It was the single most evocative piece of journalism in Australia this year, a piece about the brutal slaughter of Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs. Tortured, beaten, necks hacked at up to 33 times. Conscious and aware while they bled to death and, in some cases, while the cattle were butchered.
The scenes were so shocking that Four Corners, the show in which Sarah Ferguson aired the report, lost some half a million viewers in the first few minutes. But it didn’t matter. This was a story that would shock the cattle industry and the Government into action.
But now we assess the fallout. Who knew what, and for how long? Why was nothing done? What does the suspension of the live cattle trade mean for the cattlemen and farmers who rely on sold beasts as income?
Animals Australia and the RSPCA (whose joint investigation exposed the Indonesian slaughter practices) both concede that regular farmers and cattlemen have been deceived by their own industry and knew nothing as producers about the gory fate that awaited their animals. And nobody seems to be disagreeing with the assessment that these primary producers do care for their animals. They have to, business depends on a healthy beast. It’s not that they didn’t know the cattle were slaughtered (of course), but they assumed the way in which it was done was at least similar to the halal slaughter practices in Australia.
Wrong. And the people that knew the set-up, indeed the people who set-up the Indonesian slaughter industry, were the cattle producers’ own industry body, the Meat and Livestock Australia body (MLA).
The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) says the industry up north is worth some $400 million, with half of the 600,000 cattle headed to market live and overseas. And when you put a sudden and unbreakable halt to the live export to Indonesia, the ‘ripple effect’ will be enormous, says the association’s Chief Executive Luke Bowen.
There are some 100,000 cattle already in Indonesia that will be slaughtered with no hope of intervention from Australia. But there are ‘tens of thousands’ in Australia and waiting to be loaded at ports that aren’t going anywhere. It’s a spoke in the wheel of the core part of the cattlemen’s business.
NTCA President Rohan Sullivan said the ‘industry is committed to banning animal cruelty, not banning live export’.
“After only 24 hours the suspension of live exports to Indonesia has sent a tremor through northern Australia and will cut deep and fast into the lives and businesses of producers, contractors, agents, product suppliers, exporters and their families. The music has stopped, the northern industry and its cattle are now caught in limbo with no way forward and no way back,” he said.
The Federal Government has not yet decided on the issue of compensation for out-of-the-loop farmers, and there is some debate about who should pay. What level of culpability should MLA wear? The graziers themselves have already pointed the finger at MLA, and not without good reason.
The Meat and Livestock Association
Lyn White, Animal Australia’s cruelty investigator was scathing of MLA.
“MLA representatives had visited six times in the last 14 months one of the most brutal abattoirs filmed in this investigation. Yet they are now suggesting further training is the solution when clearly they have failed to prevent the cruelty occurring there on a nightly basis,” she said.
“What MLA and LiveCorp don’t admit is that they have created the problem. They have been using Australian taxpayer funding to install restraint boxes for cattle that are inherently cruel and breach international animal welfare standards.”
The Federal Government’s Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig (who announced the 6 month suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia on Tuesday) would not rule out an inquiry into what MLA knew and for how long.
Meat and Livestock Australia has defended its practices in Indonesia saying it was not aware of the ‘grotesque brutality’ in Indonesia and, if it was, it would have acted. They also stated that Australia is the only country that plays a part in managing animal welfare overseas. They have apparently spent $4 million in the past to ‘improve the system’.
There have been calls for MLA to compensate graziers from its $40 million reserve fund, but MLA said it would not do so as it did not make the decision to ban live export. Interestingly, those $40 million reserves are funded by the cattlemen (and sheep and goat producers) themselves who collectively ‘own’ MLA by paying fees to it.
In return, and as Meat and Livestock Australia’s own website says, it has ‘the unique responsibility of providing marketing and, research and development services to over 47,000 cattle, sheep and goat producer members and the broader red meat industry to help them meet community and consumer expectations’.
The Animal Advocates
Animals Australia and the RSPCA welcomed the suspension of live trade to Indonesia.
“While we are relieved at this announcement, it should not be forgotten that some 100,000 Australian cattle currently in Indonesia will face the same brutal treatment. The government must immediately put inspectors in Indonesian slaughterhouses to provide these animals with at least some protection,” said RSPCA Chief Scientist Dr Bidda Jones.
“If successive Australian governments had proper oversight of this industry, these cattle and the six million previously exported to Indonesia, would not have faced the horrors of Indonesian slaughterhouses.”
Lyn White, Animals Australia Campaign Director and cruelty investigator, said: “If the Prime Minister didn’t realise it before, she now has irrefutable evidence that the live export industry cannot be trusted. Not even MLA’s own constituents are accepting their claims that they didn’t know what was occurring in Indonesia. This is an industry that has made misleading the government, public and farmers an art form and animals have suffered immeasurably as a result.”
The animal groups want immediate support for graziers to sell their stock in the Australian market from the Federal Government (which would still cause a glut of meat and lower prices) as well as a nod from Prime Minister Julia Gillard that the next focus will be on ending the live trade of all animals to overseas markets where brutal slaughter practices are in place.
Already calls have been made to broaden the current inquiries to the cattle exports made to Malaysia, Brunei and Libya who allegedly use similar cattle boxes described as ‘torture boxes’ by some Labor Senators.
The Government claims it was not provided with any evidence of the atrocities, despite some warning, until Four Corners aired. The RSPCA backs this up by claiming it and Animals Australia went straight to the media after the Government failed to act on evidence provided last year about more cruel practices against sheep.
Animals Australia has reiterated that its campaign is not religion-motivated, rather motivated only by animal cruelty. Halal practices, it says, are actually being violated by the excessive cruelty in Indonesia – specifically the multiple cuts to the neck of the beast when the animals should be killed with one. The use of stun guns to knock the cattle out before slaughter is advocated, however strict Halal practitioners in Indonesia do not always consider the lack of consciousness of the beast in keeping with ‘the rules’.
Where should the Government go from here, bearing in mind that graziers need support too. How can we put a stop to animal cruelty while maintaining an industry? Share your thoughts, it’s a tough one…
Here’s an ad from GetUp on the issue of live exports. Be warned, these are distressing scenes: