The West

Farida Kurniasih does not understand why the beef she buys regularly from her local Jakarta wet market has risen so sharply in price this year.

As is the custom in Indonesia, Mrs Kurniasih was this week stocking up on Australian red meat to entertain family and friends to mark Ramadan, and admitted she would continue to buy fresh beef and make cost cuts elsewhere if prices remained high.

The friendly Jakarta mother is typical of many families in Indonesia struggling to get by with no real understanding of why fresh red meat - the cornerstone of their protein-rich diets - has escalated in cost.

It has been 12 months since the live export trade out of Australia resumed business with Indonesia after a sudden four-week suspension following damning footage from inside an Indonesian abattoir which was aired on Australian television.

One year on and the impact of the ban and subsequent changes to trade is still being felt by everyone from hardened cattle producers in the Top End to the average Indonesian wanting to feed their family. This year the Indonesian Government reduced import quotas of Australian cattle to just 283,000, down from 765,000 in 2009.

As a result, thousands of Australian Brahman cattle bred to reach the Indonesian import weight requirement of 350kg this year remain stranded in paddocks across the Kimberley, Pilbara and Northern Territory despite Indonesia's worsening fresh meat shortage.

Many industry experts believe Australia's sudden move to cut off another nation's food supply last year offended the Indonesians greatly and relations are yet to be fully restored.

Typically at this time of year there are about 200,000 Australian cattle fattening up in Indonesian feedlots waiting to be slaughtered.

At the moment there is just over half that number and the shortage of quality fresh meat at local markets is bumping up prices. Meat vendors at the Pasar Modern BSD city markets said this week that prices had more than doubled recently.

Dayan Antoni, head of government relations and business development at Indonesian feedlotting giant Santori Beef, said Australian cattle producers should have faith in the Indonesian trade despite the reduced quotas and cultural "scars" that last year's ban created.

Mr Antoni believes relations between the two nations could be soothed with Australian investment in Indonesian cattle-breeding.

Australian export giant Wellard has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars ensuring the 62 abattoirs and six importers it uses in Indonesia meet the new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System requirements.

As well as the now compulsory electronic ear tags for tracking, Wellard has insisted every animal it is responsible for is stunned before it has its throat slit, to ensure it is unconscious when the slaughter occurs.

In the rural outskirts of Jakarta this week, The Weekend West witnessed the methodical and precise killing practices undertaken by dozens of abattoir workers and butchers at slaughterhouse Agrisatwa.

Hundreds of the beasts sit quietly in feedlots and staff remain silent to avoid distressing the cattle before slaughter, which is over quickly after the animal is stunned in accordance with new welfare requirements.

The changes have been major but welcomed by an industry keen to show it can operate efficiently while prioritising animal welfare, according to Wellard projects and animal welfare manager Catherine Marriott.

"The changes that are now implemented have gone a long way to securing the long-term viability of the industry," Ms Marriott said.

But for the thousands of Australians whose livelihoods depend on exporting Australian cattle, it remains to be seen whether the trade will fully recover from the most tumultuous 12 months in its history.

* The reporter travelled to Darwin and Indonesia courtesy of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association.

The West Australian

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