Australia stops some cattle exports to Indonesia

ROD McGUIRK - Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government suspended live cattle exports Tuesday to 11 Indonesian abattoirs featured in a television program showing suffering steers being whipped and taking minutes to bleed to death after their throats were cut.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the suspension would be in force while an investigator reviewed the 330 million Australian dollar ($350 million) per year live cattle trade with Indonesia. Live Australian cattle account for up to 40 percent of the beef eaten in Indonesia.

Ludwig warned that more slaughterhouses could be added to the banned list.

"I will appoint an independent reviewer to investigate the complete supply chain for live exports up to and including the point of slaughter," he said in a statement.

A senior official at Indonesia's Ministry of Agriculture, For Riwantoro, said that Indonesia as a predominantly Muslim nation has its own methods of slaughtering animals based on Islamic teachings.

"We have to protect consumers by ensuring they consume not only healthy and clean meat, but most important, it must be halal," Riwantoro said, referring to Islamic requirements for slaughtering livestock.

While Australian abattoirs render cattle unconscious with stun guns before killing them, most in Indonesia follow the Islamic method of cutting the throats of conscious animals.

The 11 abattoirs in Jakarta, Bogor, Bandar Lampung and Medan were selected at random in March and video recorded by Lyn White, a former police officer and campaign director of the animal welfare group Animals Australia.

"We just stopped on the side of the road and asked people where their local abattoir was — it's as simple as that," White told The Associated Press.

She did not expect the government investigation would find conditions any more humane at the vast majority of other Indonesians abattoirs.

"There's about 770 (abattoirs) in Indonesia and only five stun, so only five would have remotely acceptable standards," White said.

Animals Australia and the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, better known as the RSPCA, want the live cattle trade banned on cruelty grounds. Both cooperated with Australian Broadcasting Corp. to produce the gruesome television program screened nationally on Monday night.

Riwantoro, who heads the agriculture ministry's livestock department, said Indonesia could look to countries other than Australia for imports of live cattle.

"So far cattle imports from Australia supplement locally raised cattle, therefore such a suspension will motivate us to rely more on local cattle," he said. "Of course if the suspension continues, we will look for imports from other countries."

Thomas Sembiring, chairman of Indonesia's Beef Importers Association, said live Australian cattle make up 35 percent to 40 percent of Indonesia's beef consumption annually.

He urged Indonesian officials to make every effort to lobby the Australian government to lift the suspension.

RSPCA chief scientist Bidda Jones, who analyzed the video slaughter of 50 cattle, said the slaughter men used on average 11 cuts to the throat to kill each animal, and as many as 33. The Australian standard was death within 30 seconds.

"They basically hack the heads off with blunt knifes, causing a lot of distress and pain," Jones said.

Ludwig described the images as "shocking in the extreme." Charles Armstrong, president of the New South Wales state Farmers Association which represents many Australian cattle ranchers, labeled the Indonesian practices as "horrific cruelty."

Some key Greens party and independent lawmakers, whose support is crucial to the Labor Party government, as well some government lawmakers are calling for the trade with Indonesia to be suspended or terminated.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd told government colleagues at a meeting Tuesday that the trade suspensions with individual abattoirs would not harm Australia's "strong and robust relationship" with Indonesia.

Two government lawmakers, Janelle Saffin and Kelvin Thomson, proposed banning all live exports to Indonesia until abattoir standards were improved. Their proposal will be discussed by government colleagues at their next party meeting on June 14.

"There was a very strong view among caucus members ... that action had to occur," a spokesman for the meeting told reporters on the usual condition of anonymity.

But independent lawmaker Bob Katter was sympathetic toward the Indonesians and urged the government "not to impose our religious beliefs and values on our neighbors." Katter said a third of Indonesians went to bed hungry while their fishing boats were banned from Australia's northern waters and deserved latitude with the beef handing.

The video showed abattoir workers break a bull's tail and repeatedly gouge its eyes and nostrils in failed attempts to get the animal to regain its feet, despite a broken leg.

At an abattoir in Medan in North Sumatra, cattle are seen tied and trembling as they watch other cattle slaughtered and skinned in front of them.

Before the government suspensions, Australian industry body LiveCorp had responded to the footage by suspending trade with three of the abattoirs featured and had sent trainers to a fourth.

"While we face many challenges in improving animal welfare in a developing country, we've made major progress during the past decade," LiveCorp chief executive Cameron Hall said.


Associated Press Writers Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini contributed from Jakarta, Indonesia.