I spent much of the past two weeks in Australia, where the Australian government’s ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia was headline news. Beef and ranching, of course, is a major industry in Australia, as is export of live cattle to Indonesia where they are slaughtered in Indonesian slaughterhouses for meat. Trouble started several weeks ago when a muckraking Australian television show broadcast images of animal cruelty in an Indonesian slaughterhouse. Never mind that there are hundreds of Indonesian slaughterhouses, most of which maintain humane standards, and that tens of thousands of Australians make their livelihood by exporting cattle. Ignore the fact that Australian cattle provide affordable meat for Indonesia’s poor: The Australian government had political points to score, and responded to hand-wringing by animal rights activists by banning export of live cattle to Australia.
What happened next was predictable: Unable to make money to pay their staff or feed their cattle, multi-generational family ranches have now closed. One ranch owner who has 8,000 cattle bred for the Indonesian market which she can no longer afford said, “I don’t know what else we can do but start shooting them. I can’t stand there and watch them die of thirst.” Now investors are reconsidering and in some case severing plans to invest in rural Australia, as second order effects continue to ripple through the economy. Even if the government eats crow and overturns its ill-conceived ban, it will be too late for hundreds if not thousands of families. But, at least Prime Minister Julia Gillard can savor the green vote as her poll numbers continue to free fall.