The live animal export industry has gone into damage control, following the release of graphic footage of the inhumane slaughter of Australian cattle in our largest overseas market.
Late yesterday, the Agriculture Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, ordered his department to conduct an immediate investigation, after viewing the footage which he said left him shocked at the mistreatment of the animals.
He stopped short, however, of calling for an immediate halt to all live exports to Indonesia, worth more the $300 million a year, as animal welfare groups are demanding.
An unprecedented joint investigation by the RSPCA and Animals Australia found that slaughter boxes provided to Indonesian abattoirs by Meat & Livestock Australia and LiveCorp, with the support of the federal government, have resulted in the slow, torturous death of millions of animals over the past 10 years, using methods illegal in Australia and in breach of international animal health guidelines.
The industry has already moved to suspend supply to three Indonesian abattoirs, after being confronted with the horrific footage shot by an animal welfare investigator who gained access to 10 Indonesian slaughterhouses in March.
Suffering ... an Indonesian worker with an Australian-supplied restraint box. Photo: Animals Australia
The chief executive of LiveCorp, Cameron Hall, has not ruled out the possibility of further abattoir closures. He conceded the Australian export industry had been grappling with some issues surrounding the misuse of the Australian-supplied ''Mark 1'' restraint boxes and the inadequate training of Indonesian meat workers. He insisted, however, that the practices recorded on video were atypical of slaughtering conditions across Indonesia.
''We know there are some poor practices … but this is not something you can just demand change from in a foreign country. We're talking about a developing country, where there's not same level of investment in infrastructure and the industry's first priority is making sure people have food to eat,'' Mr Hall said.
The RSPCA chief scientist, Bidda Jones, who assessed the evidence from the investigation, said every slaughter facility filmed by Animals Australia breached international animal welfare standards.
''The most galling aspect of this evidence is that the industry's installation of Mark 1 boxes has entrenched a system of restraint and slaughter that causes significant suffering and that would be illegal in Australia,'' Dr Jones said.
The Australian government began supplying the boxes to Indonesian abattoirs in 2000 because local plant workers were having difficulties restraining Australian cattle prior to slaughter. The cattle, from Queensland and the Northern Territory, are typically much larger and wilder than Indonesian animals.
More than 100 of the restraint boxes are in operation across Java and Sumatra, specifically used for Australian cattle.
Mr Hall said an independent review of Indonesian slaughtering practices of Australian cattle in 2009 gave a generally positive report card, and a number of improvements and programs had since been rolled out by LiveCorp in that country.
But the Animals Australia campaign director, Lyn White, who shot the footage, said the industry's last-minute move to suspend supply to three abattoirs was a desperate attempt to appease public outrage.
''It highlights the industry's favoured modus operandi of only addressing problems where footage is taken,'' she said.