This, in turn, has prompted rising imports, concerns on food security and government action to support cattle farming.
Consumption of beef, pork, chicken and lamb has been on the rise for a long time, reaching 89.7g per person per day in the fiscal year to March 2018. This marks an increase of 17.6% from 20 years earlier, according to the most recent data from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Moreover, the population is spending more on meat, despite spending less on food overall. A family income and expenditure survey, carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, showed spending on food per month has dipped since November 2018 to reach JP¥25,431 (US$235) in January 2019, down 1.4% year-on-year. Spending on beef, however, was up 3.1% year-on-year in January 2019. Over the first three months of 2019, there was a year-on-year uptick in not only spending on chicken and pork, particularly ham and sausage, but also in volume consumed, said the survey.
According to the country’s Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corporation (ALIC), Japan’s appetite for – and willingness to spend money on – meat is due to economic growth and changes in consumer needs. These include larger sales of convenience food to an ageing population, more single-person households requiring quick-to-cook meals, more women in paid employment rather than spending time on domestic work, and the growing popularity of eating out.
Domestic meat production, however, has not kept pace. Over the same 20-year period, it rose only 8.6%, said ALIC. “The shortage of beef cattle is because of the fall in the number of dairy cattle (due to a lack of breeding dairy pairs), the occurrence of foot-and-mouth disease and the effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear incident in 2011,” which hit livestock production, an ALIC spokesperson told GlobalMeatNews.
This shortage pushed Japan’s meat self-sufficiency rate to 53% in fiscal 2016, down from 56% in 2010, thereby reducing the country’s overall food self-sufficiency, which had held steady around 40% since fiscal 1997. It now stands at 38%, one of the lowest rates among major industrialised nations.
Japan’s Statistics Bureau has attributed the country’s fall in food security to rising “consumption of livestock products and oils and fats”.
Imports are meeting the increased appetite for meat. In 2018, they rose 6% year-on-year, exceeding 600,000 tonnes for the first time in 17 years, according to ALIC.
Meanwhile, to boost production, the Japanese Government has allocated funds for raising calves communally in group pens, rather than in individual pens as is traditional in Japan. It has also funded the introduction of technology to support pregnancies and deliveries.
The ALIC spokesperson claimed this work was helping beef production recover through “the strengthening of the breeding base and expansion of production”.