The gap between levels of meat and fish consumption is increasing; meat consumption overtook that of fish about six years ago but the gap is widening; fish consumption is now 30% less than it was at its peak, in 2001.
“To date, Japanese people have liked and eaten fish, and seafood has been cheaper and easier to get than meat,” said Teruko Kamimura, spokesperson for the Japan-based Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corporation. “But there has been an increase in global demand [for fish] and rising prices, so the consumption of meat has increased.”
Pork remains popular
The contrast with historic levels of meat consumption is startling. According to a National Geographic study, in 2011, 12% of the average Japanese person’s diet consisted of meat. Pork was the most commonly eaten protein, at 56 grams per person, up 833% on the 1961 figure.
In 2015, pork was the most popular meat among Japanese consumers, at 15 kilogramme (kg) consumption per capita per annum, closely followed by poultry at 13.6 kg, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD). Beef and veal consumption was less than half that, at 6.7 kg, while mutton and lamb consumption was a mere 0.2 kg. Meanwhile, the OECD and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) project a 2.8% increase in pork consumption per capita between 2015 and 2024, as well as a 1.8% rise in poultry consumption.
Hisao Kuramoto, managing director of the Japan Pork Producers Association, argued that pork is likely to maintain its position as Japan’s favourite meat in the future. But the country’s pork producers are struggling to meet the demand. “Official government details show that domestic pork supply is slightly more than 50% [of pork consumed in Japan], with the rest imported mainly from the United States, Canada, Denmark and Mexico,” said Mr Kuramoto.
According to Japan’s ministry of finance, the country imported 209,100 tonnes of fresh or frozen pork products between January and March 2016. This is an increase of more than 20% compared with the same period last year, and the highest tonnage for the period since 1994. In 2016, Japan is likely to be the world’s largest pork importer, according to the US Meat Export Federation.
Kuramoto noted he is concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal between Japan and 11 other Pacific Rim countries (including the USA) will lower the cost of imported pork, which would then lower the price of domestic pork. “In this situation, some pork farmers will have to face abandoning farming,” he said, adding that one way to combat growing imports was to “lead Japanese consumers to buy domestic pork in support of domestic pork farmers.”