Australian use of risky drug may drive Indonesian cut in livestock imports

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2012:

JAKARTA,  MELBOURNE– Australian cattle and sheep exporters barely had time to anticipate ramped up live animal shipments to Islamic nations,  under new protocols announced on October 21,  2011 by agriculture minister Joe Ludwig,  when word came from Jakarta that Indonesia is likely to accept barely half as many live cattle from Australia as were landed in 2011.

Apparently involved in the Indonesian government discouragement of live cattle imports are aspects of economic protection of local producers from foreign competition,  and retaliation for global humiliation after Ludwig suspended cattle exports to Indonesia for 38 days in June and July 2011,  due to concerns about cruelty in 11 Indonesian hallal slaughterhouses, exposed by Animals Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation magazine show Four Corners.

But Indonesian concerns about Australian use of drugs to enhance livestock growth may also impact demand for both live animals and frozen carcasses,  freelance journalist Amber Atkinson reported via the Melbourne news portal and Crikey Daily Mail. While drugs fed to cattle shipped to Indonesia are the immediate focus,  the problem involves sheep too,  who are exported in far larger numbers,  and goats.  Other importing nations may respond at least as forcefully as Indonesia,  especially if impacts on public health are linked to drug contamination of meat,  now that the symptoms are becoming recognized.

The drug issue has “the potential to again threaten the future of the live export industry,”  assessed Atkinson.

As the issue developed,  however,  the Australian live export industry preferred to celebrate the world record for the largest-ever shipment of live animals claimed on September 15,  2011 by the MV Ocean Shearer,  which sailed from Darwin to Indonesia with 24,683 steers and heifers aboard.  The same ship set the previous record of 23,372 cattle in July 2008.

While the 2011 record-setting voyage was underway,  reported Markus Mannheim of the Melbourne Age on Nov-ember 16,  2011,   “More than 500 sheep died from starvation and infections during an interrupted two-month journey from South Australia to the Middle East.  The shipment of about 67,000 sheep left Port Adelaide in August on board the live-export ship Al Messilah,  which broke down shortly after leaving Australia.  Documents obtained under freedom of information law show that,  during 10 days at sea,  298 of the animals died before the ship returned to port.  The livestock were then divided into two shipments on board the Al Messilah and another vessel,  the Al Shuwaikh,  but a further 206 sheep died before they reached their final destinations.”

Tracking rule

As 2012 dawned,  Australian livestock industry media focused on the efforts of exporters to meet Ludwig’s October 21,  2011 requirement that all live-shipped animals must be tracked to the point of slaughter.  Already required as a condition of shipment of livestock to Indonesia,  the rule was extended to shipments to Egypt, Kuwait,  Bahrain,  Qatar, and Turkey,  which are the other major overseas purchasers of live animals from Australia.

The effect of the rule extension,  explained Meat & Livestock Australia,  is “to bring an end to private sales of Australian sheep to unknown slaughter points,  including during the annual Islamic religious festival Eid al Adha,”  the peak time for live sheep shipments from Australia.  Australia exported about 2.9 million live sheep in 2010.

Animals Australia and other animal advocacy organizations have repeatedly exposed sheep being offloaded at authorized slaughterhouses in destination counties,  only to be sold before slaughter to private individuals who haul them away stuffed in car trunks,  tied to roof racks,  and even lashed to the backs of motorcycles.  These sheep are killed later by amateurs in curbside exercises which seldom approach the requirements of authentic hallal slaughter as prescribed by the Quran and hadiths [sayings] of Mohammed.

Ludwig estimated that about 75% of the Australian live export traffic would be in compliance with the new rule by March 2012,   and 99% by the end of August 2012.  The next Eid al Adha will be November 6-9,  2012.

But University of Adelaide School of Economics postdoctoral fellow Risti Permani warned in a December 27,  2011 Jakarta Post guest column that,  “The Indonesia-Australia trade relationship is once again being put to the test,”  citing “strong rumors circulating” that Indonesia may issue import permits for only 283,000 head of live cattle for 2012,   down from 411,000 in 2011.

Permani noted that Indonesian producers hold a cattle inventory estimated at 14.8 million head of cattle,  about two million more than three years ago,  according to United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization data.  Reducing Australian imports is likely to boost local sales.

Beta agonists

But concern about exposure to the drug Salbutamol is also a factor in the Indonesian reluctance to allow more Australian cattle imports,  wrote Atkinson.

Salbutamol belongs to the same drug category,  Beta-2 andrenergic agonist,  as clenbuterol.  Both drugs leave residues in meat which,  when consumed by humans,  can induce muscle cramps, disturbed vision and eye pain,  and an irregular heartbeat,  which may evolve into irreversible heart disease.  Beta agonists can cause complications of pregnancy and birth defects.  Occasionally the residues kill someone.

“According to Indonesian Beef Producer & Lot Feeder Association chair Dayan Antoni,  during the past year there has been a spike in the use of Salbutamol in cattle feed,  which enhances muscle growth and reduces fat in affected animals,”  Atkinson reported.  “Salbutamol is most commonly known for treating asthma, marketed as Ventolin among other brand names,”  Atkinson explained. “It has also been used by body builders for fat-burning purposes.”

Said Antoni,  “Normal Brahman cross cattle in an Indonesian feedlot produce about 49% carcass to live weight.”  Use of Salbutamol,  he said,  can boost this to 57%.

Indonesian livestock producers may use beta agonists,  but the drugs are openly accessible in Australia.  Meat & Livestock Australia media manager Belinda Roseby affirmed to Atkinson that Dayan Antoni asked the industry to address “the issue of illegal feed additives” at an October 10,  2011 meeting among Australian and Indonesian livestock industry representatives.  Atkinson reported, however,  that representatives of Meat & Livestock Australia,  the Australian Live Export Council,  and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry offered no information about anything they might be doing in response to Dayan Antoni’s request.

The Universiti Sains Malaysia Doping Control Centre in January 2007 reported finding Salbutamol residues in about 2% of more than 100 tested samples of beef,  pork,  mutton,  and duck meat. Centre science officer Mohd Azman Ibrahim told the New Straits Times that clenbuterol is more effective in fattening livestock for slaughter,  but is used less because it costs more.  Malaysia banned the entire beta-agonist drug class in 1996.

Clenbuterol,  the best known beta-agonist,  has been involved in scandals for more than 30 years.  Testimony presented at the 1983 trial of alleged racetrack drug dealer Howard Kinsbrunner,  of Davie, Florida,   indicated that he sold clenbuterol to as many as 270 horse trainers and veterinarians in at least 11 states.  Misuse of clenbuterol led to at least six athletes being excluded from the 1992 Olympic Games.  Use of clenbuterol to enhance the looks of winning animals tainted the outcomes of six major livestock exhibitions in 1993-1994,  including the designation of the Future Farmer Association’s American Star Farmer of 1994.

Human poisoning cases surfaced when 135 people were afflicted in Spain and 22 in France in 1990.  Similar cases detected in Ireland in 1991 led to at least 99 criminal prosecutions during the next seven years.

But instead of discontinuing clenbuterol use,  major users in the veal and lamb trade contracted the 1995 murder of Belgian veterinary inspector Karel Van Noppen.

While assembling the evidence that sent four men to prison for the killing in 2002,  police raided 82 Belgian veterinary facilities,  gathering documentation linking the Belgian and Dutch clenbuterol traffic to the Irish cases and others in the U.S.–where raids on veal feed distributors and veal production facilities allegedly using clenbuterol began in 1994.

Pressured to prosecute by the Humane Farming Association, the U.S. Justice Department during the next 15 years won a string of convictions of U.S. veal industry leaders for misusing clenbuterol.

But the crackdowns in the U.S. and Europe did not deter similar and larger clenbuterol episodes in the developing world.  In Jalisco state,  Mexico,  clenbuterol poisoning cases peaked at 262 in 2006.  Only 17 cases were reported in 2009,  and 22 in 2010,  but the decline may chiefly reflect fear of drug cartels whose score-settling has killed more than 40,000 people since 2006.

Also in 2006,  336 people suffered clenbuterol poisoning in Shanghai,  China;  70 people fell ill in Jiaxing,  in 2008;  70 more were poisoned in Guangzhou in 2009;  and thousands of pigs were killed and tons of pork recalled around China in March 2011 due to suspected clenbuterol contamination.

Australian livestock exporters may not yet be paying much attention to beta agonists,  but Glenys Oogjes and Lyn White of Animals Australia assured ANIMAL PEOPLE that Animals Australia will. White was named “Newsmaker of the Year'” in 2011 by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for her previous work on live exports.
–Merritt Clifton

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