One of the big news items the last couple of days has been about a butter shortage in Japan. It seems like a really trivial story. I mean, really. Not enough butter to go around? But the cost of butter is not only on the rise in Japan, there is often a shortage of stock. Want to buy some butter? You're lucky if the store still has some and some stores limit what they have to one per customer. But what separates this story from the silly section are three shifts in our world economy.
The first is a demographics shift. People in India and China are buying more butter than usual. According to the news program, Hodo Station (The name translates roughly to Information Path Station), Chinese, especially people in Beijing due to the Olympics and increase of economic prosperity, have started to develop a taste for more Western style foods. One short clip showed a young girl eating a huge spoonful of butter and exclaiming how tasty it is. I'm not sure about the context of that clip. This kind of freaks Japanese people out I think because when Chinese restaurant goes developed a taste for Maguro (tuna) prices soared and the Japanese (really ironically) complained that all the tuna was being eaten by the Chinese and there wouldn't be enough to go around.
The other shifts are a one-two punch to the producers. Rising prices, partly due to alternative fuels such as ethanol make feeding cows more expensive. The other is a long-term drought in Australia where a lot of milk-cows aren't producing the same amount of milk as before. Buttermilk from over-seas in decreasing in availability. Of course, being a Canadian I see an opportunity for Canadian dairy farmers, but I still feel sorry for the Australian farmers.
At first glance, this seems to be a boom to the farmer. After all, a lack of supply or increase of demand leads to higher prices and more profit for the farmers, right? Maybe in the future. Also, producing buttermilk is a less profitable endeavor than producing milk. Buttermilk pays 60% of what drinking milk does. And at the moment, a lot of farmers in Japan are feeling the crunch of the higher prices for feed and taking care of cattle and a lot of them are losing the battle. Many dairy farmers in Japan are folding and that just decreases the available supply.
Ironically, in all the footage of store shelves devoid of butter, there were heaps and heaps of magarine tubs still for sale. I know it seems funny but it seems to represent some deeper problems and now I can't help wonder what foods we're used to having cheaply available to us will become a special treat. I really feel we take our food for granted.