Catherine Marriott has been involved in the northern Australian beef industry for the past eight years. She is a member of the ministerially appointed Rural, Remote and Regional Womens Network, an indigenous pastoral training manager with the East Kimberley Community Development Employment Projects, a woman’s advocate and leadership development mentor and an animal nutritionist and animal welfare manager in Australia’s livestock export markets in Asia. Given that record, it may come as little surprise for readers to learn she has also just been named the RIRDC WA Rural Woman of the Year for 2012. Beef Central spoke to Catherine earlier this week about her extensive experience in Indonesia and the changes she has witnessed to livestock management systems in the market in recent years. In light of the footage released on ABC Lateline last night, her comments about the trade offer a timely perspective on conditions in the market from someone who travels widely within Indonesia on a regular basis.
Unlike most people involved in the public debate about Australia’s livestock export trade to Indonesia, Catherine Marriott is one of the few who can speak with direct and extensive first-hand experience of the market.
In her roles as a livestock nutritionist, feedlot consultant and animal welfare officer over the past four years, she says she has seen extraordinary improvements in all facets of the industry.
"The improvements particularly over the last six months have been phenomenal, and they will only continue as we improve more systems."
In her regular trips to Indonesia Catherine said she had never witnessed the type of animal cruelty that was broadcast on ABC Four Corners last June, and says she was horrified by what it showed.
Catherine said the industry had responded with vast improvement in Indonesia since that time.
"I dont' believe the whole trade needed to be shut down as some systems were already stunning and closed,” she said.
“However the past is the past and I believe that out of adversity comes opportunity and I am very confident that we have a much stronger supply chain than we had previously."
On her most recent trip to Indonesia in late January this year, she said the facilities she saw were clean and professionally managed. Livestock moved through the systems in a calm and quiet manner, there was no “voicing” from cattle, with the slaughtermen operating in a quick and efficient manner, and they were also utilising their new equipment very professionally, she said.
Traceability systems that are now employed in some Indonesian feedlots and abattoirs were now further advanced than those used in Australia. One supply chain Catherine mentioned employed a combination of panel readers, wand readers and additional bar-coded ear tags in a triple-back-up traceability system.
Another feedlot had paid to have software developed to ensure that any animal in the supply chain can be tracked live at any point in time.
“I am really proud of the enthusiasm shown by the Indonesian people and the speed at which they have taken up all the new technology in their country, they are really enjoying learning and the fact that the cattle are much quieter and easier to handle,” she said.
She said industry had to be respectful when engaging on the ground with Indonesian people as they had a different culture to Australia.
"It is very easy for people to sit here in Australia with a full tummy and a wet throat and pass judgement.
“Although animal welfare is extremely important and needs constant improvement, this issue is bigger than animal welfare and has a real human face that I believe people are forgetting.
"We are suppling jobs for local Indonesian people, they don't have the welfare system that we are lucky enough to have in Australia so if the parents don't have jobs, they don't earn any money and the children don't go to school or get enough nutrition.
“If their children aren't being educated, it is very hard to pull people out of poverty.
“Most Indonesian families only have one income as the women don't find work as readily as we do here in Australia, we really live in a very lucky nation"
"When an animal is sold live to Indonesia, the entire carcass is used for human consumption so there is less waste, in Australia we consume less than 50 percent."
It was also important to provide Indonesia with the assistance it was looking for in terms of breeding cattle. The reality was that there were challenges associated with Indonesia becoming self-sufficient in beef production by 2014.
Catherine said that helping Indonesia to achieve its goals should be an important aim. "Very rarely do you lose the flame in your candle by lighting someone else’s, so sharing knowledge I believe will only benefit the relationship long term."
Catherine said her extensive experience in Indonesia had highlighted just how important the livestock export trade was to the country.
“It is extremely important, we are providing a third-world country, our closest neighbour with a source of protein and employment that they don't currently have so that they can educate their children.
“After all, education of children is what will ultimately help pull their people out of poverty.
“If Australia was to be pulled out of Indonesia it would be a great loss for the people of Indonesia, the pastoralists of Australia and overall animal welfare standards.
“The animal welfare standards wouldn't be maintained and if animal welfare activists are genuinely out there for the protection animals, I would love to see them appreciating the work that is being done and supporting an industry that is providing constant improvements.”