CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia after an outcry over footage that showed the animals screaming and writhing as they were slaughtered, the government said Wednesday as a key political party called for a permanent ban on the trade to any country.
Gruesome footage shown on Australian television last week showed cattle in Indonesian slaughterhouses were beaten and took minutes to bleed to death as their throats were repeatedly slashed. The doomed animals stood shaking in fear as other cattle were skinned before their eyes.
Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the trade would be halted for up to six months while authorities work to ensure that the exported animals are treated according to World Organization for Animal Health guidelines.
"Nobody accepts — the community doesn't accept — the animal welfare outcomes that we all saw on the television," Ludwig told reporters. "I want to ensure that the community and the industry can guarantee that we have outcomes where cattle aren't mistreated."
Muslim-majority Indonesia is Australia's largest live cattle market, but Australian cattle and sheep are also shipped live to the Middle East and other countries where they are often slaughtered according to Muslim custom by having their throats cut.
Live Australian cattle account for up to 40 percent of Indonesia's beef consumption, while Indonesia buys 60 percent of Australia's live cattle exports. The trade with Indonesia is worth about 330 million Australian dollars ($350 million) a year.
Indonesia's Minister of Agriculture, Suswono, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, said he has sent a letter to Australia's health minister to conduct a joint verification of standards at the 12 slaughterhouses highlighted by the Australian TV program.
He said the team will begin work on Monday and the results are expected within 10 days.
"We will develop and issue strict guidelines to all slaughterhouses across the country to avoid such improper animal treatment and torture," he said.
Suswono urged Indonesians to not panic about a possible beef shortage, saying the country can import processed beef from Australia, increase its reliance on local cattle or buy beef from New Zealand or the U.S.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Bayu Krisnamurti said that Indonesia's stock of live cattle could last four months. That includes the Islamic holiday Eid-al-Fitr in August, when Muslims celebrate the end of a month of fasting with feasts including many types of beef dishes.