Meat works on the brink

Steve PennellsCountryman

The countdown at Elders’ Indonesian abattoir in Bogor has begun.

Workers there figure they have enough cattle for three months. After that, the growing Indonesian branch of one of Australia’s historic companies faces shut down.

“We’d be talking pretty rugged times after September, really rugged, ” said abattoir manager Dick Slaney who produces sterling beef, a premium Indonesian product, for the Australian pastoral giant.

“That’s taken us seven years to build up and that will be under serious threat, a very serious threat, ” he said.

The abattoir handles only Australian beef. It was here that the shipload of cattle stopped at Port Hedland about 18 days ago was headed.

This irks the company, considering it stuns its animals and is considered one of the best-run abattoirs in Indonesia.

“There were some pretty poor decisions out of Canberra and politically it’s going to take a bit of getting over, ” Mr Slaney said.

“This is a sovereign country and things should have been handled better.

“You’re shutting down trade worth $1.5 billion affecting thousands of families across two countries and it should have been given a lot more consideration. There’s no doubt about that.

“And I dare say, if they could rewind it, they probably would.”

The Elders operation feeds into the high-end meat markets of Indonesia, including restaurants and hotels, such as the one in central Jakarta where Australian Department of Agriculture officials are waiting for the third week, still unable to get a meeting with Indonesian counterparts or access to abattoirs.

Talks between Australia and Indonesia have stalled since Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig visited Jakarta last week.

Workers at the Bogor abattoir were pessimistic that the issue would be resolved soon.

“The longer they take to get the relationships back on track, the higher the risk for some longer-term damage, ” Mr Slaney said.

“There are probably several thousand people in the feedlot industry in this country directly affected.”

He also fears that when the trade is resumed, Indonesia could lower the weight limit on imported cattle to 250kg from the 350kg limit imposed last year as part of the country’s move towards self sufficiency in cattle production, which has been fast-tracked as a result of the Australian ban.

“If this happens, it will be absolutely devastating, ” he said. “You may as well pack your bags.”

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