Australia late Tuesday suspended its 330 million Australian dollar ($350 million) a year live cattle trade with Indonesia after gruesome televised images exposed slaughterhouse practices there.
The ban will last until proper treatment of the animals has been assured, said Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who signed the trade ban on Wednesday. The government had temporarily suspended exports to 11 slaughterhouses after the footage aired nationally last week.
"I want to work with both the industry and the Indonesian government through my department to ensure that we can do this as quickly as possible," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "The suspension is there for up to six months to allow time for this to occur."
Cattle sales agent Tim McHugh said the suspension would have a huge economic impact on cattle ranches across northern Australia, where there are no export meat slaughterhouses.
"This is criminal to think that people can manipulate markets the way they have using emotive issues," McHugh told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Wednesday.
"The reality is that it shouldn't be our responsibility with regard to foreign countries buying our product and what they do with it once it's in their hands," he added.
ABC television on May 30 broadcast footage from Indonesian slaughterhouses that showed steers being whipped and taking minutes to die after their throats were slit repeatedly. Australian slaughterhouses stun the animals first.
The government responded the following day by halting trade with slaughterhouses that featured in the documentary, as Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd assured colleagues that trade suspensions with individual slaughterhouses would not harm Australia's "strong and robust relationship" with Indonesia.
Live Australian cattle account for up to 40 percent of Indonesia's beef consumption, while Indonesia buys 60 percent of Australia's live cattle exports.
About 770 slaughterhouses operate in Indonesia and only five use the stun-gun method, according to Lyn White, campaign director of the animal welfare group Animals Australia, which filmed the footage.
Indonesia's methods of slaughtering animals are based on Islamic teachings, For Riwantoro, a senior official at Indonesia's Ministry of Agriculture, told The Associated Press last week.
"We have to protect consumers by ensuring they consume not only healthy and clean meat, but most important, it must be halal," Riwantoro said.
He said without Australian cattle, Indonesia would rely more on local cattle or would look for imports from other countries.
Prime Minster Julia Gillard was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald saying Australia would work with Indonesians and the cattle industry to bring about changes in the slaughterhouses.
Key lawmakers and Animals Australia and the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, better known as the RSPCA, had sought the ban on cruelty grounds. The animal welfare groups cooperated with Australian Broadcasting Corp. to produce the television footage aired nationally.