by Brandi Buzzard
In light of the recent Four Corners exposé, the Australian Government in Canberra has officially banned all live exports destined to Indonesia for six months. If you haven’t yet seen the video you can view it here but, please, proceed with caution. It’s very graphic and one of the most horrific sights I’ve ever seen. The plants operate under halal standards, however there are ways to submit to the standards and still operate humanely. There is no need to sacrifice humaneness for religious standards when they can coexist.
The ban comes as bad news for northern Australian cattle producers who rely on their Indonesian neighbors to purchase live cattle year-round. The ban has been placed on all live exports to Indonesia for up to six months but industry insiders say the devastating effects could last for up to one year. The live export market to Indonesia, Australia’s largest export buyer, is responsible for approximately $320 million dollars per year. For some producers, this is their lone source of income and currently, northern feedlots are filled to the brim with cattle that can’t, and won’t, be destined for Indonesia for the time being. No exports = no income.
Head bureaucrat of the Indonesia agriculture department, Bayu Krisnamurthi, has stated that the live export ban is discriminatory and plans to take the issue to the World Trade Organization. Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has countered that the ban is not in violation of any WTO regulations because Australia is entitled under WTO rules to ensure cattle are treated in line with international standards. Gillard has also said that a compensation package to producers is not out of the question.
Another hot button issue is that apparently Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) knew about the cruel acts in Indonesia but in order to keep markets going, did nothing to stop the abuse. A senior MLA official (name not given) said the organization had always known there were issues but had no idea of the ‘grotesque brutality’ until the Four Corners piece aired. MLA export manager Michael Finucan stated that, “We’ve got eight guys supplementing our team of our animal welfare people here in Indonesia. They’re out in the markets every night at the abattoirs, they’re delivering a program that can help us ensure the welfare of cattle right through the chain.” Obviously, MLA knew there were issues but I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers and blame it all on their organization. They were, and are, continuing their animal handling training and I believe they shouldn’t be condemned for their efforts.
My question is, ‘Why isn’t the Indonesian government disciplining any of the slaughter plants or their managers?’ Unfortunately, there are no regulations in Indonesian law that could be used to sanction abattoirs found to be abusing animals. It’s outrageous that a country that slaughters so many livestock for halal consumption has no regulatory measures in place against animal cruelty, an issue that is just as important as food safety.
Ranchers and beef industry representatives have stated that banning live exports will stop the abuse of Australian cattle but not all cattle that Indonesia imports. I agree with this thought process, as I see banning exports is more of a quick and easy action to satisfy public outcry than a real solution to the problem. Indonesia will continue to source cattle from other countries and the abuse and cruel acts will continue until proper training and enforcement are put in place. In the big picture, plants should be shut down (regardless of how much $$ would be lost to the Indonesian meat industry), a rigorous training program set in place and stringent consequences laid out and then enforced. When all employees have a working knowledge of basic animal handling then, and only then, should the plants be re-opened. I know this is a stretch and the plants will not be shut down, but this problem has got to be remedied.
There is definitely a solution to this problem that is mutually beneficial to all parties: cattle producers, feedlot owners, Australian consumers and the governments of Australia and Indonesia. But it’s not going to be found until the involved leaders stop trying to save their own butts and work together for the good of the industry.
For more information on the Australian live export debacle check this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this. Or, you could just google “Australian live export ban” and return over a million results.
Until next time,
YPC member, Brandi Buzzard is currently a research assistant at the University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.