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Center for Indonesian Veterinary Analytical Studies
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Livestock Abuse

Saturday, 18 June 2011

After many newspapers in Australia quote Wikileaks snippets on the Indonesian President, now Australia is raising the issue of animal abuse which is against international animal welfare principles.

This issue came about after investigation videos of 11 slaughterhouses in Indonesia in March 2011 by two Australian animal lover organizations were broadcasted on ABC Four Corners on May 30, 2011.

The footage showed scene after scene of unacceptable torture on imported Australian cattle slaughtered in the slaughterhouses. A very gruesome and cruel footage, but caused a variety of interpretations depending on the sensitivity, cultural, social, and economical background of the individuals watching.

The video generated immediate responses from the Australian government, animal producers and cattle industry, and resulted in the insistence to postpone and even stop live cattle export to Indonesia. A variety of responses also came from Indonesian parliament members, government officials, livestock associations, and animal and meat importers.

Livestock in developing countries
In developing countries in Asia and Africa, including Indonesia, most animals are raised in villages with limited grazing grounds. Livestock is a form of saving for people. Rich cultural and religious traditions do not prevent animals from abuse, but on the other hand, some people also have traditions that deify animals or treat them as holy.

Ten billion cattle are slaughtered annually to feed the global population. In Indonesia, over 2 million are slaughtered in slaughterhouses across the country every year. These animals are handled by humans every time, from farm, to transportation, and finally during slaughter. It is undeniable that sometimes animals suffer from malnutrition, overcapacity, and abuse.
In traditional slaughterhouses, animals are often treated roughly, they watch their kind being killed, and are not stunned before slaughter. Animal abuse happens in all stages of the slaughtering process.

Ironically, animal transport often takes a long time, causing animals from suffering stress on the road. Sea vessels, truck, and even railway coaches used to transport animals are not properly designed and filled over capacity. The animal loading and handling equipment are also inappropriate and insufficient to prevent animals from getting injured, bruised, trampled, or suffer bone-breaking, skin-tearing accidents.

Animal welfare
The history of animal welfare starts in the 18th century, where the very close relationship between humans and animals give rise to the fundamental question in peoples minds about animals. People assume animals can’t think, can’t speak, but could they suffer pain? Inspirations came particularly from writers and poets who voiced their sympathies and opposed exploitation and violence against animals.

Hence, most North American and European countries started to develop laws on animal welfare by the 19th century. The human-animal relationship changed as a result of agricultural development, economy growth, urban expansion, and political change. Irrefutably, there is still a large gap between developed and developing countries in terms of animal welfare.

Animal welfare regulations refer to the five freedoms adopted by the international world in 1979. The five freedoms include freedom from thirst and hunger, free from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury, or disease, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear and distress.
Human treatment on animals is influenced by his/her believe and cultural values. Each culture has different priorities regarding animal welfare, for example feed and water is more important compared to fear and distress.

Animal welfare issues are actually more sounded by international non-government organizations funded by animal lover communities around the world. These organizations hold a very strong role in lobbying, advocating, petitioning, or campaigning protest against the government of any country accused of ignoring the rights of animals to live and receive protection.

The World Animal Health Organization (OIE) started developing animal welfare standards in 2001 and officially introduced it to member countries in 2004. In the same year, OIE held an international conference aimed to increase the awareness of member countries and explain OIE’s initiative in establishing the standards.

By de facto, Indonesia has not recognized and adopted animal welfare principles in the country’s animal production and health system. Because of that, high standards from developed countries could not just be applied into the system of developing countries.

Animal trade
The animal welfare issue is not only for developed countries. Many cases in the world associate animal welfare with trade. Animal welfare rights are included in free trade agreements, making compliance of animal welfare standards not only an opportunity to promote technological improvement, but also to open market access.

Strong laws and consultation procedures between the Australian government and people have encouraged animal welfare improvement efforts in all aspects. The Australian Animal Welfare Strategy was issued in 2004 to guide the development and establishment of animal welfare policies in the future. This strategy also provides the framework that connects animal welfare with animal health and production.

Until last June, Meat & Livestock Australia reported the country has exported 873,573 heads of cattle worth USD 744 million. Indonesia is the largest market for live Australian cattle (60 percent of total export) and cessation of export will cause significant economic consequences.
The different views between Australia and Indonesia in terms of animal welfare in trade and business could easily cause distrust between the two countries. Accusations become irrelevant when related to trade politics. For Indonesia, with animal protein consumption only 5.1 grams per capita, the challenge to achieve meat self-sufficiency needs to be taken more seriously by all stakeholders.

Future issues
In the future Indonesia will still be a target of critics on animal torture and abuse, as is international critics on mass killing of stray dogs in Bali. The act, which is against animal welfare, is believed to not help the Bali people at all in managing rabies.

As with other developing countries, we must admit that Indonesia is progressing slowly and very limited in developing, promoting, and implementing animal welfare principles. The limitations currently present is mostly caused by our weak national animal health system and limited resources.

Financial support is needed for public campaigns and public awareness education, exposure of international media, and tourism. Without hard work, it is difficult to achieve any progress in implementing animal health principles in trade, disease control, pet care, laboratory animal use and research, and wildlife conservation.

In handling animal welfare issues in developing countries, it is inappropriate to just adopt international standards. Each developing country, including Indonesia, must develop their own standards in reference to the five freedoms as mentioned above and the priorities needed.

Written by:
Works in the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations in Vientiane, Laos

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Livestock Abuse

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