How can an entire country run out of butter? A shelf displaying butter is almost empty at a supermarket in Tokyo (AP photo / Thinkstock)
How can an entire country run out of butter?
Lexile

When Japanese pose for pictures, instead of saying "Cheese!" some say "Butter!" These days, butter is more likely cause for frowning. It is being rationed.

Grocery stores are limiting each customer to a maximum of two packages of butter. Last week the government announced its latest plan to ease shortages of the dairy spread.

The butter shortfall stems from several factors. They include stressed out dairy cows, aging farmers, rising costs and trade, and price restrictions.

The official reason for short supplies of milk used to make butter is lower output due to unusually hot weather last summer. And fresh milk sells for more per ton than butter. So dairy producers are said to be giving butter short shrift. At grocery stores, butter sections are often bare on shelves crammed with various margarines and other spreads.

Dairying is among many Japanese agricultural industries in decline. Farmers are retiring without heirs willing to take over their farms. Prices for feed and fuel have surged. That has cut into profits.

Japan had 417,600 dairy farms in 1963. As of February, it had 18,600.

Japanese farmers, like those in the U.S. and many other countries, traditionally have been protected from foreign competition. That's to ensure a degree of food self-sufficiency.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to modernize farming and "drill deep" through the country's bedrock of bureaucracy and vested interests. But his government has made little headway.

Tariffs on imports of farm produce average 23 percent. Overall, the government pays a subsidy to dairy farmers of 12.8 yen (11 cents) per kilogram for butter. It pays 15.41 yen (13 cents) per kilogram for cheese.

Dairy farmer Shinjiro Ishibashi is raising about 300 head of cattle. He is counting on the government support. Japan's farm lobby remains a stronghold for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It is reassuring farmers it will continue to look after their interests.

"Mr. Abe says he will preserve our 'beautiful Japan.' And I expect him to do it," said Ishibashi, alluding to Abe's constant praise for Japan's traditional farming lifestyle.

Critical thinking challenge: Why are dairy producers less motivated to produce butter?

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COMMENTS (156)
  • rachelh10503
    12/16/2014 - 11:03 a.m.

    The daily producers are probably less motivated to produce butter because it may be a boring job, or they may be just tired of the job, so they don't make as much butter as they should in the first place.

  • RaelinaH35
    12/16/2014 - 11:12 a.m.

    Why do Japanese people like butter? Why does the cheese cost more than butter? Cheese takes a long time to makes, so I guess that's why.

  • citlallis6503
    12/16/2014 - 12:02 p.m.

    Wow that has to be terrible for the farmers because they farmers and cows. I hope they get more dairy farms next year so the Japanese wouldn't run out.

  • ce2001sparkle
    12/16/2014 - 12:58 p.m.

    The dairy producers are less motivated to produce butter because the job may be boring and not as active. The producers are probably tired of what they have to do everyday.

  • WV2001TacoBelll
    12/16/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    Because we have so much we have a lot of butter and its easy to make so much is made that we don't need that much made if too much is made then what will we do with it

  • TE2001lego
    12/16/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    That a whole lot of cheese for that much people to eat plus not to remind everyone know that mice loves cheese too so make sure that they love cheese so look out.

  • JH2001skate
    12/16/2014 - 01:00 p.m.

    the people who make the butter probably aren't as motivated anymore. Maybe because they aren't making a lot of money or they don't want to do it anymore

  • ct2000green
    12/16/2014 - 01:01 p.m.

    Two sticks of butter, that's so ridicolus. Things may be different in Japan but what about the big buckets of butter are those being cancelled altogether. No matter how you may view this this is also a bad decision because what if you mend butter for most of the food you cook, or for family or holiday occasions.

  • wpapril30
    12/16/2014 - 01:06 p.m.

    the dairy producer less motivated to produce butter is because the government wants more money and pay a subsidy to dairy farmer 11 cent per kilogram for butter.

  • preciousa1028
    12/16/2014 - 01:14 p.m.

    It makes since that Prime Minister Shinzo should try to modernize farming because since the Japanese farmers are getting old they are wanting to quit or retire and since things have changed like technology people would rather do a job which includes that. Having no one to take over for the farmers causes less dairy products to be produce so trying to modernize the equipment and things is a good idea.

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