Butter in Japan mainly comes from its northern island Hokkaido, along with many dairy products such as milk, which is at the center of the latest radioactive food scandal.
The east coast of Hokkaido was visited by radioactive fallout from Fukushima most Spring and Summer days. Fishermen bring in their catch from radioactive Pacific Ocean close to Fukushima so that fish can be sold nationwide as products “from Hokkaido”. It is rumored to arrive at night in Nagoya for distribution throughout Japan. Domestic fish has become a major public health hazard in Japan and is exported worldwide.
There might be some safe areas left in Hokkaido but the prefecture lost all my trust for allowing various food scams to support contaminated regions. Besides it’s impossible to tell where in Hokkaido butter comes from, much less which milk and cream were used as ingredients.
A popular butter in Japan is the Snow Brand Hokkaido Butter, from the company that poisoned 15000 Japanese in 2000 and secretly recycled old milk to make other products – not to be trusted in these trying times.
Before it turned around to reflect the new anti-nuclear opinion in Japan – 57％ according to a recent poll by Asahi Shimbun, with only 30％ still supporting nuclear energy – the Mainichi Shimbun’s articles reflected the Japanese government propaganda and promoted dangerous industries such as Hokkaido butter (read Dangerous Domestic Butter Production Promoted by Mainichi Daily News on SurvivalJapan and compare with the current state of affairs described below). I suspected first that their mea culpa was written as a show for their English readership, in the same way that Prime Minister M. Noda’s international and domestic speeches on anything from TPP to the Japanese nuclear industry are diametrically opposed – but he blames interpreters. However lately the Mainichi Shimbun’s tone has changed – but it has yet to go the extra mile and report honestly about food, starting with Hokkaido. Public opinion and media influence each other and the opinion, i.e. readers, are not ready yet.
Butter has become a strange food product worldwide. Basically all you need to make butter is cream and manpower – and a pinch of salt. I can remember as a child turning a wooden spoon and be amazed – and exhausted – when butter formed in the bowl, covered with water drops.
Nowadays factories mix cream and milks from different countries, from abused and medicated cows, and add all sorts of strange “ingredients” like beta-carotene to liven-up the color of the sick animal’s produce. Margarines are basically made with plastic so that they won’t stay in your body and fatten you up – and they are sometimes mixed within low-fat butters. If you read for the first time about palm oil, it may be a good time to Google it up – add “orangutan” in your search keyword mix.
Butter industry is a big deal – and in Japan it is now in short supply. It would be interesting to know why – over 500 Bq/kg？- but French restaurant tables do not offer a “petit pot de beurre” anymore. They replaced Hokkaido butter by French butter for a while but this too has gone.
Bakers use margarine in their cookies. Cake shops will be in trouble for Christmas as butter cannot be purchased from factories anymore – only large food industry firms keep access to limited supplies. Shops resort to wartime black market-style techniques to secure theirs, that is established boutiques whom network they can rely on. The price of retail butter, already a luxury item before the Fukushima disaster, has spiked 70％ – the same as pork in China this year. It is not exactly “a slight rise in prices [that] may be unavoidable” as forecast by Masami Kojima in the Mainichi article quoted above. Besides, his answers contrast sharply with the current shortage – while there is plenty of milk on the market, there is little butter. In Japan, food inflation is bound to be severe.
Butter makes you fat – but butter tastes good. Besides, made in reasonable conditions, it doesn’t harm cows nor calves. I have cut on many food and drink items since March eleven, and on the size of servings too to the extent that I may have lost 15 pounds. Yet if you still need some butter in Japan, I recommend buying it from Tottori region, for instance Daisen, made from raw milk and salt only. Tottori provides a variety of supposedly nuclear-free dairy products to substitute to Hokkaido.
Daisen is an agricultural cooperative of dairy farmers. Their website is entirely in Japanee but it has a “About Safety” page which can be put through Google Translate.
Daisen dairy farmers were also determined to stop TPP, and I can only agree with them given the dangerous state of the American food industry (deaths from E.coli 157 contamination, half American kids from low-income families with diabetes, GMO, seed monopoly through patents, etc.), we might actually be better off with Japanese radioactive food. The quest for a safer food can open one’s eyes wherever one lives as radioactivity is not the only threat. I recommend watching the movie Food Inc. for instance, available in DVD rental shops throughout Japan.