Spreading butter crisis forces cut in import tax

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High demand for butter used in traditional Norwegian Christmas dishes has caused a big shortage, leading the government to slash duties on imports.

Butter consumption has steadily increased in Norway this year, partly because of the increased popularity of low-carbohydrate but fat-rich foods. Demand was up by almost a third last month compared to November 2010, leaving shop shelves empty.

Matters were made worse by a wet summer that caused low milk yields, hitting domestic butter production in a country with steep import tariffs, which have ensured that nine out of ten butter packs on shelves are Norwegian.

The government has now cut import tariffs by more than 80 per cent until the end of March. It has also lifted milk quotas for domestic farmers put in place to avoid overproduction.

Norway’s largest dairy producer, Tine AS, said the reduced import duties would allow it to increase domestic butter output as it substituted imported butter in other foods, such as cheese. But company spokesman Oeystein Knoph warned Christmas shoppers could still lose out. He said: “This is a regrettable situation. Forecasts now show that the situation probably won’t be back to normal until the end of January.”

The dearth of butter has led to desperate measures. Last week, customs officers arrested a butter smuggler with 90kg stashed in his car when he crossed the border from Sweden. Swedish butter has been offered for six times the normal shop price.

A Danish television show gathered 4,000 packs of butter for Norway after an “emergency” appeal earlier this week.