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Japan is likely to avoid discarding large amounts of milk amid a temporary oversupply during the year-end and New Year’s holiday period, thanks to stepped-up sales campaigns by producers and retailers.

Still, due to the lack of demand for milk for use in school meals during the winter break, the risk of massive disposal remains unresolved.

Dairy industry groups plan to take steps as needed by keeping a close watch on the supply and demand situation.

According to the Japan Dairy Association, or J-milk, which consists mainly of dairy groups nationwide, milk sales in 2021 fell from the previous year, reflecting weak demand from eateries amid the pandemic crisis.

Agriculture Minister Genjiro Kaneko drinks milk on Dec. 17 as part of a campaign to raise consumption to avert discarding it. | KYODO
Agriculture Minister Genjiro Kaneko drinks milk on Dec. 17 as part of a campaign to raise consumption to avert discarding it. | KYODO

On the other hand, milk production increased, raising concerns that large amounts of milk may be left unused through the year-end and New Year’s holiday period, when school meals are not provided. J-milk had said 5,000 tons of milk may have to be poured down the drains at the end of the year.

In response, milk producers and retailers carried out campaigns to promote milk consumption, including free distribution and the online promotion of recipes that use milk. The agriculture ministry, for its part, called on people to consume milk and other dairy products.

Major convenience store chain Lawson Inc. cut the prices of milk by half on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and sold a total of 135 tons during the two days. Sales in the week from Dec. 28 jumped about eighteenfold from the same period the year before.

Helped by such efforts, overall milk sales in Japan showed an uptrend. Compared with the corresponding periods in 2019, before the coronavirus outbreak, sales rose 2.1% in the week from Dec. 20 and 3.7% the following week.

Concerns over the discarding of milk are expected to be put to rest if a glut is avoided during the three-day weekend, which ends Monday.

With milk production capacity in Japan having been strengthened to address the butter shortage several years ago, however, production tends to grow in spring every year. This means that the risk of milk dumping may emerge again when schools take their spring break.

At a news conference Friday, agriculture minister Genjiro Kaneko said his ministry will continue to work closely with parties concerned.

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