SAPPORO (Kyodo) Milk produced in Hokkaido is becoming increasingly popular around Asia, with exports to the region hitting an all-time high and more than doubling to 798 tons in fiscal 2008 from the year before.

The increase follows a milk contamination scandal in China last year in which suppliers added the chemical melamine to watered-down milk sold to Chinese dairy firms.

The agricultural ministry said Hokkaido milk accounted for about 90 percent of Japan’s overall milk exports to Asia, which also set a record in 2008.

A ministry official said food safety is becoming a greater concern mostly among the wealthy in Asia and that it’s possible its popularity is being driven by the “Hokkaido brand.”

The Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, a Hokkaido grouping of farm co-ops, said the exports are “long-life” milk that can be preserved for an extended period in normal temperature.

The milk is produced in the city of Asahikawa and the town of Hidaka by sterilizing it at 140 degrees, higher than normal, and putting it in paper packs. The milk is drinkable for 60 days.

After only 90 tons of the milk were exported to Hong Kong in fiscal 1996, the product is now being exported to Taiwan, China, Thailand and Singapore. In Hong Kong, 1 liter of local milk sells for the equivalent of ¥100 to ¥200, but Hokkaido milk fetches ¥300 to ¥400.

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