butter shortage box

    Declining Butter Supply

    One of the main reasons why butter shortages kept recurring in Japan is the low priority given by the government on butter production. The government gives a higher priority to fresh milk because of its high demand and because of the fact that butter can be stored for a longer period of time. However, the fluctuations in raw milk production have greatly affected the production of butter in Japan leading to the decision of importing more butter from other countries.

    Another reason is the growing number of dairy farmers quitting dairy farming because of the difficulty to profit from the production. With the proposal of the Trans-Pacific partnership (TPP) trade, more dairy farmers will be affected by the competition and may be forced to quit because the TPP will allow the import of butter from other countries such as New Zealand and Australia.

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