AUSTRALIAN abattoirs have begun slaughtering cattle for export to Malaysia - the first time since their access to the market was suspended in January.
Three of the five abattoirs that applied to supply the market were advised last week that they had met with the new and more stringent rules on halal slaughter methods.
The suspension was due to the Malaysian Ministry for Religious Affairs' concerns that pneumatic stunning and the use of a thoracic stick, which is used to speed the bleeding of the carcase, were being used to speed the killing process.
The ministry feared the processes were contributing to the animals' deaths, rather than merely helping to control them to protect meat quality.
Following negotiations, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) agreed to a milder level of electrical stunning and to use the thoracic stick at least two minutes after slaughter.
The news makes Australia the first nation to regain access after Malaysia suspended imports in January, giving Australian beef processors a headstart in the market ahead of rivals from Argentina and New Zealand.
Standbroke's Valley Beef abattoir at Grantham, Qld, the Tasman abattoir in Melbourne, and Norvic at Wodonga, Victoria, have gained accreditation.
Processing facilities at Kilcoy, Qld, and Longford, Tasmania, have failed the accreditation test.
Harvey Industries (HI) chief executive officer Scott Henderson said HI was working with AQIS and aimed to become an authorised halal abattoir.
Mr Henderson said Harvey Beef abattoir already practised halal killing methods and would look at becoming a registered abattoir under the new guidelines if they were not too onerous.
A spokesperson for WA export abattoir Western Meat Packers (WMP) said Malaysian officials had examined WA abattoirs last month, but WMP had not been given approval to slaughter for Malaysia.
A V and V Walsh spokesperson said the company had a sheep licence to export to Malaysia but had not applied for a beef licence.
Australia supplied 2348t of beef to Malaysia last year, dominating the restaurant and supermarket trade with its superior beef quality and proximity to the market.
Meat and Livestock Australia's South-East Asia regional manager Tim Kelf said Australian beef's popularity helped garner the support of local hoteliers and chefs in lobbying the Malaysian Government to expedite the reaccreditation of Australian abattoirs under the new rules.
While some restaurants still had some supplies of frozen Australian beef available, stocks were all but gone, leaving importers desperate for the issue to be resolved.