Seeing it first hand

09 Aug, 2012 04:00 AM
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Eye Sea competition winner Helen Duncan, Ravensthorpe, at the Darwin Port during loading.
Eye Sea competition winner Helen Duncan, Ravensthorpe, at the Darwin Port during loading.

This article is from a special feature on Indonesian live export.

MY ‘Eye Sea’ journey began in Darwin where I examined the quarantine and loading facilities prior to export.

The cattle which would accompany me on the voyage to Indonesia were being processed and trucked to the port for loading. An explanation was given of the requirements for meeting export standards and for receiving permission to leave by a vet and AQIS.

Weights and RFID tag numbers were also recorded which would later be reconciled with the data recorded in Indonesia to meet the new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System regulations.

The voyage itself was five days long, and in that time I was able to thoroughly view the systems and processes involved in feeding and caring for the cattle on board. A feedlot system is adopted whereby the feed and water troughs are filled and cleaned in a daily routine following bunk calls for each individual pen.

The cattle are extensively examined once a day but are viewed by the stockmen a minimum of five times a day, meaning that those cattle requiring attention got it promptly.

The vessel had a really good crew where everyone knew what they had to do and got it done efficiently, cleanly and quietly. We anchored in Panjang Bay early on the fifth morning and the business complexity in trading cattle live via a ship was evident.

Waiting for a berthing spot took more than 12 hours and this was shorter than most anchorage times, then you add the paperwork required for Customs and Immigration, the final inspections of the cattle and it all adds up to a lot of down time.

The discharge itself is also a mission whereby the cattle are unloaded 15 at a time into local trucks containing bedding.

Throughout this whole timely process the welfare of the cattle was still held in high regard. The Indonesians deserve a lot of credit.

The feedlots which operate in a country with greater business challenges and more limited resources are easily comparable to Australian equivalents and use some very similar systems.

Some of the IT systems are even better, and have been in use long before the ban. They are using real-time data, through wireless systems which can be seen by all parties involved in the supply chain, in any country, instantly.

The animal cruelty debate has raged around this topic ever since the export ban, but on my trip I saw none. The changes to the abattoir were visible but relatively simple and the Indonesians were keen to express their knowledge and use of all new equipment.

It seems that miscommunication in education and following confusion about expectations was the root of the original problem and this now has been overcome with more clear guidelines and increased traceability. The most astounding aspect of my trip was seeing the downstream effects of our own, and the Indonesian, government’s actions.

The price of meat in Indonesia has risen significantly, and will only continue to rise as supply is diminished with decreased import quotas despite having a herd which is not yet self sufficient.

The Indonesians who purchase this meat are not responsible for the cruelty seen previously, nor are the people who produce the cattle in Australia; however they are the ones paying the price.

I wanted to keep my mind open and ask myself how would other people with different opinions of the industry view what I had seen, what would they think?

Overall I believe the industry has noticeably improved, but not so greatly that the same outcome could have been achieved without creating such huge ramifications for everyone in the supply chain.

Some would argue that the changes were long overdue, others that the changes were coming all in due course, but at the end of the day miscommunication and a lack of knowledge were the biggest drivers of a potentially unnecessary live export ban.

  • Helen Duncan was the winner of the Wellard, WA Beef Council and Farm Weekly ‘Eye Sea’ competition which enabled her to travel on a Wellard live export vessel to Indonesia and inspect abattoirs, feedlots and wet markets in Indonesia.
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