Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust

The government’s decision to halt live cattle exports to Indonesia, without prior warning, deeply disturbed Indonesia. Australian beef accounts for 25 per cent of the country’s meat and is a vital source of protein for millions of Indonesians. There are also thousands employed in feedlots, abattoirs and downstream processing, and Indonesia had considered Australia to be close enough to form part of its own food security.

In addition, the Australian government has long had a policy of supporting neighbouring countries that are members of global animal health organisation OIE as they progressively implement its standards of animal handling and welfare. Indonesia is such a member.

The export ban undermined all that. Many in Indonesia now regard Australia as an unreliable supplier, and there are strong indications the country will seek to diversify its sources by importing cattle and beef from other countries while renewing efforts to become self-sufficient in beef by 2014.

It will be some time, perhaps several years, before we see the full impact of that. For the moment, the Indonesians are displaying remarkable tolerance, probably much more than Australians would show if another country had suddenly cut off a major part of our food supply. Permits to import live cattle have been reissued and there is no overt resentment at Australia’s insistence on supervising the treatment of cattle owned by Indonesians within Indonesia.

The Indonesian government allows live imports because they satisfy demand for freshly slaughtered meat sold in wet markets. This is popular for financial and cultural reasons and a necessity for those who do not have access to refrigeration. Live imports also generate local employment in feedlots and abattoirs. Indeed, the reason cattle from Australia cannot exceed 350 kg is to ensure they must undergo local fattening prior to slaughter.

Australia has a natural advantage as a supplier of live cattle, given its proximity and Brahman species, but is not the only possible source. Brazil, with more than six times Australia’s cattle population, would be quite happy to supply Indonesia. So would Argentina, which has double Australia’s cattle population.

There is also a large market for boxed beef in Indonesia, chilled and frozen, into which Australia sold over 50,000 tonnes in 2009. Chilled beef, which is higher quality and more expensive, is mainly sold in supermarkets and restaurants. Frozen beef, which includes some lower priced options, can be thawed and sold in wet markets although it is not the preferred choice of consumers.

There are two reasons Indonesia is not already importing live cattle from countries other than Australia. One, fairly obviously, is freight. The other is the risk of introducing foot and mouth disease (FMD). Indonesia is classified by the OIE as FMD-free without vaccination and has a policy of only importing cattle and cattle products from countries that are similarly classified (as does Australia).

FMD occurs in Brazil and Argentina, although not everywhere. Both have states or regions classified as FMD-free without vaccination and also areas classified as FMD-free with vaccination. A growing number of FMD-free countries are willing to accept imports from one or both of these in order to take advantage of their lower prices.

With boxed beef, Indonesia has choices apart from Australia, including New Zealand and the US. If it were to allow imports from FMD-free regions or states, it would have more. Most can produce beef at prices that are comparable to Australia’s.

There is also a possibility of beef being imported from India, which was contemplated a couple of years ago but did not proceed. Some Indian states are FMD-free, although they are not internationally recognised. India has 280 million cattle, the majority of them buffalo, equal to the combined cattle numbers of Brazil and the US and about fourteen times that of Australia. Indian beef is said to be the cheapest source of red meat protein in the world.

Irrespective of what the Indonesian government does about diversifying sources, the Australian government’s new permit system for live cattle exports will stimulate a search for alternative supplies. Only a handful of exporters will be able to retain responsibility for cattle as they progress through Indonesian feedlots and abattoirs. MLA is predicting exports to Indonesia will be down 40 per cent this year.

Indonesians are also no more enthusiastic about being told what to do by foreigners than Australians, and will only accept it while the Australians keep offering incentives and they have no viable alternative. The moment they have other options or the Australians stop paying, cooperation will cease.

Even before the live export ban, the beef market in Indonesia was complex. Beef importers and processors were trying to maintain imports, consumers wanted to keep prices down, local beef producers wanted to limit imports to reduce competition, and the government wanted the country to produce its own beef but also guarantee supply and keep prices down.

All this means Australia’s northern cattle industry is facing an uncertain future, with long-term reduced demand. Producers currently left with large numbers of cattle they cannot sell are unlikely to see a major rebound next year. While the Indonesians no longer trust Australia, many cattle producers no longer trust the Australian government and will not be investing in the industry.

After all that, the outlook for cattle welfare is not much changed. Most Australian cattle slaughtered in Indonesian abattoirs will be stunned, as they were before. Some will not, as the OIE guidelines allow. No change there either.

And, of course, levies paid by Australian beef producers will continue to be used to raise standards in Indonesian abattoirs, including greater use of stunning – as long as the Indonesians continue to buy our cattle.

David Leyonhjelm works in the agribusiness and veterinary markets as principal of Baron Strategic Services and Baron Senior Placements.

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I seem to recall that the whole point of stopping the live cattle export in the beginning was that Indonesia had lost Australia's trust in terms of its ability to humanely slaughter the animals we send them.
I think David Leyonhjelm would do well to revisit the barbaric footage that aired on ABC TV and resulted in a petition to the federal government of several hundred thousand Australians demanding an end to the trade (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
Analysis like this is of no use if it completely ignores the cruelty to animals involved. We cannot make these decisions in a vacuum based purely on economics and trade – we need to consider all the factors. For many Australians this clearly means no trade if our overseas customers do not have the resources/commitment to ensuring humane slaughter.
Live animal export for slaughter is cruel and unstable by its very nature. It can be stopped at anytime by politics on either side, exposure of the cruelty involved, bad weather, disease, or the buyer simply finding a different source (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
Since the tax payers are asked to pay for the short comings of this industry, let us pay to wind it up. The moral majority has asked that it stop. In 1865 Southern US farmers said they needed slavery to maintain their economy. In 1965 Cape Byron said they needed whaling to maintain their economy. But the moral majority decided these industries must stop and so they did. End live export for slaughter now and for ever. From a country boy and a cattle owner.
Very well explained, thanks David (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
It really is unbelievable that a government can react to a radical minority group the way it did, and now throw into doubt a thriving 'food supply' business carried out by our iconic northern stockmen. Australia will be very lucky if we don't pay dearly for this huge error of this incompetent government.
Strange we can act on a film whose veracity is in question and cost us over $300 million plus lost of future income yet we can only give $80 million to Somalia. It would seem that our government has little regard for human life (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
The live cattle trade yields a very low economic return compared with the environmental damage it causes in the north of Australia; and the companies benefitting from the trade are not required to rehabilitate the land, as is required of iron ore companies. (The iron ore companies earn in the order of 100,000 times the live cattle export industry per hectare of disturbed land - and then they rehabilitate the land at the end of mining!) The adverse environmental impact of the low-value live export industry has not been publicised (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
In addition, I am concerned about the economic impact of live export on our abattoirs and the inherent instability of this industry. Indonesia, which I think takes around 80% of our live cattle, will become self-sufficient and will suddenly suspend imports. We need to display vision and encourage stable long-life industries (eg Sir Charles Court's vision for the Pilbara iron ore industry).
A submission to one of the current enquiries by an ex-MLA member attaches an official report that graphically highlights what happened on a livestock ship that struck a storm at sea. The cattle could not keep their feet and hundreds of animals died slowly and painfully on a single ship. Video footage of this type of carnage at sea would be even more disturbing than what was seen on Four Corners! Our politicians had better be on the right side of this debate if more disturbing material emerges before the next election!
The way the developing world is moving up the income ladder, and hence their increased protein from animal sources, I doubt we have too much to worry about. If anything, in 10-15 years time the question of Australians being able to afford meat is going to be the political hot potato, not being excluded from live cattle export markets (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
There were people spinning the positive economic effects of human slavery in the 19th Century, and Apartheid in South Africa in the 20th century.
The economics of this vile trade do not add up (See Slaughtering Indonesia’s cattle trust , August 16). Jobs processsing the animals are shipped overseas (yes, we currently process halal meat in Australia that is exported frozen to all of the countries we currently send live animals to).
If we ban this barbaric trade, I think it would be creating jobs and economic growth here. Especially in rural areas that can do with the stimulus. Just because some people want to turn away whilst they count their blood money from the suffering of these animals, Australia should have more backbone about such ethical issues. Just because there is a buck in it does not make it automatically right.
I am an ardent free market supporter and am a business owner, but I believe some trade is just plain wrong, however the lobbyists try and spin it.
We need to end all live animal exports now (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16). There are currently 6000 sheep stuck on board a ship in an Australian port. They already have been there for weeks. Can you imagine what it would be like to be on a flight in an economy class seat for a month, without being able to leave the plane at all?
After having yet another look at the famous "Horror Movie" last night what I am going to say will probably get me eaten alive by the animal activists, even though I think most are probably vegetarians (See Slaughtering Indonesia’s cattle trust , August 16).
I ran into my old friend Bill on Saturday. He is 74 retired and was a cattle man for 50 years or so. He was a breeder and killer of bovines having had two cattle farms and a family butcher shops. He thinks the movie was staged for effect. Bill says the person doing the killing was an actor because the level of brutality displayed was so intense it could only be meant to shock the viewers. He also said killing in that manner was simply wasting the meat as the level of bruising would be such that all the better cuts would be bruised. He also says stressing a beast before killing it makes for very tough meat. So that is why I viewed the film again. I do have to say now that Bill's observations could well be valid. Was the killer just a nut case or an actor?
I would say David's article has all the relevant facts with regards to this problem (See Slaughtering Indonesia’s cattle trust , August 16). I worked in western Queensland in the 1960's as a jackeroo and stockman on large cattle and sheep properties. We killed our own sheep and cattle either by cutting the sheep's throat and breaking its neck - all in a matter of seconds. Or we shot the beast in the paddock and cut it up on the ground.
This may seem barbaric to those people who eat meat but have never been involved in their slaughter. We were never cruel and it was a fact of life in the bush, as we needed meat to eat. The program on 4 Corners should have been properly checked out by them to make sure it was a properly investigated documentary as they used to be. I think 4 Corners let themselves down, and the public, by not doing so. I felt it was a very amateur film and did not show other abattoirs at work who were doing the right thing. It only showed the rogue ones. In one case it showed well-known branded cattle who weren't in those rogue abattoirs implying that they were. It has taken the cattle producers in the far north a long time to find a way of producing cattle economically, then they are stuffed up by an amateurish, one-sided view.
However, I think the MLA should shoulder the blame for the fiasco for not doing what they should and were paid by the cattlemen to do.
There is a simple explanation for the level of brutality displayed by the abattoir workers on the Four Corners program, with no need for conspiracy theories (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
The deregulation by Indonesia of the meat processing industry resulted in high demand by very small abattoirs and butcher shops. The job of abattoir worker in these places is low paid and low status and there is a rapid turnover of staff. Therefore many of the workers may be untrained, have very little experience and even be afraid of the animals they have to kill.
I have been to most areas in Northern Queensland and the damage that has been done to the cattlemen and women from these areas is immeasurable (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
Because of the government's knee jerk response a lot of these properties are now overstocked and there is a very real danger of starvation. I would like to ask if some of these armchair conservationists are going up north to help load the guns to help cull some of the excess stock.
Sure, the footage we saw on Four Corners was cruel, but what happens next could be worse. This whole issue could have been handled a lot better, but then that's how this government reacts when extremists jump up and down.
It is important that the public viewing these kinds of videos made by animal rights activists realise that often these activists stage the action to show abuse. We have seen this in the US in Ohio and other states (See Slaughtering Indonesia's cattle trust, August 16).
Sometimes the actor is an animal rights spy working at the facility and other times it is a worker paid to be abusive. The goal is to eliminate meat from our diets. Now, if these radical animal rights folks were honest about their aims and their tactics, that would be one thing. But often, they are not. Aussies would be well advised to do a lot of research when any of these kinds of videos surface... as you may find out they were not factual.
The point made by animal activists in this country that closure of our live-export markets will put an end to animal cruelty besieges me. The fact that Australia and our producers contribute to the continual improvement of welfare standards across the globe seems to be constantly ignored in this debate.
Countries such as Indonesia and in the Middle East have shown that they require imports of live animals and will continue to source this product regardless. If not from Australia then elsewhere. No other country in the world demonstrates such a level of welfare reform. His excellency, President Yudhoyono trusted us to enter his country and help implement reform, only to have the Australian government spit in his face.
As an Australian and a producer I am left dumbfounded and disgusted by these actions. The resulting carnage both here and overseas displays a total ignorance towards industry and has a totally negative animal and humanitarian welfare result. The possibility of mass culls across our rangelands is shadowed by the option of starvation and degradation from overstocking. Not to mention the social aspects with the destruction of family business and those related. Entire communities are at threat.
The effects in Indonesia must also be considered with up to 1 million peoples jobs at risk. So too the protein requirements of those that rely heavily on export/imports from products that we class as waste ie; blood, bone, skin, offal, etc. Indonesians, particularly the poor, consume all of these. Yes we export boxed beef to Indonesia, only to supply the high end markets of those that can afford it.
As for our abattoirs, particularly those in WA and North Qld, we just don't have the markets for boxed beef. Closures are regular due to surplus without the added burden of an export ban.
And what of our rangelands without pastoralism? To be over-run by ferals is not a viable option and the only resolution to this is mass cullings mainly by air (drop and rot).No positive welfare results there either.
Would David please refer to where his assertion that most cattle slaughtered in Indonesia are pre-stunned comes from (See Slaughtering Indonesia’s cattle trust, August 16)?
I have only been able to find 4 facilities that pre-stun. These, I believe, are owned and operated by Elders. The other 800+ slaughter houses in Indonesia do not seem to stun.
I would love for David to be able to prove me wrong on this, for the sake of the thousands of Australian cattle in Indonesia now and the thousands on their way. They are not all going to the Elders' facilities!