Issues surrounding the live export crisis took centre stage when Meat & Livestock Australia chairman Don Heatley took questions at yesterday’s MLA Meat Profit Day at Eidsvold.
All seven questions asked during the 15 minute Q&A session following Mr Heatley’s address honed in on the live export issue.
Most audience members who took the microphone focused their questions on proposed solutions to the live export issue.
Jambin beef producer Geoff Maynard suggested MLA engage a high profile advocate in the form of an international aid organisation to highlight the role that live cattle exports play in providing work and affordable food for poorer citizens in countries that take imported cattle.
“Live exports to Indonesia create a huge amount of jobs for the feedlot industry over there, and jobs for their farmers, also their processing industry, and also it provides an enormous amount of affordable protein to the poorer end of Indonesia,” Mr Maynard said.
He also suggested that MLA fund a television documentary to highlight to metropolitan Australia the importance of the industry to indigenous workers in northern Australia and to the people Indonesia.
Mundubbera producer Alex O’Neill asked MLA to commit to funding an electronic and social media campaign to allow young producers to present their stories to urban populations.
One question demanded a direct response to the question of blame, with Mr Heatley asked by a producer from Monto whether he and MLA took responsibility for what had occurred.
“Certainly the responsibility that MLA takes is for the fact that we, as I said earlier, are the only country which has invested outside our borders in activities of animal welfare improvements in other countries,” Mr Heatley said.
“I won’t try to hide anything in this process. It is not up to us to do that. There are 732 abattoirs in Indonesia. MLA has chosen to work in approximately 109 where nobody else has.
“We certainly need to do more. We don’t have enough people to cover on the ground right across Indonesia on every given day of the week. What we will do now is we will narrow the supply chain down, we will funnel it through a much lesser group, and they will be the recipients of Australian cattle only."
“So do we take responsibility? It is a major issue for us, what I can say to you is that what we have to do a whole lot more on a lesser number of abattoirs.”
Claudia Stephenson from Moura questioned why the restraining boxes used by MLA in Indonesia did not incorporate head restraints.
Mr Heatley said devices in their existing form were an agreed step forward between Australia and Indonesia, and provided the Indonesians with a device that was affordable and effective in handling the larger Australian bos Indicus cattle going into that market place.
He said work to improve restraining boxes was currently underway and would most likely incorporate a head-bail and chinbar to enable stunning and Halal procedures to be performed in an upright position.
Mr Heatley said he had seen thousands of cattle killed in Indonesia and had never seen the “grotesque cruelty” to livestock that was aired in the ABC Four Corners program that sparked public outrage over the trade.
When used by well trained staff the existing restraining boxes did perform appropriately, he said.
"I have watched them by the thousands. When you open the left hand door, the near side door, the steer goes to take a step forward and the literally roll onto their left hand side.
“If you look at the footage, you had a metre and a half of slack in the front rope in cases, you had the near hind was just not tied. It begged some questions.
It is not an excuse but that is what was obvious.”