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, since 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 for "emergency imports" to ease shortages of the 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. Fresh milk sells for more per ton than butter. So dairy producers are said to be giving butter short shrift and, in 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, cutting 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 farmers like Shinjiro Ishibashi, who is raising about 300 head of cattle, count on the support. Japan's farm lobby remains a stronghold for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. While talking up sweeping reforms, it is also 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 (2)
  • Matthew12_
    1/06/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    I find this butter crisis very intriguing for many people take common house hold kitchen item such as this for granted for we use butter in a variety of dishes to give it that extra flavor to it. And now that butter is becoming more rare be because farmers don't produced it, I do believe they should crank up the price for farmers are not motivated to farm butter. They aren't motivated to make it because the price of cheese is barely more money to sell in the market, so farmers would rather make cheese and make more money than butter. So to solve this problem I believe they should keep both butter and cheese as the same price to make both products equally made. Another part of this is that many farmers have no sons or daughters to take over their far, after they pass on. So I think that farmers should have a seasonal meet and greet in every county to meet other farmers so they could possibly marry and make more farming kids. Its not a great idea but it's the only one I have. I definitely have learned something new new today and it is a subject I will not take lightly if my day to day food is at risk of losing its very delicious flavor.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    12/02/2015 - 09:24 p.m.

    I think that it is shocking that an entire country is running out of butter. The amount of butter being produced in the country is shrinking. Some reasons for the shortage of butter are stressed dairy cows, aging farmers, rising prices, and trade and price restrictions. There is also a shortage of milk which is used to make butter. There is an unusual hot weather that was going on last summer which would affect the production of butter. There are also restrictions on how many packages of butter customers can get. Many people are trying to save the butter in Japan.

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