SYDNEY - Australia on Wednesday suspended all live cattle exports to Indonesia for up to six months after a public outcry following shocking images of mistreatment in slaughterhouses.
Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the trade, worth Aus$318 million a year (US$340 million), would not start again until safeguards were in place to ensure animal welfare in its northern neighbor.
"We need to establish sufficient safeguards to ensure exporters provide verifiable and transparent supply chain assurance up to, and including, the point of slaughter for every consignment that leaves Australia," he said.
"It will take some time to ensure that we have got supply chain assurance in place.
"I didn't want to put a timeframe on it (but) the current suspension is up to six months. It is important that industry use that period to work through and come up with supply chain assurance."
The blanket ban comes a week after Canberra suspended live beef exports to 11 Indonesian abattoirs that featured in a report by Australian state television which showed gruesome images of cattle being abused.
Footage included kicking, hitting, gouging of eyes and breaking of tails as Indonesian workers attempted to force cattle into slaughter boxes, putting Canberra under pressure from animal welfare groups.
Lyn White, the Animals Australia campaigner who shot the abuse aired by public broadcaster ABC, called for a wider ban on Australian live exports.
"We'll continue campaigning that the broader trade should be banned," she told ABC radio.
"Because we're still sending animals to about a dozen other countries where there are no laws to protect them from cruelty."
Sixty percent of Australia's lucrative live cattle trade goes to Indonesia, with about 500,000 animals sent there each year.
While Jakarta has vowed to investigate, its concedes there are no regulations that could be used to sanction those found to be abusing animals.
"We're fully aware that we have to improve animal welfare in our abattoirs," Indonesian Agriculture ministry livestock department chief Prabowo Respatiyo Caturroso said Wednesday.
He added that Jakarta may buy more beef from New Zealand to make up for shortfalls.
"Surely, if Australia stops the export, New Zealand is ready to export more beef to Indonesia," he said, although this would mean frozen meat as New Zealand does not export cows for slaughter.
The Australian cattle industry has expressed shock at the treatment of its animals in Indonesia, but concerns are growing about the impact of a ban.
Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association president Rohan Sullivan said it would devastate the industry and hurt farming families.
"If we stop exports to Indonesia, we are walking away from the millions of dollars that Australian producers have invested in infrastructure, training and improved animal husbandry," he said.
"This doesn't help the cattle who will continue to be processed, and just opens the door to imports from other countries which may not adopt our standards or spend what we do on animal welfare."
Ludwig refused to say if compensation would be offered to producers who may be stuck with cattle they can no longer sell.
Sullivan said a critical aspect of more humane treatment was to encourage "stunning", in which animals get an electric shock before slaughter.
Many farmers were prepared to include a "no stun, no deal" clause in contracts, he added.
Image: Jes / via Flickr