PRIOR to departing Perth on my way to Darwin to travel on a live export vessel to Indonesia, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I had heard a lot about the standards of shipments, transportation, feedlots, abattoirs and wet markets from industry people but nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.
It was an amazing trip. Not just in terms of viewing the standard of care for the animals on the boat, but also the process and the pride that the people working with them took to ensure they reached their destination.
Throughout the entire live export issues of last year, there were calls from activists and reports in mainstream media that seemed to portray the people working in the industry as barbarians that were just using the cattle for a monetary income, but I for one can honestly say that is not the case.
Young people like Gemma Lomax, Ben Giblett and Charlie Graham along with Eye Sea competition winner Helen Duncan, who is currently studying agriculture at Muresk, are all in the industry for the love of working with livestock and are all for maintaining the highest welfare standards.
Even the Indonesian locals, whether it was because I was there as a journalist or not, were treating the animals with respect and care.
I had also heard from industry people that the shipments and the feedlots in Indonesia, everything right up to the point of slaughter, was like a ‘five star resort for cattle.’ I always wondered if this may have been exaggerated. But it’s true.
The ships are clean and the cattle are well fed, getting four meals a day on board, the feedlots are exquisite with plenty of shade and the pens are cleaned every couple of days and the technology over there is also right up with anything in Australia, if not above.
During the live export ban Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig raved about putting in full traceability throughout the supply chain, when realistically the majority of Indonesian lotfeeders already had the technology to do that.
The only difference now is that it is compulsory.
Another reason not to ban an entire industry for a few issues in some minor abattoirs.
Not to say the issues weren’t serious, but they should have been dealt with on an individual basis. In speaking with Indonesian locals, all of them said “it wasn’t fair.”
The Indonesians are hurt by Australia’s knee-jerk reaction. With beef prices on the rise and a kilogram of beef costing almost as much as the average daily wage it can be quite a scary prospect for the average Indonesian family.
Could you imagine the reaction in Australia if a kilogram of beef went to $200? By the sounds of it, Indonesians in the cattle industry are the same as many in rural Australia, hoping for a change of government.
The federal election in Indonesia isn’t until 2014 and it is then that we will officially find out if Indonesia will be self sufficient.
Industry may say it is unrealistic but only when the time comes will we “officially” know.
The cut in import quota may not have been a direct relation to the live cattle export ban but more a drastic approach by the Indonesian Government to try and reach an election promise of self sufficiency.
It is important to have a strong government at all levels - local and State but particularly Federal, because they are the ones dealing with foreign countries and more importantly foreign cultures.
When looking at the foreign cultures on the journey in Indonesia, which also followed a private holiday through parts of South East Asia, it is important to remember that these are third world countries we are dealing with.
And when looking at some of the abattoir facilities, given it is 14 months after the ban and since the ESCAS has been in place, they were amazing.
For a third world country where the majority of people are living in the slums, the cleanliness, the standard and the way the locals treated the cattle prior to slaughter was most impressive.
I understand how most urban citizens would struggle to watch a cow or a sheep be slaughtered and I think that is what was the driving emotion over the last year.
We can all agree the footage shown on ABC’s Four Corners was terrible and we hope it is never seen again. It has changed the face of the live export industry forever, there is no doubting that.
But there is also no doubting that the full story was not portrayed during June and the issue could definitely have been handled better by the federal government.