Risk Perception, Culture and Legal Change: A Comparative Study on Food Safety in the Aftermath of the Mad Cow Crisis
Comparative law has usually paid scant attention to the study of the cultural environment in which legal reforms occur. Contrary to this traditional approach, an analysis centered on the cultural context seems to provide an important key for understanding the process of legal change and the dynamics behind the borrowing of foreign legal models. Recent theories on cultural cognition and social amplification of risk offer new tools to the comparatists to assess the role that culture can play in the processes leading to legal reforms. The idea that societies tend to react vehemently to risks which they perceive as threatening the traditional values characterizing their way of living can contribute to illustrate the reasons why some legal systems overreact when facing certain risks, while others downplay those same risks. The reforms enacted in the aftermath of the mad cow crisis in Japan, Europe and the USA allow to explore the complex relationship existing between legal change and cultural habits. Since our perception of the risks is culturally oriented, also the legal responses we give to these risks will be (at least in part) determined by our cultural horizon. This explanation sheds some light on the reasons behind the different legal approaches that Japan, Europe and the USA had in dealing with the BSE risk.