Defending himself from criticism that the government failed to conduct proper food inspections after a prohibited cut was found in a US shipment of beef, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said today (7 February) that Japan will not lower food safety standards to suit the interests of the US beef industry.

Koizumi said that Japan would not change its policy of importing beef from cows 20-months-old or younger, despite evidence that cows up to 30-months-old present a minimal risk of carrying mad cow disease, the Associated Press reported. 

"Americans should understand that Japan's safety standard is strict," he said. "They should understand that Japan's stricter standard only allows cows younger than 20 months, even though 30 months is considered safe elsewhere."

When the Japanese ban on US beef was lifted, it transpires, the Japanese Department of Agriculture had not inspected US beef exporters. Following the US breech of the trade agreement, which allowed the import of certain cuts of beef from cows under 20-months-old, opposition MPs have accused the government of failing to protect the safety of the Japanese people.

"Chances are high that a large number of Japanese might have been forced to eat dangerous meat," Opposition leader Seiji Maehara said. "The government's failure to fulfil its responsibility to protect the public's health and safety is serious."