WE NEED to find ways to work with Indonesia, writes GEMMA GADD
While certain animal activist groups would have the wider Australian public believe shutting up shop in Indonesia is the only way to improve animal welfare, the opposite is true.
The exit of the Australian live export industry from Indonesia would have a devastating net effect on animal welfare - and not just for Australian cattle.
Make no mistake, the 46 breaches of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System shown on the ABC last week are serious and unacceptable, but without input from the Australian industry, they would likely go unchecked all together.
Even the RSPCA acknowledges there have been improvements in animal welfare in Indonesian abattoirs since the introduction of the ESCAS eight months ago.
Coming from a very low base - animal cruelty is not punishable by law in Indonesia - stunning before slaughter is now taking place in upwards of 75 per cent of Indonesian abattoirs under the ESCAS.
This is an Australian technique, using Australian technology and Australian training - not a bad achievement on the part of the Australian industry in a country in which it has no sovereign rights.
Australia's ESCAS is the only one like it in the world; no other country imposes such strict regulations on an export partner in any commodity.
And, in taking the path they have, the Australian Government and live export industry have exposed themselves to a level of scrutiny - and risk - no other country would knowingly sign up for.
It is a step in the right direction; it shows our exporters are committed to animal welfare and determined to be world leaders on this front.
It also means they need to be ready for more footage like we saw last week.
Animals Australia has put the industry on notice; they will be there in Indonesia - or Africa, the Middle East, or any other market for that matter - with camera in hand.
Already, major meat processor Teys has installed cameras in all its abattoirs on Australian soil; a smart move from an operator with nothing to hide.
There will be challenges implementing these world-class standards in Indonesia, but incidents must be used to prove our commitment to providing clean, green and ethical food - not as a reason to walk away from our closest neighbour and their 240 million people.
Nor should it be used as a political football or to endorse behaviour bordering on unethical.
Already, we have seen increasingly unfair and, at times, illegal behaviour from so-called animal activists overseas; last week English dairy farmer Stewart Thomas was devastated by arson attacks on his business after he publicly backed a pilot badger cull in a bid to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.
Earlier this year, a Californian feedlot was left to pick up the bill after activists set fire to trucks and other infrastructure.
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Alison Penfold put it best when she rightly acknowledged "there was work to be done, and done quickly" after footage of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs was aired on national television last year.
"This is a very important market to northern Australia and to Indonesia and we can't forget that, while this latest instance is being investigated, there have been significant improvements (in animal welfare)," Ms Penfold said.
"This is not about Australia dictating the terms to Indonesia, it's about working with our regional neighbour and very important customer in delivering their food-security needs."
Not to mention employment; most Australian cattle spend upwards of 180 days in a feedlot upon arrival, providing local jobs and a greater opportunity for involvement on the part of the Australian industry.
There is also involvement in providing training in animal welfare, nutrition and husbandry, adding value for all involved while improving outcomes in animal welfare.
"It's not just about exporters, it's a partnership from one end of the supply chain to the other, and that point is being lost; it's very important everyone keeps this in mind as we address any instances that don't meet the framework (of the ESCAS)," Ms Penfold said.
The footage we saw last week is distressing, but to hit the panic button and walk away, or strangle our industry with regulations to the point it can no longer work successfully with our neighbours, would be to fail our producers, the people who rely on this industry for employment and food, and the animals caught in the crossfire.
By all accounts, our RSPCA is one of the most diligent and respected animal welfare agencies in the world.
Our live export industry is also a world leader.
Isn't it time we started singing from the same hymn sheet?
- Gemma Gadd is a Weekly Times reporter