CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia said on Wednesday it was suspending cattle exports to Indonesia after an outcry over the inhumane treatment of cattle in its neighbor, as animal rights groups called for an outright ban on trade to other countries.
The minority Labor government has been under fierce pressure to suspend the A$320 million ($342 million) Indonesia live cattle business after television footage showed cattle being beaten, whipped and maimed prior to slaughter in some abattoirs.
Canberra would impose a six month initial suspension on Indonesia shipments, and the government would also review the live export trade to all overseas markets, including the Middle East, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said.
"Trade will not be able to be resumed until the government, community and industry are confident that we have safeguards in place to ensure appropriate animal welfare," he told ABC radio.
"The Australian government is committed to reaching the best possible outcomes for our livestock, the industry and our important relationship with Indonesia," Ludwig said.
Lyn White, who shot the graphic footage and is the campaign director for Animals Australia, welcomed the news of the suspension but said it should have come sooner.
"There has been an extraordinary outpouring of rage that our cattle have been treated like this and have been supplied for such treatment. So this is a first step," White told Australian television.
Australia exports about 500,000 head of cattle a year to Indonesia, representing 60 percent of its live cattle trade.
The live trade to all countries is valued at A$730 million, with sheep exported to Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Israel, and cattle shipped to Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Jordan, Japan and Brunei.
"This industry over a period of time has shown that it can't be trusted. We have no control over what happens to our animals in importing countries, and the only way to safeguard their welfare is to not supply them," White said.
Australia's cattle industry on Monday put forward a plan aimed at reducing the suffering of animals sent to Indonesia.
Industry group, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), said under its plan cattle would only be supplied to 25 accredited Indonesian slaughter houses currently meeting World Organization for Animal Health standards.
The conservative opposition, which has strong support from farmers, said the suspension was a blunt instrument that would hit all Indonesian abattoir workers, as well as risk trade and security retaliation from Australia's fellow G20 member.
"We've made a statement also about our nearest neighbor Indonesia, who we are totally reliant on for other things like border control. I don't think we have thought through the ramifications," Nationals party Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce said.
The previous conservative government banned live cattle and sheep exports to Saudi Arabia between 1991 and 2000 after hundreds of animals died from heat stress en route to the Persian Gulf.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor and Amy Pyett in SYDNEY; Editing by Ed Davies)