It would be hard to have missed the recent uproar surrounding animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs. A Four Corners episode sparked a national debate about the welfare of Australian livestock exported overseas. Now the government has suspended live exports to Indonesia for six months.
The response to that decision has been mixed. Obviously many people were horrified by the slaughtering methods used in some Indonesian abattoirs; particularly the failure to stun cattle before killing them. They say animal welfare over trade. But some farmers who rely on trade with Indonesia may beg to differ, left with no buyer for their cattle and no compensation.
So what does the law here say about methods for slaughtering animals?
In Australia, states and territories are responsible for their own animal welfare laws. They base their legislation on national codes of practice covering different aspects of animal welfare. The one relevant to abattoirs is the Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments Code of Practice.
It’s essentially about making sure that animals avoid injury or suffering of any kind. The code covers things like the safe design of unloading ramps, and not mixing different species or sexes (to avoid fighting and stress). There are acceptable methods for assisting with unloading, such as using electric prods or trained dogs (not sticks or belts); and prescribed rest times between arrival and slaughter. Wherever possible, animals should be prevented from seeing dead animals or the slaughter process.
And importantly, animals here should be stunned so they’re unconscious and feel nothing when they’re slaughtered.
Of course, this is a model code of practice; it’s not mandatory for states to make it law. In NSW, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act has a general offence for cruelty to animals, with a maximum fine of $5,500 or 6 months jail time for individuals. But following the code would provide a legal defence.
Before the ban, Australia was exporting to 100 Indonesian abattoirs. A recent inspection found that only 15 met the standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health. And only five used stunning.
Indonesia passed a draft animal welfare law in 2009 but no regulations have yet been drawn up. So currently there’s no punishment for offenders.
There’s also a religious aspect. Predominantly a Muslim country, some Indonesians believe that stunning before slaughter goes against the law of Islam concerning meat preparation. But experts in Islamic law here say that the poor treatment of animals violates Islamic law.
Some suggest the government work closely with Indonesia’s religious leaders so that when laws are enacted, they take into account both Islamic law and animal welfare. That might give clarity and encourage compliance.
Others say end the export of livestock to Indonesia permanently.
A solution seems a way off yet.
For more information please see our 2023 article NSW farm trespass laws upheld by High Court.