THE departing head of Meat and Livestock Australia has said he will co-operate with the Senate inquiry into the controversial live animal export trade and face questions about his company’s attempts to improve animal welfare conditions in Indonesia and other markets.
David Palmer said the cruelty and mistreatment filmed in Indonesian abattoirs in March and broadcast recently on Four Corners was inexcusable. ”We’ve simply got to fix it,” he said.
”I’d be the first to line up to have a conversation with the Senate or some other properly convened inquiry. And have a conversation with them and the Australian community, as we try to explain the market relationship, the uniqueness of the relationship [and] the importance of the bilateral relationship,” he said.
”I want to have an engagement free of, as much as possible, free of the enormous emotionally charged atmosphere that this current debate is embroiled in,” he said.
After 5½ years as MLA’s managing director, Mr Palmer will leave the post in about a fortnight. He resigned late last year.
In an interview with The Age, he likened the upheaval to hit the industry since the images were broadcast to being caught in ”an Oklahoma twister and I don’t know where it’s going to land”.
One week after the broadcast, the federal government suspended the export of live cattle to Indonesia for up to six months so the problems could be addressed. The trade with Indonesia last year was worth $319 million.
The live animal export trade is a big earner, with last year’s trade for meat consumption valued at just over $1 billion. A further $150.6 million of dairy cattle for breeding and milk production were also exported.
Mr Palmer said the live trade with Indonesia was an ideal trade link between northern Australia and Indonesia. ”It is arguably the most complementary business model the Australian beef industry enjoys anywhere in the world,” he said. ”And that is; feeder cattle in northern Australia, [followed by] short voyage to an 80-to-100-day feeding program, and the resultant carcass is brilliant. And it comes at a very affordable price. This is a very efficient supply chain.”
”This is a beautiful food market right on our doorstep and it’s good for Indonesia and it’s good for Australia. And we’ve simply got to rectify the problem, we’ve got to get the politics out of the whole thing and try to have a calm head and a gradual reopening, and it needs to be done as fast as possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, an email sent by MLA’s live export manager Michael Finucan to cattle importers in Indonesia outlines a raft of measures the industry has taken in response to the animal cruelty filmed in some abattoirs in March. The email said training would be delivered in four Indonesian cities this month.
”There will be 30 AWO [animal welfare officers] trained by the end of the program with regional provincial livestock departments and MUI [Halal regulators] representatives attending to ensure local official and cultural engagement.
”The program covers animal handling training, Halal slaughter practices, standard operating procedures, hygiene and stunning butcher training,” it said.
Once trained, the animal welfare officers would provide training to other workers and ”ongoing assessment and monitoring of abattoirs”.
To improve abattoir standards, Mr Finucan said ”a team of eight stock-handling experts have been conducting intensive training programs in 10 key facilities over the past 10 days. The team is a mix of young stockmen with cattle station backgrounds through to experienced slaughtermen and abattoir managers who have worked throughout Asia for the past 20 years.”