Agriculture minister Joe Ludwig last night lifted month-long bans on live export of cattle to Indonesia, announcing a “progressive” examination of the industry.

Rather than immediately restarting all exporting, Australian cattle producers will have to apply for an exporter license with strict conditions. The changes place the responsiblity of the animal welfare on the Australian exporter, with exporters to track their cattle and ensure international animal welfare standards are maintained.

Just days after ABC’s Four Corners aired a controversial episode on May 30 revealing the horrific treatment of Australian cattle slaughtered in Indonesia, the government placed a ban on all live exports. The cattle industry had already put a self-imposed ban on sending cattle to the three Indonesian abbatoirs featured in the program after watching previews of the Four Corners footage, but the government placed a blanket ban on live exports.

Ludwig stopped short of guaranteeing that no animals would be tortured in the way depicted by Four Corners, instead stating that stunning will be encouraged.

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“Supply chains will be verified by commercial independent auditors with the entire process to be independently audited on a regular basis,” he said.

The live cattle trade between Australia and Indonesia is worth $320 million. While the quota for Indonesia will remain the same for 2011 — 500,000 head of cattle — a hefty cut will be recommended for cattle coming from Australia next year, according to the Indonesian government.

The usual suspects released media announcements arguing their side of the story after the ban was lifted yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the industry group Meat and Livestock Australia welcomed the decision:

“The industry and government must now work together with Indonesia to bring additional facilities up to international standards, so that the $320 million a year trade can return to normal levels as soon as possible while also assuring the welfare of Australian cattle throughout the supply chain.”

The RSPCA, which along with Animals Australia supplied some of the footage from Indonesia abbatoirs to Four Corners, said the changes don’t stop Australian cattle from facing a “cruel death”:

“If the government is serious about animal welfare then before any export permits are issued, and a single animal is put on a boat, stunning must be guaranteed. What is the point in ‘supply chain assurances’ that actually don’t assure a humane death for animals.”

Australia will have to find new cattle markets because Indonesia will likely punish it by reducing cattle numbers, writes Robert Gottliebsen in Business Spectator:

“Australia was lucky in the Indonesian cattle ban fiasco. Indonesians, and particularly middle class Indonesians, love to eat beef in the evenings during and after Ramadan. Agriculture Minister H.E. Suswono did not want to deprive his people of beef to score points over Australia.

“But it was a close call and the Indonesians went very close to teaching Australia a badly needed lesson on the importance of showing respect to your neighbour.”

An op-ed in the Financial Review by political students Siobhan O’Sullivan, Sandy Ross and Caley Otter questions the role of the World Organisation for Animal Health — known as the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) — in the international live trade of animals, since it provides a lower level of animal welfare than Australia standards allow.

“Where there are disparate national standards, and no internationally shared understanding of the extent to which humans have a moral obligation to safeguard animal welfare, international bodies such as OIE typically adopt a lowest common denominator approach to setting standards.”

Check out today’s front page of the NT News: