The 'Eat and Support' Campaign

The ‘Eat and Support’ campaign was officially launched in April 2011. The statement jointly issued by the Minister of MAFF and the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Yamada Masahiko and Arai Satoshi, clarified that the purpose of the campaign was to support recovery of the devastated areas through the revitalization of the region. For this purpose, the message laid out that the government would first attempt to promote the active consumption of food products from the devastated areas by liaising with producers, and second, that it would disseminate accurate information in cooperation with consumer organizations. The statement also noted that the role of the campaign was to give a boost to private firms and civic organizations that had been bridging the gap between producers and consumers.[1] In this sense, the campaign is indeed designed with the structure of governance: the campaign activities are carried out through individual actors (consumers, producers, private firms, and civic organizations) as autonomous enterprises, and the government assumes the role of a facilitator and information provider. Institutionally, as mentioned earlier, the Eat and Support campaign was subsumed under the banner of FAN, a governmental campaign that aims at increasing consumption of domestic agricultural products.

Once initiated, the Eat and Support campaign swiftly spread across Japan. As early as the June issue of the MAFF’s PR magazine, off (agriculture, forestry and fishery), dated 1 June 2011, the Eat and Support campaign was featured on the front page, reporting food fairs promoting agricultural products from the Tohoku region and Ibaraki held in various places including MAFF’s staff canteens.[2] Private actors were involved from a very early stage of the campaign. For example, on 22 May 2011, the seafood processing industry group organized a food fair in Tsukiji, an internationally known food market in Tokyo. The fair was initially planned to take place in April, but due to the condition of the devastated areas, it was postponed. The journal of the industry group, Zensuioroshi, reports 50,000 citizens in Tokyo participated in the event.[3] Large-scale food manufacturers and retailers such as Aeon, Rakuten, Ajinomoto and Yukijirushi, to name but a few, offered sponsorship to the national campaign, and the list of sponsors even includes co-ops and Doichi wo Momoru Koi (The Association for Protecting the Earth), consumer cooperatives and a civic group that have been taking an alternative approach to food retailing while underscoring the importance of supplying safe food. Finally, the Eat and Support campaign was promoted through the mass media and the internet with advertisements and interview videos featuring food producers in the devastated areas as well as pop stars, joyfully and ecstatically eating foodstuffs from these regions. In this way, the campaign seems to have intended to provide a platform on which an inclusive national solidarity could be cultivated.

In most cases, the Eat and Support campaign’s PR materials, featuring food producers whose businesses were severely damaged by the Triple Disaster, follow a distinct narrative pattern: after their business was badly damaged by the Triple Disaster, the producers made tremendous efforts to rebuild production, offering consumers food products of which they were very proud. The rebuilding is still underway, but there are signs of improvement and progress such as good feedback and encouragement from prudent consumers. Thus, the producers need more support.[4] Food safety information is hardly mentioned in the stories, but for those wishing to access such material, there is an internet link to the MAFF website, which provides detailed but cumbersome information on radiological food contamination and decontamination of farming lands.

The rapid development of the Eat and Support campaign, however, was exactly concurrent with the process of setting up an administrative system of governing food insecurity posed by the radiological contamination of food. As mentioned earlier, the interim report on the provisional standards, issued by the FSC on 29 March 2011, provoked heated controversy because of its lax acceptable level of 5 mSv, but the MHLW decided to maintain the provisional standards, while the FSC continued its risk assessment. Public anxieties over contaminated food were, therefore, still mounting, without any prospects of being lessened when the Eat and Support campaign was initiated. This certainly raises a question: why did the national government embark upon the Eat and Food campaign when the regulatory system for governing radiological food contamination had yet to be consolidated? In these circumstances it became possible for the campaign to function detrimentally with regards to the management of risk through increasing uncertainty.

Reading through policymakers’ accounts and remarks, it can be argued that what prompted the national government to implement the Eat and Support campaign could be attributed to their strong concerns over so-called reputation damage fuhyo higai), a term which became everyday vocabulary in the 2000s.[5] Reputation damage refers to a situation in which economic damage results from rumours and bad reputations derived from inaccurate information. In the case of post-3/ 11 food contamination, food producers expressed their worries that fears and anxieties over contamination might urge consumers to avoid buying and eating food products from the devastated areas, even in cases where the concerned products were safe enough to be consumed. This would lead to falling sales, generating financial losses which would be added to the already-sizable damage caused by the Triple Disaster. As food production is a prime industry in the region, from the governmental perspective, it was vital for the national government to save and revitalize the food industry to achieve recovery from devastation. Furthermore, the ill fate of the food industry in the devastated areas was also associated with profound financial implications for the government. As a food policy analyst, Yokota Shigenaga, argues:

Whether we are able to successfully achieve revitalization of food production in the devastated areas will have great implications on the total sum of compensations and decontamination expenses. If consumers keep buying food without worrying about radiological contamination, the final cost that the state needs to bear can be lessened.[6]

Indeed, the Japanese government kept appealing to its people to respond to food contamination ‘rationally and prudently’ to counter reputation damage from the early stage. For example, on the day after the provisional standards were set, Chief Cabinet Secretary, Edano Yukio, asked Japanese people to ‘react rationally and prudently’ to a shipping ban placed on spinach as it was, said Edano, a ‘precautionary measure’ (nenno tame no sochi).[7] Furthermore, in one of the regular press briefings after the MHLW decided to maintain the provisional standards upon publication of the FSC interim report, Edano directly positioned rigorous implementation of the provisional standards as a means to alleviate reputation damage, while pledging to ‘carefully monitor and regulate foodstuffs that should require a shipment restriction’.[8]

The public reactions to the ‘Eat and Support’ campaign appear to be ambiguous. On the one hand, in a survey conducted by the Consumer Agency in May and June in 2011, 82.1 per cent of respondents agreed to support the devastated areas by consuming food products from the region (actively agree accounted for 38.1 per cent, fairly agree 44.0 per cent). In the same survey, on the other hand, 72.3 per cent (actively 26.9 per cent, fairly 45.4 per cent) answered that they were concerned about the area of food production when shopping.[9] In a survey on consumer spending conducted by the Japan Finance Corporation in September 2011, 37 per cent of respondents answered that they would not buy foodstuffs produced in the devastated areas, while 19.1 per cent answered that they did not care about radiological contamination.[10] Finally, in an internet survey commissioned by the Japan Consumers’ Cooperatives Union in September 2013 examining their members’ reactions to radiological contamination, about 40 per cent of respondents answered that they were very concerned about production areas of food they purchased, while about another 40 per cent indicated that they were taking no action on food safety.[11]

How can we interpret these survey results? Certainly, differences in terms of the timing of the surveys, the phrasing of the questions and the sampling of respondents, in other words, technical issues concerning the survey methods, would all have had an influence. Simultaneously, there are also issues more fundamental to the management of risk. First, as Yokota has pointed out, the management of a particular risky situation through trading off different risks is essentially an individualized act. Each person is conditioned by their personal circumstances (age, gender, lifestyle, educational background, income level, and so on). Inevitably, individual differences in approaches to risk management ensue.[12] Second, political distrust and cynicism directed at the Japanese government was widely observed among Japanese people, raising some questions over the efficacy of the Eat and Support campaign as public policy. For example, public polls suggest that trust in the national government as an information source was significantly shaken in the aftermath of the Triple Disaster. While trust in the government in general declined during the period in which the DPJ was in office, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in cooperation with the University of Tokyo, the scores for public institutions as a reliable information source on issues relating to the nuclear disaster and food safety were much lower than those of the mass media and Social Networking Services (SNSs).[13] Yabe Shiro, a social critic and activist, offers a more concrete interpretation of such data, based on his observation of fellow activist housewives. He wonders if people who have been discriminated against in society, such as housewives in Japan, would express their true sentiments on the government and professionals/experts. In his words:

Housewives say, right away, they do not understand. Even when they fully understand, or more precisely, because they fully understand, they say they do not understand. When they beam with a grin and say they do not understand, that is a notice declaring that ‘I do not trust your mere talk at all’.[14]

  • [1] The whole text of the message can be read at: http://www.maff.go.Jp/j/shokusan/eat/tabete/message.html.
  • [2] MAFF, off, 2.
  • [3] Zensuioroshi, ‘Chiiki kyogikai dayori 66’, 59.
  • [4] Stories are generally taken from the Eat and Support websites (http://syokuryo.jp/tabete_ouen/)and its dedicated official YouTube site (https://www.youtube.com/user/tabeteouen).
  • [5] A quick search of the National Diet Library catalogue indicates their oldest material discussingreputation damage is an article on a court decision concerning reputation damage and the NuclearPower Station in 1989. Then, there are four items in the 1990s. The first one is a JSPS research-in-aids report on nuclear accidents and accident compensation schemes for workers dating from1994. The other three publications were released in 1999 (two on dioxin contamination inTokorozawa and one on the Tokai-mura Nuclear accident by renowned journalist Kei Kamata).All other items on the subject were published after the year 2000.
  • [6] Yokota, Aratana risuku kari, 66.
  • [7] Kageura, 3.11-igo no hoshano ‘anzen’, 111.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Consumer Affairs Agency, ‘Shoku no anzen ni’, 21—26.
  • [10] Yokota, Aratana risuku kari, 68.
  • [11] Kato, ‘Intanetto monita anketo’, 57.
  • [12] Yokota, Aratana risuku kari, 73—76.
  • [13] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Joho Tsйshin Hakusho, 274. A sociologist,Igarashi Yasuamsa, conducted a survey targeting young mothers in Kashiwa City, Chiba andreported the same tendency of a low degree of trust in the government as an information source.See Igarashi, Minna de kimeta, 43.
  • [14] Yabe, ‘Hibaku fubyodu ron’, 174.
 
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