Ludwig deserves praise for resumption of Indonesian live cattle trade

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Environment correspondent Sandi Keane says that, despite the popular media portrayal, Federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig deserves praise for sorting out the live cattle trade to Indonesia.

Brian, Tommy, Arthur, Billy and Dudley.

Remember them? They were the young steers raised caringly on Australian pastures that died an unnecessarily painful and terrifying death in a foreign abattoir.

Who amongst us didn’t weep when we witnessed their heart wrenching stories on Four Corners’ 'A Bloody Business'.

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Emotions flared. We were outraged. We wanted blood. We wanted the blood of those responsible. The Federal government’s Minister for Agriculture, Senator Joe Ludwig, seemed to be frozen on the spot like a deer in the headlights. Finally, he acted. A ban was imposed. An enquiry would take place. Relief! At least as far as the majority of us animal-lovers were concerned.

But, despite the deafening chorus of calls for an end to live cattle exports – not just to Indonesia, but also to countries like Kuwait, where widespread abuse of Australian sheep and cattle still continues (contrary to Islam teachings) –  a month later, the ban was lifted. Live cattle exports would resume.

The huge outcry from the cattle industry when the ban was announced was countered by an even angrier response from animal-lovers at its lifting. Both sides were baying for blood and it seemed the blood everyone wanted was that of Joe Ludwig, the hapless Minister. Meat and Livestock Australia, the organisation responsible, was running for cover, denying all knowledge of the horrors that awaited Australian cattle in Indonesia.

Well, that was a few weeks ago. Now that the public has turned its sights on the government’s proposed carbon tax, I took the time to read the Agricultural Minister’s press releases and do a bit of general digging.

As one of the animal-nutters joining in the chorus for a total ban of all livestock exports, I now believe the Federal government’s actions should be applauded.

Let’s start with the facts. There was no “kneejerk” reaction or “backflip” by Minister Ludwig.

Look at what Minister Ludwig promised and what he achieved in just one month. It was a damn sight more than Meat and Livestock Australia, the industry body charged with overseeing live animal exports, or the opposition who closed down the trade to Egypt for 12 months when in government and still failed to fix the problem.

On 8 June, the ban was announced together with the plan:

"This suspension will be in place until the Government establishes sufficient safeguards to ensure there is verifiable and transparent supply chain assurance up to and including the point of slaughter for every consignment that leaves Australia.”

This was followed up by another press release on 21 June 2011, announcing additional criteria:

“International animal welfare guidelines would set the new benchmark”

What is “supply chain assurance”. Well, it is simply ear-tagging cattle and establishing an audit system so that cattle producers can track their cattle from the farm gate to the abattoir.

And “International animal welfare guidelines”? This was explained by the Minister on July 6, when the ban was lifted:

“These new orders allow the export of live cattle only where animals can be managed through supply chains that meet international standards. Strict new conditions have been written into all export permits. They require exporters to trace cattle from properties, onto vessels, into feedlots and into abattoirs that meet agreed international standards. Permits will only be issued to those exporters who can demonstrate that this will be the case.”

To suggest that these new controls could be implemented and tens of thousands of livestock ear-tagged – all without a temporary ban – beggars belief. A ban was essential. It not only gave a much needed signal to the Indonesian government, but also allowed time for the new deal for Australian cattle to be crunched out to the satisfaction of all concerned. To do otherwise would have outraged the Australian public. To date, not one farm has been sold or even put up for sale as a result of the ban. Not that it was ever likely. When I used to farm, we factored in years of drought. You don’t go under in one month.

So progress has been made. Australian cattle will now be slaughtered in abattoirs that meet international standards. The only permits issued will be for those abattoirs. By ear-tagging their livestock, cattle producers can also insist that their cattle are processed in those abattoirs using the more humane method of stunning.

Joe Ludwig managed to do in 4 weeks what Meat and Livestock Australia failed to do in 10 years. MLA executives should be sacked, not just for exploiting cattle producers who paid a $5 fee per animal for MLA’s clearly incompetent services, but for its failure to tell the truth.  Following Four Corners’ 'A Bloody Business', Don Heatley, Chairman of MLA, publicly denied any prior knowledge:

"If there was complete and utter knowledge of the brutality, the grotesque brutality that we saw recently, we would have been in there immediately"

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union has released a fact sheet sourced from MLA and LiveCorp’s own documents that establishes that the horrific practices seen on Four Corners were reported to MLA and LiveCorp in May 2010. No apology has been forthcoming.

So let’s stop criticising Joe, acknowledge what he has achieved and give him some credit.

As to his failure to ensure mandatory stunning, there’s a shameful explanation right here on our own doorstep.

We allow the slaughter of fully conscious livestock here in Australia!

It may shock you to know that least 15 Australian abattoirs in Australia have managed to get around a loophole in the law on “religious” grounds. As a result, State Governments in Victoria, NSW, SA and WA still allow the slaughter of fully conscious animals. The Bligh Government in Queensland is the only State Government to take a stand by banning this barbaric practice.

Most of the halal and kosher market use the more humane practice of stunning prior to killing. It is only the ultra-orthodox that refuse, although there must be a “loophole” in their religion as kosher abattoirs now stun cattle (but not sheep), although this is after their throats are cut. Could someone please explain how religious laws can be amended to exclude cattle but not sheep? RSPCA spokeswoman Lisa Chalk has called the ritual killing of animals in Australia unacceptable and called on governments to end the practice.

"The problem is really the kosher slaughter, as we know halal widely accepts the stunning of animals prior to slaughter."

Studies by the Federal Department of Agriculture have found the practice of slitting the throats of fully conscious sheep causes pain, distress, terror and panic for up to 20 seconds. This flies in the face of claims by leaders of the Jewish community that it is only 2 seconds. Try counting to 20. It’s a very long time to put any living creature through that kind of hell.

In an article in The Age, back in 2009 entitled “Ritual slaughter ruling condemned”, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union responded to the complaint by the World Society for the Protection of Animals that its workers were unhappy about slitting the throats of fully conscious animals. They have called on the Federal government to override State laws.

As the Indonesian government was aware that this barbaric practice is allowed by State governments in Australia, the Federal government had no choice but to limit its demands to “encouraging” stunning. It would have been highly hypocritical otherwise.

However, as I said, the good news is that now cattle producers can nominate their abattoir of choice. Many are selecting those that use the human stunning method. There are several in Indonesia. Here’s evidence of a market mechanism at work! The Indonesian government has now announced that it will be introducing stunning. This may take time, but with Australian producers opting for those abattoirs offering the most humane method, change is bound to result.

In my book, this is the best outcome we could expect until we get our own house in order. Personally, I’d still like to see an end to the live cattle trade, but the reality is that any government contemplating a dust-up with the big cattle barons would be cutting their own throats (sorry, couldn’t help that).

So, instead of just attacking poor old Joe, contact your local State member first and demand an end to the barbaric and thoroughly un-Australian practice of slaughtering fully conscious Australian livestock. According to the World Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,

“By allowing ritual slaughter without stunning, federal and state ministers are damaging Australia’s international reputation as a progressive country”.

We consider ourselves a civilized society. There should be no exceptions. We don’t allow genital mutilation. We shouldn’t put up with animal cruelty because of sloppy legislation either.

Go further and write a letter to the cattle industry. Get-up is running a campaign at the moment. You can send a letter to the cattle industry encouraging them to select “stun only” abattoirs in Indonesia. Here’s the link:

Finally — please remember Brian, Tommy, Arthur, Billy and Dudley. We don’t want a repetition of their stories. Write those letters, donate to Animals Australia and start lobbying.

Let’s speak up for the voiceless!

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