Food Safety and Regulatory Change Since the ‘Mad Cow’ in Japan: Science, Self-responsibility, and Trust

Tine Walravens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The discovery of the first BSE case in Japan in 2001 triggered far-reaching changes in the regulatory framework of food safety. This article focuses on three major institutional developments since that first mad cow, namely the establishment of the Food Safety Commission (2003), the Shokuiku or Food Education program (2005), and the Consumer Affairs Agency (2009). Through a focus on the concept of self-responsibility, the politicized role of science, and the Japanese rhetoric of anzen anshin (safety–peace of mind), this study analyses the political efforts in reinstalling consumer trust. Regulatory changes gradually initiated a risk analysis approach into Japan’s food safety governance, combining consumer education and consumer protection essentials. Focusing on educating the consumer about new roles and responsibilities, the reforms shift the accountability for food risk to the individual, thereby strongly and increasingly relying on the ambiguous concept of anzen anshin. However, I argue that issues such as independence, accountability, and fragmentation in food safety monitoring must be continuously addressed instead of hiding them behind a rhetoric of anzen anshin and calling upon the consumer’s self-responsibility.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Japan
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)67-88
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Food saftey
  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
  • Risk
  • Self-responsibility
  • Science

Cite this