Thursday, 7 July 2011

When footage screened on the ABC's Four Corners on 30 May this year a palpable shiver spread through the Australian community. Images of manifest cruelty by Indonesian abattoir workers flashed across our screens. The footage was taken by animal welfare campaigners Animals Australia at 11 randomly-selected abattoirs in Indonesia, with spokespeople gaining unfettered access to see business-as-usual practices that would shock Australian TV viewers. The Labor government imposed a ban on live cattle exports to the featured abattoirs the next day. A week later it was announced that all live cattle exports from Australia would be stopped.

Over the succeeding weeks the sound emanating from the farm sector gradually rose in pitch to an audible scream and the websites of the rural news media filled with complaints from various bodies and political representatives close to producers. Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig came under siege as stocks of cattle built up in Northern Territory holding yards and one producer even threatened to start shooting cattle.

The Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association said it was "disappointed with the Federal Government's decision to temporarily suspend all live cattle exports to Indonesia", the Cattle Council of Australia said the ban would particularly hurt the Northern Territory, and LiveCorp said there would be a significant impact from the move. One cattleman shown addressing a government panel that included the prime minister, Julia Gillard, said the move was "bloody bullshit".

Yesterday when the live export ban was lifted by Minister Ludwig the National Farmers Federation released a statement jointly prepared along with the Meat & Livestock Australia, LiveCorp, Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, Cattle Council of Australia, WAFarmers, Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, AgForce, Sheepmeat Council of Australia and the Goat Industry Council of Australia.

The industry welcomed the news, the statement said, it was "an important first step" and "the recommencement of the trade will be gradual to those supply chains that meet approved international standards".

"While ever volumes remain below normal levels producers in northern Australia will continue to suffer," the statement went on. There was no mention of the Indonesian abattoirs responsible for the cruelty to the cattle that had been shown suffering on TV. Keen not to upset important customers, the NFF and farmers generally remain mum on the root cause of the government ban on live exports. The statement went on to note that "the industry and Government must now work together with Indonesia to bring additional facilities up to international standards".

While Jakarta says it will still seek to import 500,000 head of cattle this year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Prabowo Caturroso, said the ban was "a hidden blessing" as the country is seeking to become self-sufficient in livestock for slaughter. The Minister also said "the number of imports will definitely go down". In Australia, federal Nationals leader Warren Truss said that "the Minister made the right decision initially, closing trade to 12 offending abattoirs and allowing trade to continue to those abattoirs with acceptable animal welfare standards".
Mr Truss said the decision offered hope but did not mean a full resumption of trade, with far fewer cattle to be processed due to the business disruptions of the past month, caused by the suspension.
It is striking that throughout this controversy the published comments of those close to cattle producers say nothing about the appalling conditions experienced by Australian animals being killed in Indonesian slaughterhouses. Time will now show whether the practical measures mandated by the federal government will be enough to ensure the safety and comfort of animals sent to Indonesia to be killed for meat.

1 comment:

Shelly said...

As Indonesia does not have any animal welfare laws, the guilty parties are unlikely to be punished. I think what is certain now is that all the abbattoirs there will be vigilant in their security and who they allow onto their premises. I'm disappointed the ban has been lifted, I believe it should be permanent. Live exports is barbaric and unnecessary and I sincerely hope Indonesia reaches it's target of self sufficiency sooner rather than later and our Government puts some work into building Abbattoirs here and creating work for Australians in this trade.