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Military grocery stores in Japan limiting rice purchases in response to shortage

A sign in the Yokosuka commissary tipping off consumers to new restrictions on rice purchases is evidence of the growing concern over climbing worldwide rice prices and grain production dropoff.

TIMOTHY D. WIGHTMAN / S&S

By TERI WEAVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 8, 2008

Military grocery stores in Japan are limiting rice purchases in response to climbing worldwide prices and increasing concerns about the grain’s production drop-off, commissary officials said Tuesday.

The policy, which started last week, limits customers to two 20-pound bags of rice per purchase, according to Mike Auderer, the store director at the Defense Commissary Agency’s store on Yokota Air Base in Japan.

The policy also limits the purchase of smaller quantities of rice to a total of 20 pounds per shopping visit, Auderer said.

Auderer and other commissary managers in Japan and Okinawa said Tuesday they have no shortages of rice in the stockrooms. Instead, the goal is to avoid scarcity down the road.

“This is in line with what other stores are doing in the States,” Auderer said. “It’s to ensure there is an adequate supply for everybody.”

DECA’s decision comes after two large U.S. retailers, Sam’s Club and Costco Wholesale Corp., both put limits on some bulk rice sales last month, according to The Associated Press.

In response, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the USDA saw no “evidence of the lack of availability of rice,” according to a Reuters report from late April. “There are no supply issues.”

As of Tuesday, stores in South Korea were not limiting sales, according to Belinda Hernandez, the store director at Camp Red Cloud, and Myong Brown, the assistant manager at Yongsan Garrison.

At Camp Foster on Okinawa, signs explaining the policy went up a couple of days ago, said store director John Zaher.

But, he and others added, it’s unlikely the limitation will affect many customers.

“It’s probably one in 100 people who would even be impacted,” he said.

Auderer said even families that eat rice daily don’t need more than 20 pounds a week.

Most rice is eaten in the country that grows it, the International Herald Tribune reported last month. A chronic drought in Australia, which has halted rice production there, has caused panic on the world’s rice market, with importers worried about long-term supplies. As a result, rice commodity prices have doubled in the past three months, the IHT reported.

Auderer said DECA issued no estimated end for the sales limits.

“We’ll be in a better position to know this fall,” he said.