Exporters pledge to act on cruelty

Kate Matthews and Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Australia’s $1.8 billion live export industry is under attack, facing calls for an immediate suspension of all cattle exports to Indonesia.

It has been a disastrous week for an industry that is vital to the survival of northern pastoralists.

Forty-five minutes of television footage on Monday’s ABC Four Corners focused on Australian cattle being cruelly treated, slaughtered without stunning and experiencing prolonged deaths in several Indonesian abattoirs.

Before the program aired, LiveCorp suspended cattle supplies to three abattoirs caught on film and sent a team of experts to train workers at a fourth.

But calls for the 30-year-old industry to be axed altogether resounded through Federal Parliament, as the Greens and Independent politicians Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon called for a complete ban.

The Independents have given notice to introduce a private member’s bill banning live exports on June 20 and claim local processing will create jobs.

The live export industry was quick to condemn the acts of cruelty filmed at the Indonesian abattoirs.

LiveCorp chief executive Cameron Hall said cruelty to Australian animals was unacceptable and would not be tolerated.

“Our work in Indonesia is directed at ensuring the types of actions depicted in this footage never occur,” Mr Hall said.

“The industry has been working hard to introduce pre-slaughter stunning at Indonesian abattoirs for some time and we are accelerating this work so that stunning is adopted in more facilities by the end of this year.”

During the past decade, $4 million in training, education and infrastructure has been spent by industry and the Australian Government to improve animal welfare in Indonesia.

In January, an independent study of 17 abattoirs on behalf of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and LiveCorp found the animal welfare of Australian cattle was generally good in this market, despite occasional incidents of non-compliance.

In May, MLA launched an Indonesian action plan to ensure all animals exported from Australia were managed through the supply chain humanely.

But criticism has been levelled at MLA.

WA Liberal senator and veterinarian Chris Back — who has had a career in live export — said it was valid to question whether MLA should have known what was going on.

“There are two Australians and six locally employed Indonesians currently inspecting abattoirs in Indonesia,” he said.

“Clearly, we need more people doing that and clearly there is more to be done.”

However, Dr Back said banning live export from Australia would simply condemn animals originating from other countries to cruelty.

“The only country that invests in these (overseas market) countries is Australia,” he said.

“For us to turn our backs on live export is to basically say we have no interest in animal welfare outside of Australia.

“Other countries will simply provide meat for that market and the standards will go backwards.”

Dr Back said five Indonesian abattoirs used stunning procedures and plans were in place to provide five more with similar facilities.

He said Australia now had to accelerate the rollout of pre-slaughter stunning.

After the Four Corners footage aired, Cattle Council of Australia chief executive David Inall said the industry would assess every facility that received Australian cattle.

Shocked by the footage, Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig called for a full investigation.

He said the live export trade was a valuable industry with many benefits, but the primary focus needed to be animal welfare.

Mr Ludwig halted trade to the identified Indonesian processing facilities.

He also called for an independent review of the supply chain, suspended installation of restraining boxes and said the future use of restraining boxes would be examined.

Mr Ludwig said further processing facilities would be banned if the need arose.

“It is clear that industry reforms to animal welfare standards have not gone far enough or been fast enough and much more needs to be done,” he said.

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