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Butter prices soar in Japan amid renewed shortage

Japan is on its way to turning butter into a luxury item, the "Nikkei" daily has warned. It said butter prices in the Asian country may well hit record levels this winter, with a serious shortage becoming even worse.

Japanese retail butter prices were expected to reach an all-time high in the coming months, the "Nikkei" reported in its Wednesday edition.

It said a 200-gram package of salted butter was already selling for a staggering 434 yen ($3.50, 3.3 euros) in Tokyo, reaching a near-record level and marking a 4-percent surge from a year earlier. Over the past three years, butter prices in Japan have risen by 12 percent.

With a growing shortage already felt earlier this year, the government in May decided to import 10,000 tons of butter as an emergency measure, but the imports had also been pricier than butter made in Japan.

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The measure only temporarily eased the shortage at hand, prompting Tokyo earlier this week to waive safeguards against private butter imports. For many years, Japan had protected domestic butter production through excessive import tariffs of up to 30 percent.

However, the number of dairy farmers in the country has been going down for years for many reasons.

Many farmers have no longer been in a position to maintain previous levels of operation because of soaring costs for personnel, electricity and imported feed. This has also led to a shortage of successors willing to take over existing dairy farms.

Stores that are completely out of butter have been a recurring sight in Japan for some years now, with shelves being full of margarine instead.

hg/tko (dpa, Nikkei)

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