Saturday, August 02, 2008

The great(?) butter shortage

This story has been rumbling in the press for several months, but it has only affected me personally just in the last couple of weeks. I'm not a big consumer of butter, but last week it was time to get a new pack. However, the shelves were bare...and they were bare again today. (For all I know, they might have been bare for several weeks now.)

Of course butter is not a major staple foodstuff in Japan - indeed "butter-smelling" is a (rather rare) insult to westerners, and I sense a bit of smug satisfaction with a Japanese Agriculture Ministry official saying “Personally, I can happily switch to margarine.” But even so, it seems amazing to me that a developed country can simply run out of a basic foodstuff that is widely used and was readily available until recently. It is fabulously expensive, too, at something like ¥600 for a 200g stick, which is about 4 times the price in the UK. You'd think at that price someone could have managed to import some...but of course protecting the interests of the farming lobby is a higher priority than providing food for the population, so the import tariff is 360% (apparently).

7 comments:

Hank Roberts said...

http://www.google.com/search?q=japan+milk+import+butter

James Annan said...

Well exactly. This problem has been known about since April at least and "Japan" is getting round to importing an "emergency supply" of butter...in October. Hooray for a centralised bureaucracy!

I wonder if they have butter shortages in Cuba or Iraq?

James Annan said...

Scratch that - this news article is dated 14th *March* and refers to shortages last *Autumn* and some rationing in November.

Ah well, shou ga nai...

Phil said...

This could be a harbinger of things to come.

Over here in the UK, there's a shortage of frozen broad beans in retail outlets:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/08/01/eabeans101.xml

I did, however, manage to buy some of this year's local harvest at the greengrocer's yesterday.

James Annan said...

There is no global butter shortage, the local shortage is entirely due to bad planning and/or management - a glut a couple of years ago shrank the industry, and the bureaucrats have such an automatic defensive protectionist mentality that they would rather the population does without than relax import restrictions (which pretty much amount to a ban, given the tariff). "Let them eat margarine."

I actually saw a pack of butter in a shop today, but at the time was ~3h from home with no way of keeping it cool (summer is now in full swing).

Chuck said...

Don't shops in Japan sell ice?

James Annan said...

I think some do, and I did briefly consider buying a bunch of cold things to pack together, but I was already carrying enough stuff (with further errands planned) and anyway I can quite easily do without butter indefinitely. Besides, just seeing it there suggests that I should have a fair chance of finding it closer to home.