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Indonesia suspends live cattle imports from Darwin export yard

Sydney Morning Herald - March 29, 2024

Zach Hope and Karuni Rompies – Indonesia has suspended live cattle imports from a Darwin export yard while authorities investigate how more than 150 animals died this month on a transport ship.

Australia suspected the deaths were caused by botulism, a paralysing disease animals pick up from eating food contaminated with particular bacterium. All the dead cattle were from the same Northern Territory property, an industry source said on background to be able to provide further information.

The suspension, despite Australian efforts to point to a non-contagious disease, underscores the uneasy biosecurity relationship between the two nations over a trade worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Wisnu Wasisa Putra from Indonesia's quarantine agency said on Thursday night (AEDT) that officials were trying to understand how 151 cattle were reported dead by Australian authorities, but only eight turned up dead on Sunday at the final destination in North Sumatra.

"The ship captain wrote a mortality report," he said. "What's written on that document was that eight died. We said that to the Australians at a meeting [on Wednesday] and we demanded an investigation."

The Australian source told this masthead that most of the dead cattle were dumped at sea, apparently a standard procedure if diseases are detected. It was not clear if this action hampered testing.

Indonesia is by far Australia's largest market for live cattle, worth more than $600 million annually in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand was greater this time of year for the Muslim observance of Ramadan.

"We hope we still have [enough beef]," Wisnu said. "Other premises in Australia can export. There are also beef imports from other countries."

More than half of the roughly 2.5 million live cattle sent to Indonesia since 2019 departed from Darwin. But it is understood there are several non-affected Top End export yards that could be used if the ban lingered.

Indonesia suspended trade from four Australian facilities in August last year after it detected a few imported cattle with lumpy skin disease (LSD), a condition that was, in fact, likely contracted in Indonesia. Chief veterinary officer Dr Beth Cookson said LSD had never been detected in Australia. That ban was lifted in September.

In 2011, the former Labor government controversially suspended the live cattle trade to Indonesia following an ABC Four Corners report about the disturbing treatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs.

The Indonesian market was worth about $350 million to Australia in the 12 months to August last year, as producers faced weakened post-pandemic demand caused in part by cheaper buffalo meat from India.

The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) was told of the suspension late on Thursday.

"The department continues to investigate the cause of the livestock mortalities. Clinical signs present in the cattle are consistent with botulism," DAFF said in a statement.

"Botulism in cattle is most often caused by the cattle eating a toxin produced by bacteria in contaminated feed. It is not a contagious or exotic disease and is not a risk to the Australian herd or to human health.

"Detecting botulism through tests is often difficult, owing to the low amounts of toxin present in the bloodstream of affected cattle. As a result, testing for botulism is a process of elimination and will take some time."

Wisnu said he believed it would be five to seven days until results confirmed botulism, but he did not say when the ban could be lifted. There were about 2400 cattle on board the affected ship, he said.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/indonesia-suspends-live-cattle-imports-from-darwin-export-yard-20240328-p5fg3m.htm