CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia has suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia after an outcry over footage that showed the animals screaming and writhing as they were slaughtered, the government said Wednesday as a key political party called for a permanent ban on the trade to any country.
Gruesome footage shown on Australian television last week showed cattle in Indonesian slaughterhouses were beaten and took minutes to bleed to death as their throats were repeatedly slashed. The doomed animals stood shaking in fear as other cattle were skinned before their eyes.
Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the trade would be halted for up to six months while authorities work to ensure that the exported animals are treated according to World Organization for Animal Health guidelines.
"Nobody accepts - the community doesn't accept - the animal welfare outcomes that we all saw on the television," Ludwig told reporters. "I want to ensure that the community and the industry can guarantee that we have outcomes where cattle aren't mistreated."
Muslim-majority Indonesia is Australia's largest live cattle market, but Australian cattle and sheep are also shipped live to the Middle East and other countries where they are often slaughtered according to Muslim custom by having their throats cut.
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. The trade with Indonesia is worth about 330 million Australian dollars ($350 million) a year.
Indonesia's Minister of Agriculture, Suswono, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, said he has sent a letter to Australia's health minister to conduct a joint verification of standards at the 12 slaughterhouses highlighted by the Australian TV program.
He said the team will begin work on Monday and the results are expected within 10 days.
"We will develop and issue strict guidelines to all slaughterhouses across the country to avoid such improper animal treatment and torture," he said.
Suswono urged Indonesians to not panic about a possible beef shortage, saying the country can import processed beef from Australia, increase its reliance on local cattle or buy beef from New Zealand or the U.S.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Bayu Krisnamurti said that Indonesia's stock of live cattle could last four months. That includes the Islamic holiday Eid-al-Fitr in August, when Muslims celebrate the end of a month of fasting with feasts including many types of beef dishes.
Australian lawmaker Adam Bandt, whose Greens party's support is crucial to the government, said he will introduce a bill to parliament this month that would permanently ban all live cattle and sheep exports.
"Live animal exports are shiploads of misery," Bandt said.
The campaign to end all live exports from Australia is supported by animal welfare organizations Animals Australia and the Australia's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Lyn White, an Animals Australia campaign director who recorded the gruesome slaughter scenes broadcast last week, doubted that an Indonesia-wide guarantee of humane treatment of Australian livestock could be achieved within six months.
"I think there's a huge challenge ahead of the (Australian) government to in any way address the concerns of the Australian community," she said.
She said the whole international live export trade should have been banned in 2006 when she exposed a slaughterhouse in Cairo restraining Australian cattle by cutting leg tendons. Australia responded then by suspending exports to Egypt for seven months.
Australian livestock industry advocates, Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp., said in a statement they understood the reasons for the suspension, but feared it would be a disaster for cattle ranchers.
Cattle sales agent Tim McHugh said the suspension would take a huge economic toll on ranchers.
"This is criminal to think that people can manipulate markets the way they have using emotive issues," McHugh told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
While most Australian abattoirs stun - a process of rendering cattle temporarily unconscious with a device that causes a brain hemorrhage - before slaughtering, stunning is rare in Indonesia and considered contrary to Islam by many.
Indonesia's methods are based on Islamic guidelines, For Riwantoro, a senior official at Indonesia's Ministry of Agriculture, told The Associated Press last week.
Those guidelines - which render meat "halal," or permissible - are meant, in part, to ensure the slaughter is hygienic and humane.
Predominantly Muslim Malaysia once banned Australian beef imports while a debate raged over whether stunning violated Islam's rules