Joji Morishita, Japan’s commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, said at a news conference that critics of Japan’s whaling need to “agree to disagree.” (Issei Kato/Reuters)

— Critics of Japan’s whaling practices are guilty of “eco-imperialism” for trying to impose their beliefs on countries that hunt and eat whales, Japan’s pointman on the issue said Wednesday.

Japan is now embarking on a campaign to demonstrate the scientific merits of its controversial Antarctic whaling missions, after the International Court of Justice this year declared its purported research program was just a cover for commercial hunting.

A new proposal would see Japan’s catch target slashed to 333 minke whales a year, about one-third of its previous goal, and would set a 12-year time frame for the previously open-ended program.

Critics of whaling needed to drop their “zero tolerance” stance and recognize that different countries have “different codes,” said Joji Morishita, Japan’s commissioner to the International Whaling Commission.

Take people in India who don’t eat beef, Morishita told reporters in Tokyo.

A man serves a curry dish with whale meat to one of lawmakers and government officials who promote whale meat at a dining room of Ministry of International Trade and Industry in Tokyo Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

“What if they start promoting their habit on the rest of the world, and are promoting an anti-McDonald’s, anti-beef steak movement throughout the world with economic sanctions,” he said. “People can see the stupidity of this if you talk about beef, but what’s the difference between a cow and whales?”

In its ruling in March on a complaint made by Australia and supported by New Zealand, the International Court of Justice said that Japan’s failure to publish results from its supposed research program showed that it was really just commercial whaling in disguise. It ordered Japan to stop its hunt.

Japan’s fisheries agency last week submitted a new proposal to the whaling commission to prove that its heavily subsidized whaling program really was for scientific purposes and to justify killing the mammals in the name of research.

The plan sets a target of 333 minke whales annually from the end of 2015 and no longer includes humpback and fin whales. It also says Japan would seek to conduct tests through nonlethal methods such as taking biopsy samples from whales.

The program is aimed at acquiring more biological and ecological information about minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean to determine whether an almost 30-year-old moratorium on commercial hunting was still needed, the plan said, and to conduct research into the marine ecosystem around Antarctica.

With a review scheduled after six years, Japanese scientists would publish their findings in academic journals and would welcome the involvement of foreign researchers, it said.

Japan intends to start catching whales again at the end of next year regardless, and Morishita said critics need to “agree to disagree,” noting that there was little that the International Court of Justice could do to stop the hunt from resuming.

Ordinary people in Japan viewed countries who criticized whaling as cultural imperialists, Morishita said.

“[They] say, ‘I don’t eat whale meat, however I don’t like the idea of beef-eating people or pork-eating people saying to Japanese people to stop eating whales,’ ” he said. “We do recognize that, from country to country, we have different codes and different conditions. But maybe we shouldn’t impose our code on others,” he said.

Japan has a long history of whale meat consumption and slabs of the bright-red flesh still show up in markets around the country, although it is nowhere near as popular as it once was.

After the new proposal was released, Greenpeace, the environmental group, called for Japan to immediately withdraw it.

“Japan is going to great lengths to set up a whaling industry on the other side of the world within a whale sanctuary,” said Phil Kline, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace. “Every nation bordering the sanctuary opposes the hunt and the international community has been clear in rejecting Japan’s whaling program.