It’s big news in Australia but Indonesian officials have barely flinched at the suggestion of a live cattle export ban from Canberra. Such sanctions would hurt Australia far more than Indonesia economically — and the issue of animal rights is not on the country’s radar.
The images broadcast on Four Corners of Australian cattle being tortured, dying slow and painful deaths at the end of blunt knives shocked Australians, thousands of whom went on to sign online petitions and voice their outrage.
But few on the consumption side have paid the issue much attention. In Indonesia, poaching of endangered species is high, and it is not uncommon to see monkeys pinched from forests chained up to perform on city streets. Even when it comes to human torture, law enforcement by Indonesian authorities is weak.
Indonesian media have not spoken to local animal rights activists — who do exist — but have instead focused on the impacts a potential ban would have on beef supply and prices.
Even that has been discussed with little fervour — officials here know that Australia is not going to impose a long-term blanket ban on a $300 million industry, and Indonesia is looking to achieve self-sufficiency in beef in coming years anyway. Last financial year, 79 per cent of Australia’s live cattle exports went to Indonesia to feed its population of 240 million. That quota has already been reduced this year.
"Obviously we are not worried by the threat, because the domestic supply is available," Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister Suswono told Media Indonesia.
"As much as 70 per cent of Indonesia’s beef needs are met from within the country."
He reminded audiences that Australia was not the only major exporter of beef in the world, so if it had to, Indonesia could look to the United States, India and Brazil to fill the beef supply gap.
Officials also said that if Australia wanted Indonesia to adhere to higher standards, it should invest more money in slaughterhouses to ensure they had the right facilities. This suggestion is likely to be met with anger from Australian farmers, who already complain that millions of dollars in levies to industry bodies should already ensure reasonable standards.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Bayu Krisnamurthi told Media Indonesia that of the country’s 693 slaughterhouses, only 60 were equipped to comply fully with existing regulations. Some 230 are reasonably equipped.
The suspension of 11 abattoirs sends a clear message about Australia’s position, but considering the numbers, it’s not likely to have a big impact on the ground.
Lyn White, campaign director of Animals Australia, told the Associated Press that the vast majority of Indonesian slaughterhouses used inhumane practices. The slaughterhouses her NGO filmed are not atypical.
"We just stopped on the side of the road and asked people where their local abattoir was — it’s as simple as that," White said.
The secretary-general of the Association of Indonesian Farmers Cow and Buffalo, Rochadi Tawaf, showed some concern over the potential ban.
"Our beef will go up in price because supply would be reduced, but local beef will be depleted very quickly, and production will be slow," he told Detik.com.
He said that a ban would be significant as transportation costs from Australia are fairly cheap. New Zealand’s cows are relatively expensive and transport costs are high. Cows from Brazil would cost even more to ship and concerns remain around diseases.
Some officials have claimed that the move from Canberra is a part of a longer-standing trade war.
In March, the Indonesian government announced it would reduce the quota of live Australian cattle imports from 700,000 to 500,000 this year and cut boxed beef imports by almost two-thirds.
The suspension and potential ban on live cattle could see a renewed interest in packaged beef from Australia, something that Tawaf sees as no coincidence.
But the finger-pointing is not only going on between Australia and Indonesia. Executive Director of the Meat Producers and Feedlot Association of Indonesia Joni Liano told Detik.com that journalists and activists are not usually allowed to film or photograph slaughterhouses. He blamed the slaughterhouse owners for allowing journalists to film their practices.
"That is a weakness in our abattoirs. If a foreigner comes in and takes pictures or films, they don’t know what it will be used for," he said.
While an interest in animal rights might not be widespread in Indonesia, the government is showing a willingness to discuss the issue with Australia and improve its slaughterhouse standards.
"The Indonesian government is expected to continue to pay attention to animal welfare in Indonesia," Minister Krisnamurthi told Bisnis.com.
He said that there were obvious cultural differences between Indonesia and Australia, but that the government would "consider the matter and try to find a meeting point between the two interests".
That cultural difference has largely been pegged on halal butchery, which requires animals be killed with a single cut to the throat. This is similar to Jewish kosher butchery. Today, much halal meat comes from animals who have been stunned unconscious, which is acceptable to most Muslims as long as the animal does not regain consciousness.
The Indonesian Council of Ulema reject the idea that halal butchery is cruel and have stated on their website that if animals are tortured, their meat is haram, or forbidden.
Sri Mukartini, head of animal welfare at the Agriculture Ministry, told the Jakarta Globe that a 2009 law guaranteed the humane treatment of live cattle imports but that it was yet to be implemented. "Animal welfare is a relatively new issue in Indonesia. We’re still developing regulations," she said.
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