Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Shocking live cattle abuse in Indonesia deserves tight regulation but not the banning of an industry

In last week's blog "You don't ban a whole industry because of a few bad eggs", I explained the importance of self-regulation by companies.  That article focused on self-regulation in the porn industry, to ensure that workers are not exploited.  
Mistreatment of cattle at Indonesian slaughterhouses

Tonight's episode of Four Corners uncovered torture of live Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs, essentially exploitation and harm of the defenceless workers.  The revelation only came to light as a result of an investigation by Animals Australia, and then by Four Corners.  The  images are shocking. 

Self regulation means setting real standards and sticking to them

Ideally, the Australian cattle industry would be self regulating, to ensure the humane slaughter of the live cattle being sent to Indonesia.  The industry, under the control of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Livecorp, has standards that are expected to be observed by the slaughterhouses, and it even inspects these slaughterhouses and conducts training.  Some of the facilities conduct themselves in a way that satisfies those standards.  Unfortunately, as shown on Four Corners, many of them fall horribly, inhumanely, short of acceptable.

What is clear is that the cattle industry is not enforcing its standards adequately.  Nobody in the Australian industry wants cattle harmed.  Yet they continue to allow it.  The self regulation of the industry is tepid.  A strict enforcement of standards could easily be implemented by developing a tight set of regulations, including mandatory stunning of cattle before they are killed.

In fact, only 10% of Indonesian abattoirs currently stun the cattle.  Despite significant efforts by people such as Greg Pankhurst, whose company, Juang Jaya Feedlot, has installed many stunning devices, most Australian beef is still being killed without stunning.  Pankhurst says that "You could probably say 90 per cent of our animals could be stunned within 18 months to two years".

Despite Pankhurst being one of the leaders in animal welfare within the cattle industry, a self regulating industry would impose a zero tolerance policy.  What he is suggesting is that with 10% compliance now, 90% compliance in 2 years will be OK.  Surely, that is not what self regulation means.

Sometimes industries need a very large nudge

Today, LiveCorp has announced that it is suspending exports to three facilities.  It is taking a stand against maltreatment of cattle.

To get to this step has taken a strong nudge through this major campaign from Animals Australia and of course, a very public 45 minutes on national TV, with extensive press coverage in Australia, Indonesia and around the world.

This reinforces the need to encourage individuals and groups to speak up against the breach of standards.  Animals Australia should be congratulated on bringing this atrocity to our attention.

The government may regulate, but we must resist banning the industry.

In last week's blog, I posed a question around what should be done when a "Manufacturer X, that sells Product A, exploits and harms their workers".  Most people would agree that the manufacturer should be prosecuted, and consumers might boycott the product.

However, banning the product completely isn't the answer.

The case of live cattle exports is an example where a particular problem certainly needs to be fixed.  There are many ways that the Australian government could regulate.  Indeed, if an industry has proved itself too slow or incapable of self regulating, then government regulation is appropriate. But, the solution is not to ban the trade.  

The government should insist that live cattle may only be exported if they are delivered to a certified slaughterhouse, which uses stunning to kill each animal.

Industries, beware! There are costs of ignoring your own standards. The Greens will get you.

I've seen so many industries pay lip service to their internal standards, believing that they can get away without walking the talk.  In every case, this deceit comes back to bite them on the arse.  Tobacco, gambling, banking, alcohol, telemarketing, cattle, porn, manufacturing ...

As an industry, you must set standards, and insist that they be adhered to. No wiggle room.  If you breach your own standards, government will impose tighter regulations on you - it will hurt the bottom line more than the ill-gotten gains you made.  If you still ignore the standards, you will be prosecuted. 

But it is only in the extreme case where the whole industry ignores an imposed set of standards for an extended period of time that the industry might be shut down.  The live cattle industry isn't at that point of no return yet, and the calls of politicians tonight to close down the trade are misguided.  The Greens are using an appalling situation as an excuse to peddle an agenda.

We must expect standards from all industries, but we must also support economic liberties. Our government should not ban any industries just on principle.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

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