Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Indonesian abbatoir scandal, and pain for the sake of "purity"

I would love Indonesia to make headlines in Australia for the right reasons, for a change.

CANBERRA - Australia suspended live cattle exports to 11 Indonesian abattoirs on Tuesday and announced a review into the A$320 million (S$421.76 million) trade after graphic footage was broadcast of Australian cattle being inhumanely slaughtered.

"I have decided to halt the trade of live animals to the facilities identified by the footage. I reserve the right to add further facilities to the banned list," Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said in a statement.
"I will appoint an independent reviewer to investigate the complete supply chain for live exports up to and including the point of slaughter," he said.
Australian national television on Monday aired footage of cattle being beaten, whipped and kicked prior to slaughter in Indonesia, prompting a political outcry in Canberra and Indonesian officials to call for calm to avert a trade row.
"It exposed nothing short of shocking cruelty for Australian livestock," said independent MP Andrew Wilkie, whose backing is vital for Prime Minister Julia Gillard's one-seat government.
Wilkie and independent Senator Nick Xenophon on Tuesday unveiled legislation calling for the immediate ban on live animal exports to Indonesia and a full ban of live animal exports to all nations within three years.
"The pictures we saw last night were horrific, and if it was happening here in Australia, those people would be arrested and prosecuted," Xenophon told a news conference.
The footage, which was covered on ABC's Four Corners program Monday night,can be viewed here. It doesn't make for easy viewing, that's for sure.

A few thoughts:

  • Indonesians are, generally speaking, a warm and good-natured people, but the concept of animal rights remains a fairly foreign one. This is not to say that Indonesians are any more callous toward animals than most other people in developing countries; but there is certainly a widespread cultural attitude that views animals in purely utilitarian terms. It's quite telling that the Indonesian slaughtermen, knowing full well that they are being caught on video, treat the cattle in incredibly cruel ways and think nothing of it. 
  • It wasn't dwelt upon too long in the story, but one of the key issues here is halal butchery. Modern science has shown that stunning an animal unconscious before administering the lethal cut is by far the most humane way of slaughter. But Muslim countries everywhere have been hesitant to adopt this method, partly for economic reasons, and partly because stunning is not mentioned in the Qur'an. Even in Australia, where stunning has become mandatory in abbatoirs, some have been granted exemptions from this, in order to meet the demand for halal meat. (I'm not sure if this applies to kosher meat as well?) From what I understand, some halal meat production in Australia involves stunning, and some doesn't. Likewise for Indonesia. There needs to be some serious education about this in the industry, and among Muslims, who should really be the ones agitating about this. There is nothing in the Qur'an to my knowledge that forbids stunning, so I'm sure that if made aware, most Muslims would consider that stunning is not only more humane, but also compatible with halal regulations. Does Allah really consider it more religiously pure for animals to suffer much more than they need to? I doubt it. 
  • Unless stunning is made mandatory in Indonesia (which I doubt it will be any time soon, if ever), inhumane practices will continue unabated. The bottom line is money - it is a poor country. As everywhere, those with money are notoriously tight-fisted with it and unlikely to implement costly new technologies unless they are forced to. And even then, widespread corruption will be an impediment, as it always is in Indonesia. Even if Australia can flex its muscles and achieve some kind of victory here, which looks possible, it will probably only affect the livestock that comes from Australia.  
  • Those of you who favour a small-government approach in which industries are left to regulate themselves should consider this documentary as a powerful argument as to why industries shouldn't be left to regulate themselves.
  • As barbaric as some might consider the treatment of the animals in the documentary to be, bear in mind that this shouldn't be completely foreign or unimaginable to Westerners. Like many things in the developing world, Indonesia is doing what the West was doing about 100 years ago. And many animals in Australia still exist in awful factory farming conditions. So Australians shouldn't be too quick to get on their high horse. 
  • The footage of Australian-raised brahmin cattle awaiting their fate is disturbing, and Australian audiences were repulsed by the idea of these beautiful animals being put to death in a painful, efficient and careless way. But I do find it interesting that the same audiences have no problem with the basic idea of these beautiful animals being killed to make burgers and steaks. The only difference between the Indonesian and Australian methods is a few more minutes of stress and horrific pain - the end product is still the same. A nice creatures's life extinguished just so you can have something to go with your potatoes. Yes, I'm a vegetarian.