Food safety and consumer trust in post-Fukushima Japan
Cornelia Reiher – 2017
The contamination of food with radionuclides has posed serious problems to consumers, producers and policy makers in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011. Many Japanese consumers were and still are worried about the safety of domestic food products. How did the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima affect consumer trust in food safety regulation, and how did the Japanese government try to (re)establish consumer trust in its food governance system? Drawing on empirical data from a consumer survey, expert interviews and documents issued by the Japanese government and public authorities, this paper argues that existing institutions had difficulty handling the situation and rebuilding consumer trust. I will argue that consumers in Japan lack trust in government institutions and the food industry and that the government's risk communication was not suitable for rebuilding trust. This specific situation saw the emergence of new actors from civil society, such as citizens’ radioactivity monitoring stations (CRMS). These actors took over some of the functions of public authorities by providing information and monitoring food. I argue that they have the potential to build trust by fostering the participation of lay people and encouraging a more democratic discourse on food safety. Nevertheless there are some limitations.