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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:

たびたびTVや新聞で報道されているように、バター不足が深刻です。

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

既に報道されていますが、原因は主に牛乳不足といわれています。
牛乳の消費がここ数年ずっと伸び悩んでおり、2006年には北海道で牛乳を廃棄する光景が見られました。そしてかなりの数の牛が殺処分になりました。
それより以前は脱脂粉乳の処分に困り、組合を通じてセメント袋ほどの大きさの袋に入った脱脂粉乳を酪農家は天引きの形で買わされたり、(現在では信じられないけど)年末には大量のバターをこれまた天引きで強制的に買わされていました。

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).

牛乳の消費の伸び悩み。この原因はいくつかあります。いろいろな清涼飲料が増えたこと、少子化で学校での牛乳消費が減っていること、アレルギー、そしてアレルギーでもないのに病的に牛乳を悪者に仕立てる一部の人々…………。ひどいブログだと牛乳をけなしたあげく酪農家は無くなればよい、と書いているものまでありました。

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.

ことに2005年4月にサンマーク出版から発行された新谷弘実著の「病気にならない生き方」という本。物凄いヒットでした。
これが酪農家だけでなくまともな学者も怒りだすほどとにかく「牛乳が悪い」という価値観で書かれていて、ただでさえ消費が伸び悩む牛乳に決定的なダメージを一時は与えました。

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.

[...]
2006年に牛を大量処分したツケは確実に消費者を直撃しました。そのひとつがバター不足です。
子牛が一人前になって牛乳を出せるようになるには最低でも2年以上かかります。
自然の摂理に逆らうことはできないのです。

[...]
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.

乳製品は化学製品ではありません。健全に牛を飼う構造が機能しないと今後もバター不足のようなことは頻発します。
消費者の皆様のご理解を心よりお願い申し上げます。

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。
またバターを製造すると脱脂粉乳ができるのですが、脱脂粉乳が売れずまた在庫を抱えることになるので、一気にバターの製造量を増やせない事情があります。
例えば缶コーヒーなどでも最近は脱脂粉乳より生乳を加えたものの方が味が良いため、飲用乳がそちらに回り、生乳不足に拍車をかけています。

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.

とにかく酪農の安定した推移や、乳製品のバランスのよい需給対策を抜本的に国レベルで考えない限りまたバター不足は繰り返されると懸念しています。
「食糧の自給」問題の一端がこのバター騒動です。

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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