Producer perspective: Rashida Khan, NT

Rashida Khan, Kita Lagoon, NT, 09/06/2011

My name is Rashida Khan and I am a cattle producer, animal nutritionist, and animal lover and have been raised with an insight to the true Muslim faith. I have been fortunate enough to travel and have been to Asia.  My family has a cattle property in the Northern Territory and I have many contacts right through the supply chain. We care deeply about our animals and have always designed our workload and facilities with the animals needs in mind. So far our only market for the cattle we raise and fatten has been live export, with 80% of these cattle going to Indonesia. Of course we have been calling for diversity in our marketing options for the past 20yrs but to no avail. Most of the NT abattoirs have been shut down by union pressure and government red tape, making it extremely difficult for people to reopen the slaughter houses. These facilities would take the cattle we cannot send to Indonesia if they are the wrong colour or have a minor blemish.  If the export industry is closed down completely in the next week, can we expect a flush of government support for local businesses and abattoirs? Do we have the skilled labour force to process these cattle starting next week? Will we have suitable facilities to deal with the 700,000 head standing in the yards waiting, by next week?

When I saw the footage aired on 4 Corners on Monday 30th May 2011, I was rendered speechless. The cruelty was horrific and so very unnecessary. Initially I was angered and upset by the treatment of the cattle but I soon began to analyse what I had viewed.  The whole video was played out to leave the viewer with only one conclusion. Stop Live Export.  I began to make phone calls and despite asking friends, colleagues and family I couldn’t find a single person who had ever witnessed that level of abuse in an Indonesian abattoir. Still it pays to remember that there are around 770 in Indonesia and only 11 have participated in this carnage.  

Nowhere on the footage was a mention of the Indonesian processors who do the job properly. They were neither interviewed nor given any exposure. I believe it is a terrible shame if the whole industry must pay for the actions of so few. With exception to those 11 slaughter houses, I think it would be timely to mention the work done by the rest of the industry. There have been substantial investments both personally and financially in the development of better cattle boats, better feedlots, better breeding environments and handling, nutrition for maximum health, improved bio-security and better abattoirs. Yet strangely all of this was glossed over.

Since there was no mention of this better side, it is easy to understand how the Australian public became so angry and began generalising about the Indonesian people. I think it should be understood publically that these are not uneducated people at all but very savvy business people, who are often highly educated and extremely wealthy. To lump all Indonesian people in the category of animal abusers who know no better was a dangerous and stupid move. This prompted comments of a racist and derogative nature on the forums provided by the Jakarta Post and Straits Times. The outrage in Australia was fuelled by half truths and graphic images that I for one shall never forget. It has led to hasty decision making with scant regard for the flow on effects.

The cruelty displayed in the footage was mistakenly called Halal. There have been some very nasty comments linked to this and directed at Indonesia which has the world’s largest Muslim population. Let me assure you that there was nothing Halal about those kills. They were messy, blood tainted the meat, the animals were damaged and abused and no prayer was said for their soul. Halal kills are quiet, with many people restraining the animal, out of sight of other animals, till it has died. The throat must be cut swiftly with a sharp blade. It is a tradition that has carried on and means that stun guns which were not available in the days of the prophet could be employed today. This is however a cultural decision for the Indonesian people which has garnered support with many but may take time to implement. The Muslim community was on board until the negative slurs began which has put everyone offside. The fact that no clear information has been released regarding this is a great pity as many people would greatly benefit from the education. We must remember in terms of asking Indonesia to adopt our ideas that we are a relatively new culture spanning just 200yrs, theirs is a culture reaching back 3000years. We live by different socio economic standards and enjoy many luxuries courtesy of our resources and significantly smaller population. Small things like personal refrigeration are still a long way off in Indonesia’s middle to lower class population making the sale of chilled meat unviable. Housewives will feel the meat for warmth to ensure the beast has been killed that day and the meat is fresh. This is a way of life and would require both individuals and cultural groups to make changes.

This is not to say we can’t offer advice and assistance to improve slaughter conditions, make working conditions safer by stunning the generally unhandled Australian cattle who are not used to being roped, improve meat quality by eliminating the abuse and stress and redesigning the slaughter boxes to have a lesser gradient and better grip. However our high and mighty approach taken and the continued abuse to their intelligence makes negotiations with people who genuinely wish to improve animal welfare conditions extremely difficult.

The call has been to Ban Live Exports. Now this is to be discussed in Parliament and may be written into the law books. While the main focus is currently on cattle and has previously been on sheep, I would like to point out that there have been no distinctions made in the general push to Ban Live Exports. Australia exports a lot of animals of different types and should a motion go through parliament, extreme welfare groups will have an excellent opportunity to cripple other industries in Australia under this blanket ban. For example  feral goats are exported, racehorses are regularly shipped overseas and not to mention the booming performance horse industries with endurance horses going to the UAE, Warmbloods to Europe and Quarter Horses to the USA.  We also send cattle to 27 other countries excluding Indonesia. Should all these people suffer because of 11 slaughter houses in Indonesia? Once a law is made it is rarely toned down and we have seen time and again the impact of these sweeping bans and the repercussions.

Most of Australia’s geography is not suited to other forms of agriculture and the rangeland grazing of livestock has proven to be efficient and sustainable. While we may export large quantities of minerals they are an exhaustible resource and tourism is dependant of global finances and political stability. Carbon trading is not likely to be a sustainable income stream to support the many people actively involved in Agriculture and in my opinion cannot replace the live export trade.  If producers and graziers go broke they will take with them regional communities and support services that they currently support. By the end of the week 13,000 Australians could be unemployed and more to follow, if the Industry collapses. This is not just the loss of a job; it’s the loss of hopes, dreams, blood sweat and tears. People will lose their way of life and support they need to live in the places they love. 

What are producers expected to do with their stock in the interim of the export industry closing and alternate markets opening? Unfortunately we are not as wealthy as we are publicised to be and cannot afford to shut down and wait. Many producers have committed themselves to tailoring theirbusinesses at great cost to meet the specifications of Live Export. We breed grey cattle, we market them at 350kg even though we have the knowledge to grow them bigger and still only get paid by the kilogram. We have endeavoured to improve nutrition and handling techniques and yet we get 24hrs warning that the ports are closed. In my years of training animals I know one thing clearly, that behaviour that is rewarded is always repeated! So could someone explain to me why we are doing everything right and yet being treated so poorly? This question covers the Indonesian processors who are also doing the right thing and the true Muslims who follow the holy procedure of the Halal kill. How is this abuse of peoples efforts justified?

As an Australian producer I am particularly upset to think producers have paid $5/animal to be treated like this and to see those animals treated that way. I am also disappointed in the sudden silence from animal welfare groups who only made a brief appearance when the footage was aired, with just enough encouragement to cause a stir and then they melted away. I ask them, What about the cattle? Don’t they matter now that you have your petitions sighed and donations stowed away? So you have succeeded in suspending the Live Export Industry but have you made any physical changes to the animal’s treatment in Indonesia? Have you consulted the appropriate Indonesian authorities? Are you funding any training for the slaughtermen? Or have you moved on to your next victim?

If Australia is going to become worried by the actions of others with animals, then we should also look into the treatment of the animals that provide the products we import. This is just as important and should be seriously considered. I am absolutely disgusted in the treatment of those cattle in the footage but if we are going to seriously make a difference we must explore our imports. Anything short of this would be hypocrisy.

The key issue has always been animal welfare. However due to ignorance and negligence it has escalated into a volatile argument between neighbours, which has left thousands of cattle stranded, thousands of people in a precarious position and must be diplomatically handled. The Indonesians are in my opinion unlikely to back down in their stance. While the phrase No Stun- No Cattle is catchy, to accept it would mean the Indonesians lose face – something the Asian community doesn’t take lightly. Australia has many trained diplomats and it’s time for them to act. We need to reengage the Muslim community, apologise for the childish insults and press for positive solutions that benefit all stakeholders. Focussing on improving meat quality would be a perfect inroad. We must continue to pressure the Australian Government for support in diversifying the markets in Northern Australia.

If we don’t act, what will become of the cattle? Will we have another international embarrassment to rival the Camel Cull and the BTEC program, which are widely seen internationally as wasteful and inhumane? In any negotiations regarding this Australians would do well to remember people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

I am only one voice but together we can provide a solid stance and with common sense and empathy we can rectify this situation. We must spread the message and educate people to support our Australian producers and associated industries as well as those in Indonesia who are in the same situation.  These people have done nothing wrong and like our other export clients should not be punished for the actions of a few. If we can collectively act to make real changes to the slaughter conditions in those 11 abattoirs, we will have made a tangible difference to international animal welfare. Banning Live Export and insulting our neighbours doesn’t help the beast that dies in Jakarta tonight! 


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