Blind eye turned to cattle cruelty

01 Jun, 2011 07:41 AM

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.

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1/06/2011 8:18:09 AM

Great article. I hope Cameron Hall and Joe Ludwig read it.
jim hawkins
1/06/2011 9:07:31 AM

Similar to the old AWI board, the directors of MLA and LIvecorp knew all about these practices for many years, and chose to bury their heads in the sand, and rely on "spin" to cover their grossly deficient action. Watch the media consultants they will now employ to cover themselves, a repeat of the mulesing debacle no less.
Helen Back
1/06/2011 10:01:41 AM

Exactly Patrick !! (Below are my comments sent via the Weekly Times after the airing of 4Corners) Re MLA's comments last week by chair Don Heatly - & in comparision this weeks 4Corners program. What a load of literal BS !! Every farmer should feel disgusted, and betrayed by MLA & LiveCorp. After repetitive BS in Strategy Action Plans #1001;monitoring,Taskforces etc etc (regarding the issues raised in 4Corners)- we didn't even have to provide the bullet, gun or foot - to bring live exports down. MLA & LiveCorp did it for us, on your behalf!! Stand up farmers - one by one F.G'S Sake, - to a mass, roar, and change this overnight - not by 2013, 2015, whatever ...
spin less
1/06/2011 11:59:25 AM

I'm appalled at the treatment of these animals and something needs to happen quickly. However you state "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" and you say both organisations have had a hand in the cruelty because of this. However I'm not sure these restraint boxes were designed for the purpose you state. If you took notice of the footage where animals were being processed correctly, the animals move up a race and into a box, are stunned, side door opens and the animal rolls over onto its back down a sloped "concrete slab" where the exsanguination process occurs. To me (I would like to know) the boxes look like they have been designed for this purpose with the sloped concrete slab and exsanguination point. With the addition of a captive bolt and sharp knife they would be efficient for humane slaughter. I wonder when officials visit this is what is taught, yet when unregulated they do what they like. No restraint means more tethered animals, tendon slashing and other horrid methods to immobilise the animal that will lead to longer pain and death times
John Niven
1/06/2011 12:05:27 PM

MLA has cost producers half a billion dollars over the last 5 years for a National Livestock Identification System nonsense based on fantasy. The same spin doctoring to justify this cruelty. The Aust Beef Assn was ridiculed for calling for the winding up of MLA. It is well past time Minister Ludwig took seriously the revelations of this farce, in fact he too should probably resign for being a sucker for propaganda and having no dea what MLA and Livecorp are up to.
spin less
1/06/2011 12:58:12 PM

These blogs appear to have several other ulterior motives other than discussing the issue at hand. If the ABA was so concerned about the operation of MLA, why didn't they expose this earlier and what does it have to do with NLIS? Comparisons to AWI are amusing considering its track record.
1/06/2011 1:06:13 PM

Good on you Patrick. Amazing that this widespread endemic cruelty only came to light from activists and the ABC.. How sad that MLA ,Livecorp and others in the trade sat on their hands. Also it demonstates a dearth of rural investigative journalism where tradtionaly some proprietors have played to the tune of advertisers . The heat has been heaped on AWI for a having a board without specialist expertise and MLA has always ben held up as the model. What a great example they are now, they should hang their collective heads in shame or better still take the corporate pill and resign. Never has the livestock industry been so uniited on an issue, that is apart from a few northern red- necks. The problem is also that some highly credentialed and principled live export operations wil be caught in the net
1/06/2011 2:54:04 PM

I see MLA has a new MD. He should be the last and John Anderson's original 1996-97 sunset clause idea on MLA should be invoked immediately. They are looking for 3 new Directors. Forget it, just wipe out the whole structure and start with a smaller clean sheet of paper with a much smaller budget. It would also be worth looking at the shocking trough feeding frenzy by current Directors who have huge conflicts of interest readily visible in their annual report. I will take that to the media at first opportunity. The whole place is overpaid and under performing. Hopeless bureaucracy asleep @wheel
1/06/2011 3:14:09 PM

Spin less, with respect I think maybe it is you with the ulterior motive. What was shown on 4 Corners was nothing but barbaric, sadistic cruelty, and no excuses can or should be made for that. MLA & LiveCorp should not be defended by any beef producer, for allowing this brutality to continue for so many years. Live exports started in 1993, how brutal was the treatment of the cattle back then, if they tell us how good the treatment of the animals is now? Close down MLA, LiveCorp and Live Export of Livestock (all forms of livestock).
John Niven
1/06/2011 3:51:30 PM

What this has to do with NLIS is half a billion dollars would have built abbatoirs all over the country. A basic mushroom stun gun would probably cost less than a thousand dollars and appropriate knocking boxes where the animals were killed swiftly and humanely. ABA had no idea this cruelty was going on, we have exposed everything that comes to our attention, I suggest you visit the website - A dedicated group of volunteer Directors supported by one paid office co-ordinator and approx 1,000 members and thousands of sympathisers. Instead we have an $180 milllion junket.
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