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Japan's dairy industry to make massive milk donations to food banks, children's cafeterias

Milk donated to "children's cafeterias" and food banks is seen in this photo provided by the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations.

TOKYO -- Japan's raw milk producers have a New Year's period problem: demand is plummeting, meaning huge quantities of the white stuff may have to be dumped. But instead of pouring it down the drain, increasing numbers of producers are donating their surplus to meal kitchens for kids and similar operations.

    The National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations, or Zen-Noh, has teamed up with the Kanto area milk producers' and sellers' association to provide 230,000 cartons (about 43 metric tons) of long-life milk and other items to "children's cafeterias" serving free or cheap food to local kids across nine prefectures, plus about 150 food banks, starting on Jan. 7, 2022. Donations have been made twice before as the coronavirus pandemic ate into raw milk demand, but this will be the largest to date.

    According to Zen-Noh, they have received messages from recipients such as, "Milk helps children grow, so I am very grateful for the support."

    Sapporo, Hokkaido-based Yotsuba Milk Products Co. will also donate about 20 tons of dairy products to 11 food bank operators in Hokkaido and Tokyo during the New Year holiday season.

    Behind these acts of dairy generosity is a major oversupply of raw milk in Japan. The pandemic continues to drain business demand for milk, while schools have no need of milk for school lunches over the winter holiday, meaning demand dips around the New Year period. Factories making dairy products like butter and powdered skim milk can only take so much of the surplus. In October, the Japan Dairy Association estimated that even if every dairy product factory in the country worked at full tilt, 5,000 tons of raw milk might have to be dumped in late December.

    "Stocks of things like butter and powdered skim milk are piling up, so processing plants won't take any more raw milk," said Toshiyuki Higuchi, president of Toyama-based dairy product maker Toyama Alpen Nyugyo. His firm is set to donate around 19,000 cartons of milk (some 3.8 tons) to about 90 children's cafeterias, nursing homes and other facilities. "We just want to help, even if only a little," said Higuchi.

    There are also companies encouraging more milk consumption over the winter holidays. Agriculture minister Genjiro Kaneko told a post-Cabinet meeting press conference on Dec. 28, "The consumption boost is gaining momentum. We'd like to continue dealing with this issue without relaxing our vigilance."

    (Japanese original by Taiki Asakawa, Business News Department)

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    Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Zen-Noh would provide 430,000 metric tons of milk. The actual figure is 43 metric tons. We apologize for the error.

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