The airing of sickening footage of Australian cattle being subjected to inhumane treatment in Indonesian abattoirs has ignited growing public pressure for the trade to be banned – not only from members of the public but also from sections of Australia’s beef and cattle industry.
Agricultural minister Joe Ludwig yesterday ordered exports to the 11 abattoirs shown in the footage to be immediately suspended, and launched an investigation into the evidence of cruelty shown on ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday night.
The Gillard Government is coming under mounting pressure to go further after Greens and independent MPs yesterday voiced their intentions to introduce bills to parliament calling for immediate bans to all live exports to Indonesia.
The footage triggered an outpouring of public anger over the treatment handed to Australian animals in Indonesia, not least of which came from large sections of the Australian cattle industry.
Here is a cross-section of reactions voiced yesterday:
NSW Farmers Association president Charles Armstrong said the footage had caused a great deal of distress to the association’s cattle farmer members who would never wish to see their animals treated so badly.
“We welcome the livestock export industry’s decision to immediately stop Australian cattle from being sent to the Indonesian facilities where the footage was filmed.
“This situation in some abattoirs in Indonesia is totally unacceptable and we welcome the Federal Agriculture Minister’s commitment to banning the live export of livestock to substandard facilities,” Mr Armstrong said.
Queensland’s peak farm representative group AgForce said it was unacceptable for any cattle to be treated cruelly and supported agriculture minister Joe Ludwig’s inquiry into animal welfare in Indonesian abattoirs.
A joint statement released by AgForce president Brent Finlay and AgForce Cattle president Grant Maudsley cautioned against the immediate suspension of all cattle exports to Indonesia for two reasons.
“Firstly, it is important to recognise that the Australian cattle industry has led significant improvements and developments in Indonesian abattoirs to ensure livestock handling complies with international animal welfare regulations.
“If Australia was to exit the Indonesian market, who will monitor the situation and provide training and guidance on correct animal handling practices? We need to be in the market to continue influencing progress on this issue.
“Secondly, the North Australian beef industry is structured around the live export of cattle to Indonesia.
“The exit of Australia from Indonesia will have a devastating and wide-spread impact on families and communities who rely on this vital market, as well as support industries such as livestock transporters.”
Gulugaba, Qld, cattleman Dale Stiller, and moderator of the Just Grounds Online agricultural community website, said the site was inundated yesterday with cattle producers expressing outrage at the treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia.
“What was Meat and Livestock Australia thinking?” he said. “They knew what was going on and are in fact a passive participant in horrific and unacceptable animal cruelty.
“This will in the medium to long term an impact on all meat producers in Australia, not only will the loss of live exports translate into cattle sent to markets to the south, only to reduce prices for all; but this is tailored made ammunition to the animal liberation activists to convince some consumers to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.”
Northern Territory Primary Industry minister Kon Vatskalis said he was shocked by the footage and said he had asked industry to withdraw Territory cattle from all Indonesian abattoirs that do not use humane slaughter techniques as a matter of urgency.
“I have met with the NT Cattleman’s Association today and have asked for the immediate implementation of specific protocols – including training on the way animals are handled and more frequent inspections – so we make sure that livestock are handled humanely”.
Leader of the Nationals Warren Truss said the images shown on Four Corners were abhorrent to every farmer and every Australian. He supported Mr Ludwig's call for immediate bans to the abattoirs involved and bans on rogue facilities wherever possible, and said the industry had not made enough ground to improve animal welfare standards.
He said the industry had to use its influence in the market to achieve better results, but said calls to ban the entire trade "ill-advised and knee-jerk".
“Shutting the door will just hurt the cause of eliminating animal cruelty.”
Jessica Borg, campaigns manager for World Society for the Protection of Animals called for the trade to end immediately.
“Surely no-one in government, MLA or the farming industry could possibly justify the widespread and absolutely horrific abuse cattle endure in largely unregulated Indonesian abattoirs.
“If we continue to supply live Australian cattle to this system we are condoning the appalling treatment documented in the program.”
“Whether it’s cattle shipped to Indonesia or sheep shipped to the Middle East, we have no means of protecting our animals once we send them off shore. The only control we have is whether or not we send them.”
Tom Maguire, Teys Brothers executive and chairman of the Australian Meat Industry Council’s Animal Welfare Committee said the footage clearly damaged the global image of the $15 billion dollar Australian meat industry, and the situation had to be fixed.
“If this live export trade is going to continue, the Australian government needs to ensure the welfare of export animals for their whole life-cycle – not just when they’re on Australian shores,” Mr Maguire said.
“Nothing less will be acceptable to our customers and the Australian public.”
“The Australian Government simply needs to intervene so that this situation doesn’t happen again.”
“The images we saw were absolutely appalling and completely unacceptable.”
Australian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) Federal President Grant Courtney said the Australian meat processing industry was being devastated by competition from the live export industry.
“We conform to the highest international regulatory standards, we’re efficient, flexible and well run, but how can we possibly compete with overseas abattoirs that are clearly unregulated, inhumane or heavily subsidised?,” Mr Courtney said.
The export and meat manager for Victorian processor, V&V Walsh, Paul Crane said it was possible for industry and government to grow the infrastructure required to make chilled and frozen meat export an even larger trade. “We have always believed that we should export meat not jobs,” he said.
BBC News online reported that Indonesian officials had rejected claims of widespread animal cruelty in their abattoirs.
Speaking to the BBC, Indonesia’s director of animal farming, Iswantoro, said Indonesian authorities would be looking into the issue, but insisted that the country was committed to producing meat that “was safe, secure, healthy and halal.”
“There are lots of good abattoirs in Indonesia. The problem is (the Australians) only went to the bad abattoirs,” he said.
Animals Australia cruelty investigator Lyn White, told the BBC that there were about 770 abattoirs in Indonesia, but she was aware of only five that used stunning techniques.
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