Protect dairy industry by promoting milk consumption amid disposal fears

Milk and dairy products are rich in nutrients and an essential part of people’s diets. Hopefully measures will be considered to ensure stable consumption, in order to support the dairy industry in Japan.

Demand for milk has fallen in the food service industry and elsewhere due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

There were also concerns that a surplus of about 5,000 tons of raw milk would go to waste because schools, which serve milk at lunch, closed for their winter break during the year-end and New Year holiday season. School lunches account for about 10% of total milk consumption in the nation.

In response to the situation, both the public and private sectors ran campaigns to boost milk consumption, including a direct appeal to the public from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. A massive disposal of milk was averted as a result, but schools will start closing again for their spring break in March.

Demand has remained sluggish due to a resurgence in infections, but the production of raw milk usually increases in spring. As a result, it seems that fears over the disposal of raw milk could flare up again.

If surplus milk is discarded, that will go against the trend of reducing food loss and harm the dairy industry. Measures must be devised to avoid such disposal.

It is not easy for the dairy industry to adjust the supply-demand balance. Once milking starts, cows can develop mastitis and other conditions if they are not milked every day. Thus, milk production cannot be reduced. Raw milk is perishable and difficult to store for a long time.

Demand for milk fluctuates seasonally, increasing as temperatures rise.

Surplus raw milk is usually processed into products that are easy to preserve, such as powdered skim milk, butter and cheese. However, if there is too much surplus, it could reportedly exceed the processing capacity of factories.

It is crucial for dairy farmers and dairy companies to make thorough preparations for spring, including securing personnel, in order to operate their factories at full capacity.

Industry groups are urged to contrive ways to expand the use of milk, such as by devising recipes for foods using milk. Improving containers to extend the shelf life of milk may also help.

A fundamental problem is that the dairy industry has been plagued by the graying population and a shortage of successors, and raw milk production has been on the decline since peaking at about 8.66 million tons in fiscal 1996. There was a serious shortage of butter in 2014.

After that, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry promoted a policy to support efforts to boost milk production, and output started to climb from fiscal 2019. The coronavirus pandemic then hit the industry.

Raw milk, which is hard to preserve, is difficult to import. To ensure a stable supply, it is necessary to improve domestic production systems in dairy farming and related sectors.

From the standpoint of food security, the government should explore ways to balance supply and demand and implement measures to support the development of the dairy industry, such as steps to nurture human resources and improve production efficiency.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 6, 2022.