Israel Faces Worst Butter Shortage in Country's History

Slow-to-begin winter is largely to blame for the shortage, since cows produce less milk and butterfat when it's hot out.

The butter shortage that has plagued the country since last month is the worst Israel has ever seen, the Israel Dairy Board said on Tuesday.

"There's always surplus butter in Israel," a dairy board official said. "In the last few years, the transition to diet yogurt and low-fat products have led to a surplus of butterfat, with which we made butter. Beyond that, in the last few years the Israeli public has switched to a more healthful diet, reducing butter and fat consumption. That's why this crisis is so surprising."

But there is reason to hope for homemade butter cookies once more, partly because the Agriculture Ministry has announced it will raise milk production quotas by 70 million liters.

"That announcement says to dairy farmers: 'Produce milk, we'll know what to do with it,'" a ministry official said. "Nothing like that has happened in the past."

Another reason is that the weather usually gets cooler in November, which will enable increased production, the dairy board said.

"The amount of fat in the raw milk is small because of the heat, making it difficult to produce butter," Tnuva, Israel's largest dairy products manufacturer, said in a statement. "We hope that in the next few weeks the situation will improve."

It's the slow-to-begin winter that is largely to blame for the shortage, since cows produce less milk and butterfat when it's hot out. And Israel isn't the only country affected, as the unusually hot weather around the world has created a global butter shortage and pushed up prices.

The problem is exacerbated in Israel, where demand for dairy products increased 3 percent this year.

Milk production here usually increases significantly at the beginning of the winter, and there is almost always a surplus, which is used to make powdered milk and butter. But the lingering hot weather means that the cows have yet to produce that surplus.

One possible way of increasing the butter supply is to begin importing butter immediately. The Agriculture Ministry is allowing dairies to import butter from Europe, but this might jeopardize their kashrut certifications. The rabbis who supervise the large dairies are examining the option.

But the butter shortage isn't affecting the dairy industry all that much, since the butter market constitutes just 2 percent of the NIS 5.6 billion dairy market in Israel, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Israelis typically consume around 9,000 tons of Israeli-made butter a year and an additional 550 tons of imported butter.