Cattle exporters play catch up
The issuing of 180,000 cattle import permits in Indonesia has caused Australia’s northern cattle industry to breathe a sigh of relief before it knuckles down to sort out the details on a resumption of trade.
The decision followed Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s announcement last Wednesday that Australia would resume cattle exports to Indonesia under a privately audited secure supply chain that meets World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards.
Some Federal Labor backbenchers have called the resumption of live cattle exports to Indonesia premature and have vowed to continue fighting for more stringent safeguards preventing cruelty.
However, the industry has not come away unscathed with the latest statistics from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) showing both Australia’s ban on exports during June and the introduction of weight restrictions on cattle imports by the Indonesian Government last year has resulted in exports dropping to only 440,000 head during 2010–11.
This is a drop of 245,000 head compared to the same period in 2009–10, with fears last week’s re-opening of the trade will be too late and at such limited capacity export numbers could fall even further during 2011–12.
Industry is trying to get shipments back on track as soon as possible, but both pastoralists and exporters say the disruption is likely to take more than a year to overcome.
International Livestock Exporter (ILE) director Mike Stanton said he hoped its first cattle shipment to Indonesia would depart on July 29.
Mr Stanton said at this stage the only process which could delay this shipment was completion of an independent audit of its OIE-accredited supply chain.
“We have been working very closely with Canberra and the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) over the past three weeks and have submitted our Notice of Intention to Export, so we are not far away from getting everything right; it is just getting an independent audit in place, ” Mr Stanton said.
“It is a fair process, getting the supply chain certified and assessed and then passed by an independent auditor.”
Mr Stanton said ILE had cattle waiting in depot yards that were ready to be exported to Indonesia.
He said that while cattle shipments from WA to Indonesia would resume, at this stage he thought a larger number of cattle meeting Indonesian specifications would be exported out of the Northern Territory.
“Before the ban there were not many light cattle in WA available with all the big lines of light cattle already exported, ” Mr Stanton said. “There is normally a second round of these lighter cattle but at the moment most of the cattle available are too heavy.”
Mr Stanton confirmed Indonesia’s cattle specifications for this round of import permits remained at a maximum weight of 350kg.
He said the next problem likely to hit the industry would be that cattle made to wait on stations during the ban had become too heavy to meet these specifications.
Shipping constraints were not a problem for ILE, with its ships having only been repositioned during the ban.
Mr Stanton said ships were being used to supply cattle to alternative markets at the moment, but would return later this month to load cattle for Indonesia, provided the independent audit process had not delayed approvals for export permits.
Concerns that the limited number of Indonesian abattoirs’ meeting OIE standards would cause a bottleneck in the supply chain were not likely to cause a problem at this stage, according to Mr Stanton.
He said that while the potential was there in the long term, it was expected more abattoirs would come online within the next 100 days.
“At this stage, cattle being shipped to Indonesia will be put on feed for 90 days, so capacity is not a problem, ” Mr Stanton said.
“We have a supply chain with one abattoir in place which has a high processing capacity and are working with others.”
Mr Stanton said Indonesian importers only had two months left of this quarter to fill their import permits with a normal quarter likely to consist of a total of 130,000 head being shipped.
Wellard Rural Exports has also been working closely with DAFF and its commercial partners in Indonesia to develop, verify and operate a supply chain that meets the newly developed animal welfare and traceability standards.
Wellard managing director Steve Meerwald said there was a big industry presence in Indonesia with MLA, LiveCorp and Australian exporters working to ensure secure supply chains could be established to enable exports to begin.
Mr Meerwald said the events of the last month now meant both Australia and Indonesia were in a position to raise the bar when it came to animal welfare in supply chains and this was something Wellard viewed as an opportunity.
“We are of the view that we will only export to abattoirs that use stunning, ” Mr Meerwald said.
“We are working with importers to make sure they have what is necessary, both with regards to physical infrastructure and training.”
Mr Meerwald said he was less convinced supplying infrastructure such as stunning equipment would guarantee the welfare of animals.
Instead, he felt it was important exporters were working with importers that were improving facilities.
He said the onus on guaranteeing supply chains met OIE standards was on Australian exporters, because this was the only way the Australian Government could regulate animal welfare conditions.
Wellard will submit a Notice of Intent to Export cattle to Indonesia to the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service once it is confident those standards can be met by the company and its commercial partners in Indonesia.
Pilbara pastoralist Robin Mills, of Warrawagine station, is looking forward to seeing the first cattle boat leave for Indonesia.
For his family and many others, the lifting of the ban could not have come soon enough. The number of cattle suitable for export to Indonesia has been building on his station and he hoped buyers would return before the cattle grew too heavy for the Indonesian market. “Fortunately we got some cattle out before the ban was put in place, ” he said.
But he said those outside the industry often did not understand the “crippling effect” of the ban on the livelihoods of many families. “The knock-on effect this has had on people in the industry is huge, ” he said.
Mr Mills said he believed most of the announced compensation would end up going into the pocket of bureaucracy.
Despite the frustration caused by the Federal Government’s handling of the issue, Mr Mills said he was optimistic about the future of live cattle exports. He said after an few days of rain, things were looking up and he was happy trade had been reopened. Abattoirs and butchers would no longer have such a “free hit” when it came to paying producers.
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