Cattle export issue points to wider risk: ALTA

Halton fears loss of domestic confidence in beef industry may impact transporters more than the ban

By Rob McKay | June 8, 2011

The Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA) believes the temporary ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia will hurt some of its members much more than others but all will be harmed financially if Australian demand for beef declines due to the bad publicity.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig announced a suspension of the trade for up to six months last night.

Ludwig told ABC Radio this morning that the Government wanted to guarantee the welfare of cattle sent to Indonesia and would "work with both the industry, the Indonesian government and through my department to ensure that we can do this as quickly as possible".

ALTA Executive Director
Philip Halton says that if members who are affected by the ban "can get through that very big disruption, you’d expect that the job of taking livestock to the ship would be replaced by taking the same livestock to an abattoir in Australia.

"The export market for packaged meat around the globe is pretty large: the world wants to eat."

But he added that: "A bigger threat, affecting a larger number of our members is the possible effect of this crisis upon domestic demand for meat.

"The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) has publicly stated that domestic demand for meat has slumped by 15 percent in just the past week.

"They have also briefed us that consumers are complaining and asking questions in Australian butchers shops and supermarkets. AMIC has been putting out press releases and doing media interviews for several days now.

"They tell me that they are providing fact sheets for shops to hand out – they are trying to explain to consumers that Australian abattoirs look nothing like what you’ve seen on TV from Indonesia.

"If Australian consumers stay ‘turned off’ eating beef because of this crisis, then that will really do major and long-term damage to our members.

"I’ve seen work by an American economist who has studied animal welfare disputes in the US and demonstrated that they lead to long term declines in the demand for meat. People become reluctant to eat food produced by an industry that they’ve stopped trusting.

"AMIC has publicly pointed out that live cattle export is really a niche market. It generates a few hundred million in income for Australia. AMIC’s message is that live export cannot be allowed to put the majority of the meat and livestock industry at risk, and that’s a message we’re taking pretty seriously."

However, Halton’s point about other markets for northern meat was not shared by the Federal Opposition.

"The announcement will cause an immediate drop in the cattle market across Australia and devalue existing meat in stores,"

Nationals leader Warren Truss and shadow agriculture minister John Cobb say in a joint statement.

"There is now no market for many of northern Australia’s cattle."

They add that the blanket ban over 12 substandard abattoirs was a missed opportunity to back the 25 that complied with international standards and that alternative distribution and presentation methods
will not work.

"If exporters could process and sell packaged meat, they would have done so already," they say.

"For one thing, it is a substantially more valuable than the live trade.

"We know from experience that when live exports are halted – such as the ban on cattle to Egypt or sheep to Saudi Arabia – demand for boxed meat does not rise.

"That’s because live trade meets very specific needs.

"In these markets we are often talking about far flung villages where refrigeration simply does not exist."

Though they did not address the trucking issue specifically, they did ask what the Government proposed to do with livestock currently in holding facilities awaiting transport and what contingencies would it now trigger to deal with existing contracts for both cattle and shipping charters.

The ban also attracted the ire of Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman over the lack of consultation.

"A decision like this, which has such far-reaching implications for the several thousand West Australians involved in this major industry, needs to be made after thorough exploration by governments collectively," Redman says.

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