Religious leaders key to a more humane approach to animal slaughter
Religious leaders of Muslim communities in Australia and South East Asia hold the key to a more humane approach to animal slaughter because the method of killing cattle for human consumption is a religious issue right across the Muslim world, and not just in Indonesia.
The banning of cattle exports to Indonesia is already causing incalculable damage to the Territory’s pastoral industry. It will price beef out of the pockets of Indonesian families.
But it will do nothing to prevent unnecessary suffering by the millions of cattle destined for the meat trade in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei over the next six months.
Clearly, if the overt cruelty we saw on ABC television continues in even one of the thousands of abattoirs scattered across the archipelago, it is one too many.
We must remember two things, It is not just Australian cattle that are involved -- millions of Indonesian cattle are butchered in these same abattoirs, as well as animals sourced from Thailand and neighbouring countries.
Do they not deserve the same treatment at the point of slaughter that we deem appropriate for Australian cattle?
And what about the abattoirs we did not see on television – the dozen or so that are known to adhere to what we regard as Australian standards? Why have we cut their supplies of quality cattle, thereby removing any continuing incentive to adhere to such humane practices?
Rather than rely on Wednesday’s announcement of collective punishment for Territory cattle producers and Indonesian consumers, why can’t Australia play to its strengths of ethnic diversity at home and a good understanding of the cultures and religious beliefs of our Asian neighbours?
This is the only sustainable way to introduce change for the better in animal welfare standards right across the region.
It is not as though Australia is ignorant of the Koran’s teachings on Islamic dietary laws. We have had abattoirs catering to our Muslim communities in places like Katanning in WA for more than 50 years. Halal butcheries are common in our major capital cities.
Over the past 20 years, the live export trade out of Darwin has served to improve animal welfare standards whilst providing a vital boost to our rural economy.
About 300,000 cattle from all over North Australia were trucked to state-of-the-art loading facilities at Port Darwin.
Conditions on the cattle boats have improved out of sight over the past two decades. They are now floating feedlots with food and water supplied on demand, room to move and basic types of air conditioning to give plenty of ventilation.
The voyages from Port Darwin to Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia are typically from four days to a week.
As we saw on the Four Corners program, the Indonesian feedlots where Australian cattle are fattened are first-class, and often run as joint ventures with Australian cattle companies.
It is when the cattle leave these feedlots to go to slaughter at a myriad of processing venues, from backyard operations to major abattoirs, when problems can occur.
The NT Cattlemen’s Association and the NT Livestock Exporters Association, as well as our national organisations, have supplied training and tools to dozens of Indonesian abattoirs to limit the trauma that cattle are subjected to..
Clearly, it has not always worked.
But that does not justify Federal Labor’s decision to duplicate some of these unsavoury practices by, economically speaking, cutting off our nose to spite our face.
The trade ban, temporary or not, is in danger of wrecking the best-regulated beef breeding industry in the world, depriving Australian families of their livelihood and the Indonesian meat industry of a much-needed incentive to lift its game.
There is no need for yet another review and more reports. We saw what is wrong on television. The task is to fix it, and fast!
That is where our Muslim community comes in, and our close trade, cultural and sporting ties with the majority-Muslim nations of SE Asia.
Billions of Muslims world-wide want to know that the meat they eat was processed according to the strictures of the Koran.
What is needed is a ruling that the use of a stunning device to render a beast unconscious before its throat is cut accords with the teachings of the Koran.
From news reports in Australia and Indonesia, there is conflict between Indonesian Government officials and various religious leaders on this point.
Some Imams rule that stunning means the animal is no longer alive when the, throat is cut, contrary to Islamic law.
Any veterinary surgeon, Indonesian or Australian, can assure them that unconsciousness, by itself, is not fatal. But it is pain free.
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, which oversees Halal slaughter procedures in this country, reportedly accepts stunning as part of the process.
Kompas, Indonesia’s English language newspaper, quotes a spokesman for the religion-based Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) as describing cruelty to cattle during slaughter as “sinful” under Muslim law.
MUI spokesman Lukman Hakim told Kompas; “This is sinful if we continue to let it happen. The (Indonesian) Government and the MUI have a responsibility to immediately stop the practices that are against animal welfare.”
So we are half-way home! But Indonesia is a big country, and even the Jakarta Government has trouble getting its message across.
If the leadership of Australia’s Muslim communities assured their co-religious in Indonesia that they are spiritually comfortable with the more humane halal kill common here, it could lead to a speedy interpretation of Koranic lore in nearly a million mosques across the archipelago.
There will be problems. Stun guns cost money, but so does bruised meat from terrified cattle.
But a lowly-paid Indonesian meat worker will listen to messages from his local mosque with a lot more attention than from well-fed bureaucrats and animal rights lobbyists.
To support that worker, Canberra should immediately lift its total ban to allow complying Indonesian abattoirs to continue employing the locals, and keep the Australian brand on 1,000 supermarket shelves across the archipelago.
And it should start discussing the halal regime with Australia’s Muslim leaders, starting with those in Darwin, who so far appear to have been left out of the dialogue.
Published in the Northern Territory News, Saturday 11 June 2011.