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Hokkaido’s raw milk supply at risk after powerful quake

/ 05:08 PM September 11, 2018

Nozomu Miyajima stands in front of milking machines in Shintoku, Hokkaido, on Saturday.

SAPPORO — The powerful earthquake that rocked Hokkaido — Japan’s primary dairy farming area — last week has raised concerns about shortages of dairy products such as milk, butter and cheese, as widespread power cuts forced farmers and major companies in the industry to take measures including temporarily suspending production. Attention is focused on whether production can steadily resume as power is restored to the northern island.

Dumped for hygiene reasons

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Kyodo-gakusha Shintoku Farm in the town of Shintoku has about 50 dairy cows and produces about 900 kilograms of raw milk each day to make cheese and other products. The blackout following Thursday morning’s earthquake left the farm’s milking machines unusable, so eight staffers spent three hours milking the cows by hand. Cows are at risk of udder inflammation if they are not milked each day. However, the farm decided not to process this milk due to hygiene control concerns and had no option but to dump it. “It was disappointing to do that after we’d worked hard to milk the cows,” said Nozomu Miyajima, the farm’s representative. “It was sad.” According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and other sources, about half of the nation’s raw milk is produced in Hokkaido. This raw milk is also shipped to factories outside Hokkaido to be made into such products as milk, butter and cheese. Dairy farmers on the island are aiming to recover production by getting electric milking machines operable again.

Plants shut down

The power cuts also affected production lines at plants that process raw milk. The vast majority of the 39 dairy product plants in Hokkaido shut down at least temporarily after the earthquake, according to the agriculture ministry. As of 4 p.m. Saturday, 17 had resumed operations. Companies in the industry are carefully taking steps to resume production to make sure that product hygiene is properly managed. Morinaga Milk Industry Co. dumped some of the raw milk stored at its four plants in Hokkaido that halted operations after the quake, but the electricity was steadily coming back online from Friday evening. The major dairy products company was working to resume operations, including cleaning production line machines at three plants. Power has also been restored to all seven of Meiji Holdings Co.’s plants in Hokkaido. Production was steadily restarting at its plants following inspections for damage at the facilities. Megmilk Snow Brand Co. said two of its seven plants in Hokkaido had restarted production of some items and four had started accepting shipments of raw milk.

Fears of more power cuts

Local dairy producers remain concerned about further power cuts. Kazuyuki Uchida, chairman of Sapporo-based Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, visited the Hokkaido prefectural government office on Saturday. “We hope [the prefectural government] will give sufficient consideration [to the dairy industry] to ensure planned power outages do not take place,” he told senior officials. An official at Hokuren’s dairy division said: “Dumping 10,000 tons of raw milk would cause losses of ¥1 billion. If [power cuts happened] after these factories finally go back into production, we would lose hope.” At a meeting of the agriculture ministry’s emergency response headquarters on Saturday, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Ken Saito expressed concern about the situation. “If the impact of the blackouts drags on, it’s conceivable that milk supply and demand could be affected,” Saito said. Some dairy product makers have started considering preparations to prevent shortages, such as obtaining raw milk from suppliers in western Japan, where there are plentiful supplies in stock.

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TAGS: Asia, dairy products, food, Hokkaido, Japan, milk
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