The directors of Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp have failed in their duty of care for the Australian livestock industry and specifically beef cattle welfare in Indonesia.
The cattle abuse is so bad and has been going on for so long under their watch that they should apologise to Australian beef cattle farmers, then resign. New regulations on live cattle and sheep exports need to be introduced to ensure Australian livestock are only processed in works which meet Australian animal welfare standards.
The unconscionable component of the cattle welfare abuse in Indonesian abattoirs is the direct involvement by staff of both organisations in the installation of restraining boxes that facilitated the cruelty. Such restraining boxes were designed to allow the animal’s legs to be roped and when the side is opened to ensure the animal falls onto the concrete slab. All cattlemen know this approach is a recipe for an animal to panic and a struggle for it to try to escape – stress, injury and pain are unavoidable.
The subsequent abhorrent and random slaughter process (plus the cruel treatment forcing animals into the box) would have been witnessed by MLA and LiveCorp staff who oversaw installation of the equipment and arranged training with it. It is impossible to believe these people did not report how the slaughter process worked to their management with the information ending up with directors to decide on the moral and ethical outcomes of funding the construction and installation of these restraining boxes and the training needed to use them. In opting to fund and supply these restraining boxes rather than to recommend cessation of supply of cattle to sub-standard abattoirs in Indonesia (and recommending cessation of supply of animals to Middle East markets where sheep are abused), the directors have abrogated their responsibilities.
What is so deflating for most cattle and sheep farmers, meat processors and livestock scientists in Australia is that they know they have a responsibility to meet codes of practice for animal welfare. This is willingly adopted (in most sectors) because they acknowledge the basic premise of livestock as sentient beings and understand the “five freedoms for livestock”. For decades farmers have become more involved in understanding cattle and sheep behaviour attending no-stress handling schools and building farm layouts and yards with designs to suit.
Furthermore the commercial consequences of animal welfare have been researched for decades with millions of levy dollars spent to demonstrate that placid, unstressed animals produce the highest quality meat – hence Meat Standards Australia grading requirements. There is also a well known consumer preference for meat not only of high eating quality but also reared under the highest level of animal welfare.
In effect the decision by directors to condone supporting sub-standard Indonesian abattoirs with training and equipment while allowing the welfare abuse is an insult to all the people in the Australian industry who believe livestock welfare is paramount. It must also have disillusioned many Australian beef consumers who believe Australian livestock welfare standards are second to none.
The only way forward for the live export industry to Indonesia (and any other live markets) is to cease supply of Australian animals to the abattoirs that don’t meet Australian animal welfare standards throughout the entire on-shore process. The Australian live export cattle industry to Indonesia and possibly the entire industry can accommodate the short term pain of reduced prices of closing down most of the trade, it has no alternative.
It will not be long before a succession of Indonesian abattoirs adopt new and acceptable welfare standards (five abattoirs are said to have already done so). It is amazing how supply shortages allow religious customs to be modified as exemplified by halal certification in Australian abattoirs and find extra dollars as demonstrated in the live sheep export market where for years buyers could not pay more than $60 per head, but in the last two years have found an additional $60 to $80 per head to obtain supply.
This issue should also bring into focus the future direction for Australia’s northern cattle herd and the lack of on-shore processing facilities. There should be a halal certified export abattoir in the Top End to supply the bulk of chilled fresh meat to Indonesia and other current live export markets as well as processing cows for manufacturing markets.
For years the MLA and LiveCorp directors have preferred to favour dollars over animal welfare in live export markets. Attempts to change work practices have been undertaken and produced some results, but anything short of Australian standards is not good enough. Announcing a “Strategic vision for in-market animal welfare” (in the last week of May) then turning a blind eye to abuse as demonstrated in Indonesia cannot continue. That's because every night another 1500 - 2000 animals (521,000 cattle were exported to Indonesia in 2010), which should be the responsibility of Australian cattle industry, are cruelly treated and killed in an unacceptable way.
* Patrick Francis is editor of Australian Farm Journal.