(Feb. 11) Japanese people are eating fewer oranges, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

But while U.S. citrus exports to Japan may be down this season, it may be due more to the worldwide recession’s effect on produce in general, not citrus specifically, according to exporters and officials.

Since 1995, orange consumption in Japan has fallen, largely as a result of an aging populace and different eating habits among the country’s young, according to a February report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Between 1995 and 2006, the average per-person annual consumption of oranges for Japanese aged 25-29 fell from 1.15 pounds to .44 pounds.

All age groups saw declines during that period. Consumption dropped from 1.71 pounds to 1 pound for those aged 35-39; from 2.68 pounds to 1.82 pounds for those aged 50-54; and from 3.85 pounds to 2.73 pounds for those 75 and older.

Between January and November 2008, Japan imported 263,000 metric tons of fresh citrus from the U.S., 5.2% less than during the same period in 2007, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

As Japanese age, they eat more oranges (though not as much as they did a decade ago), so while the current generation of young Japanese doesn’t eat as many oranges as their elders, as they age they most likely will, according to the report.

Another contributing factor to the decline in orange consumption in Japan is price, according to the USDA. Orange prices dropped from 1987 to 1995 — a period that also saw a consumption increase.

But the consumption decline after 1995 was matched by sluggish downward price movement during the period, according to the report.

Still, U.S. exporters and officials say a decline in demand extends far beyond Japan.

“Movement is definitely slower, but we see it in Korea and other markets, too,” said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif.

And it’s not limited to citrus, Galone said. The recession, which affects all commodities, is to blame, he said.

“They’re having the same issues we are,” he said. “The recession is not just a U.S. phenomenon.”

So far this season, Florida grapefruit exports to Japan are down, a fact that Mike Yetter, director of international marketing for the Florida Department of Citrus, Lakeland, attributed to a smaller Florida crop but also to the economy.

And like Galone, Yetter doesn’t see citrus being singled out.

“All fruits and vegetables are seeing a decline in Japan,” he said. “The whole category is suffering.”

Year-to-date Texas fresh citrus exports to Japan are less than half of what they were last year at this time, but that’s largely due to the season being further along at this point last year, said John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association.