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War Economy

Cheese Instead of Butter

Cheese Instead of Butter

After the German conquest of the Netherlands and France, the United Kingdom Government, in June 1940, asked New Zealand to switch dairy production as far as possible from butter to cheese. It was hoped thereby to increase the arrivals of cheese, then approaching 100,000 tons a year, by 15,000 tons.

Of the reasons for the change, Hamilton writes:2

‘Not long after the outbreak of war the British Ministry of Food expressed a preference for cheese rather than butter or meat, and gave it priority over all other refrigerated foodstuffs. Butter is purely an energy food containing only a trace of protein and being poor in minerals, but relatively high in the vitamins A and D. Cheese, on the other hand, is a well balanced food rich in protein, fat, and the important minerals calcium and phosphorus. Per cubic foot of shipping space, cheese provides twice the energy value and more than twice the protein content of telescoped frozen lamb and is also markedly richer in mineral and vitamin content.

‘Cheese in wartime is essentially a substitute for meat, superior in nutritive value, much more economical in shipping space, and less vulnerable in land store to damage from enemy raids, as it can be kept for some time without refrigeration.’

2 W. M. Hamilton, The Dairy Industry in New Zealand, Bulletin 89 of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, p. 16.

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Within a year, the output of cheese had increased by a quarter, and exports to the United Kingdom had increased by much more than the 15,000 tons requested.

In April 1941 still more cheese was asked for, to bring supplies, if possible, to 160,000 tons, almost twice the 80,000 tons exported in 1938–39. In the attempt to meet this request, cheese production in 1941–42 moved up to 85 per cent above 1938–39, and 132,000 tons was exported.

The changeover from butter to cheese involved well over six thousand dairy farmers, but was achieved largely by persuasion rather than compulsion. Less than a hundred farmers had to be issued with orders to change.1 One view of the changeover is given by A. A. Ross, who writes:2

‘The success of this great change in the dairy industry calls for examination, for there was no reliance on price incentives, control measures, or rationing preferences. The Director of the Dairy Division3 had the confidence of the farmers and his prestige and personality were such that his request for the change was sufficient to evoke the necessary response from men capable of it. Not only did the dairy farmers hold the director in high regard, but the officers of the Division preferred persuasion to compulsion. The procedure adopted was a national appeal by the director to all farmers able to make the change to do so as soon as possible. Local officers of the Division called on each farmer personally, pointed out the need for the change, and discussed ways and means of overcoming difficulties. The farmer usually changed after this visit. Those who did not, received a visit from a senior officer of the Division, and if this was not successful a personal letter went from the director to the recalcitrant farmer asking for his cooperation so that it could be said that the dairy industry met the situation without the use of compulsory powers which the director possessed but was averse to employing. Only after all these approaches had failed would the director issue an order to change, and the issue of the order induced the most obstinate farmer to make the change.’

In the 1940–41 season, in spite of increasing emphasis on cheese, butter production stayed at pre-war levels, but in 1941–42 butter production fell by 32,000 tons.

The change to cheese required considerable reorganisation of dairy factories. Butter factories were converted to cheese-making, disused

1 Powers to make such orders were taken by an amendment to the Primary Industries Emergency Regulations 1939.

2 Ross, Wartime Agriculture in Australia and New Zealand, p. 267.

page 201 factories were re-equipped, and existing cheese factories were extended. Extra transport arrangements were needed to cope with the bulkier whole milk, and rush orders had to be placed for thousands of large cans.

The increased emphasis on cheese production lasted for only two seasons, but in these two seasons exports equivalent to nearly three normal seasons were sent to the United Kingdom.

In 1942, Japanese successes in the Pacific again interfered with the flow of food to the United Kingdom. Valuable sources of vegetable oils were lost, leaving inadequate raw materials for margarine. On the other hand, supplies of cheese available from North America were much better than had been expected. In June 1942 the United Kingdom Ministry of Food asked New Zealand if she could change back to butter manufacture. The Ministry requested this complete reversal of policy in the following cablegram:1

‘Vicissitudes of war have fundamentally changed our dairy produce position. Since we requested you to increase cheese supplies at expense of butter our fat position has been prejudiced by loss of raw materials margarine from India and Far East while unexpectedly heavy quantities cheese are now available on short haul from North America. Would you consider whether in the interests of our two countries it might be possible to increase your butter and decrease your cheese supplies. Not only would this assist our fat position but it would also be advantageous to you should shipping position further deteriorate in that you would find surplus butter easier to handle than surplus cheese. Please consider this as a suggestion and let us have your frank comment taking into account your own problem [as] well as our need. In the event of your being able to contemplate such a change would you consider whether it would be possible to increase your butter by 20,000 to 30,000 tons and reduce cheese supplies by 40,000 to 60,000 tons. Grateful if you will cable your reaction earliest so that we can consider your position before examining problem further.’

This request also was accepted, and the change back made in the 1942–43 season. Less persuasion and pressure were brought to bear on farmers,2 and probably less was necessary. Farmers were advised that the pressing need for extra cheese no longer existed and they could revert back to normal production. By March 1943, most of the factories which had changed from butter to cheese in response to the 1940 and 1941 requests had reverted back to butter.

1 Quoted in Parliamentary Paper H-30, Marketing Department (Export Division), 1943, p. 11.

2 Any necessary powers were taken in the Dairy Supply Control Order 1942.

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Chart 43 shows how butter and cheese production was affected by the switch in emphasis from butter to cheese and back.

chart of dairy statistics

Chart 43