Government suspends live export to Indonesia

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 8th June 2011

Live Export - Animals Australia - collapsed steerFederal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, today announced that the Government has suspended the export of live cattle to Indonesia “until new safeguards are established for the trade”.

The move has been welcomed by animal welfare groups RSPCA and Animals Australia, whose investigation of cattle treatment in Indonesian abbatoirs led to a shocking report by ABC TV’s Four Corners, sparking nationwide outrage at the treatment of Australian cattle.

The report said that while some Indonesian abbatoirs are up to Australian welfare standards, many others are using outdated equipment or no equipment at all. Questions have also arisen over the outdated equipment, which may have been supplied to the abbatoirs by Meat and Livestock Australia, who oversee animal welfare, and oversee the spending of levies for animal welfare paid by Australian cattle farmers.

Nationals leader Warren Truss and Shadow Agriculture Minister John Cobb said that today’s move would do nothing to help animal welfare, but instead sent the “wrong message” by penalising facilities that have acted to deliver best practice reform.

“Last night I ordered a complete suspension of all livestock exports to Indonesia for the purposes of slaughter,” Minister Ludwig said. “This suspension will be in place until the Government establishes sufficient safeguards to ensure there is verifiable and transparent supply chain assurance up to and including the point of slaughter for every consignment that leaves Australia.

“A sustainable live cattle export industry must be built on the ability to safeguard the welfare of the animals. The trade to Indonesia will only recommence when we are certain industry is able to comply with that supply chain assurance.”

Minister Ludwig said the decision to suspend the trade was made following serious consideration of the advice and evidence that has been presented to the Government since last Monday.

“As I previously announced, an independent reviewer will be appointed to undertake a complete supply chain review of the live export trade for all markets,” Minister Ludwig said.

The independent reviewer will now also inform both the design and application of the new safeguards.

The RSPCA and Animals Australia said that the suspension was the first step in redeeming Australia’s poor record on animal welfare in live export.

“From the first moment of viewing this footage [of an Indonesian abbatoir], I knew that suspending the trade was the only appropriate response from the government,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist Dr Bidda Jones.

“While we are relieved at this announcement, it should not be forgotten that some 100,000 Australian cattle currently in Indonesia will face the same brutal treatment.  The government must immediately put inspectors in Indonesian slaughterhouses to provide these animals with at least some protection”

“If successive Australian governments had proper oversight of this industry, these cattle and the six million previously exported to Indonesia, would not have faced the horrors of Indonesian slaughterhouses.

“If the Prime Minister didn’t realise it before, she now has irrefutable evidence that the live export industry cannot be trusted.  Not even MLA’s own constituents are accepting their claims that they didn’t know what was occurring in Indonesia.   This is an industry that has made misleading the government, public and farmers an art form and animals have suffered immeasurably as a result,” said Lyn White, Animals Australia Campaign Director and cruelty investigator.

“For years, this industry supplied animals to Egypt knowing they would be brutalised and now they have been exposed as complicit in Indonesia by supplying animals to the most brutal treatment imaginable and facilitating that treatment through the installation of cruel restraint devices.”

Meat and Livestock Australia said in a joint release with export company LiveCorp that it “understands the reasons” behind the Government’s decision, and said it would commit to the reduction of trade to a core group of facilities in Indonesia independently accredited to meet OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) animal welfare standards.

MLA Chairman Don Heatley said the suspension of the trade will most certainly have an impact on cattle producers and communities in the north, and that this needed to be acknowledged.

“However industry is confident it can work with the Australian and Indonesian Governments to deliver the solution,” he said.

“This decision gives industry sufficient time to implement the controlled system – which will ensure the appropriate treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia.”

Nationals leader Truss was less forgiving of the move, saying that the move would cause an immediate drop in the cattle market across Australia and devalue existing meat in stores.

“There is now no market for many of northern Australia’s cattle,” he said in a release. “There are no abattoirs in northern Australia and no alternative markets. Bans on live exports do not result in new markets for chilled or frozen boxed meat.”

“If exporters could process and sell packaged meat they would have done so already. For one thing, it is a substantially more valuable than the live trade. We know from experience that when live exports are halted – such as the ban on cattle to Egypt or sheep to Saudi Arabia – demand for boxed meat does not rise. That’s because live trade meets very specific needs. In these markets we are often talking about far flung villages where refrigeration simply does not exist.

“Banning the trade undermines the very means of affecting attitudinal or behavioural change. Clearly, more needs to be done. But Australia is the only country in the world actively working to improve animal care in markets,” continued Truss.

“Surely what is unacceptable for Australian animals is also unacceptable for other cattle, including those born in Indonesia, India or Argentina. We should use our influence as the major supplier to insist on the highest quality animal welfare reform.”

Minister Ludwig said the Indonesian and Australian governments have agreed to work closely together, and with industry, to bring about improvements in practices in abattoirs and to make this important trade sustainable in the longer term.

“The Australian Government is committed to reaching the best possible outcome for the livestock, the industry and our important relationship with Indonesia,” he said.

“The introduction of safeguards to foster a verifiable and transparent supply chain assurance system is the best way to achieve this.

“After meetings held in Jakarta yesterday, both governments have agreed that Australia and Indonesia will implement an immediate and a longer-term plan.

“Experts from both countries will work together to identify abattoirs that adhere to good practices that could form part of an approved supply chain, and to identify those that still need to be improved.

“As partners, both countries respect each other’s way of working.”

The Australian Government said it would ensure that exporters of live cattle meet the animal welfare standards expected by the Australian and Indonesian governments.