GUNADI refuses to concede Animals Australia investigators videoed a broken-legged steer being tortured at his abattoir, but every night he sees the results.
Gunadi works at the Medan city government’s Mabar abattoir as foreman of the slaughtering unit, where 23 people have not been paid for the past two months because there’s no work for them any more.
The Mabar abattoir killed up to 80 cattle a night before the video was shown in Australia by ABC TV’s Four Corners on May 30, but the number dropped almost immediately to eight or fewer as feedlot operators refused to supply Australian cattle to sub-standard meatworks.
Medan is Sumatra’s biggest city, with more than 2 million people reliant on Australian cattle for more than 80 per cent of their fresh beef, and is among the places hardest-hit by Agriculture minister Joe Ludwig’s month-long suspension of the live cattle trade.
The first shipment of cattle since the ban was lifted by Senator Ludwig on July 6 is expected to arrive in Indonesia tonight.
Three of the allegedly bad abattoirs featured on Four Corners supply Medan and were among the 12 Indonesian meatworks Senator Ludwig initially banned, on the basis of information from Animals Australia.
Gunadi claims he was telephoned in February by an Indonesian man who said: “I’ve just arrived at the airport and I’m bringing two bule (white people). If you let us in, I’ll give you 500,000 rupiah (about $56)”.
He said he replied: “I can’t do that, this place is where I earn my meals. If you want to come in here, go the official way.”
The visitors, Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White and British investigator Ian Shersby, found another way into Mabar and filmed a worker trying brutally to make a steer with a broken leg walk to the killing floor.
This is the man Liberal senator Chris Back claimed last week was paid 150,000 rupiah by the investigators’ driver to abuse the animal for the video, and who since the Four Corners programme has been beaten by his co-workers, and his wife and daughter raped.
Except, according to Gunadi and other people familiar with the Medan abattoirs, there are problems with both the Four Corners’ allegations and Senator Back’s counter-claims.
The mystery man was not a Mabar worker; he brutalised the steer in the abattoir’s backyard, not the slaughtering floor; and there was no point in forcing it to walk, because the practice is that injured animals are killed where they stand or lie.
Most cattle slaughtered at Mabar, and all since June 1, are brought in by local cattle traders and killed there by the traders’ own slaughtermen.
Gunadi denies the mystery man was employed by the abattoir, and local gossip is that he worked for Haji Slamet, one of the biggest local cattle traders.
Whoever the man worked for, according to the Mabar foreman, he was not a regular slaughterman. He knows them all.
Mabar’s plant manager was not answering his mobile phone, even to officials of the Indonesian Cattle and Buffalo Farmers Association (PPSKI), which is trying to revive Mabar’s fortunes.
“We don’t agree with what was shown on the video,” says Djodi Singgih, a PPSKI North Sumatra MP and a veterinary surgeon.
“But we’re trying to fix the situation if we can, but now we worry about illegal slaughterhouses starting up.”
Wrestling cattle by their tails, he said, was a legitimate method of animal handling, taught at Indonesian agricultural colleges.
Djodi’s colleague, Elianor Sembiring, made his own inquiries into the Four Corners allegations, and says he established that the Animals Australia driver did pay for access to Mabar and to Binjai abattoir, where a worker was videoed flogging and kicking cattle. Whether the workers “acted up” with the cattle he declined to speculate.
But as with several Australians in the Indonesian industry (who all decline to be identified) he insists the activities shown on the video were not normal or useful to abattoir operations.
“If we have made mistakes as business partners (with Australia), surely there should be warnings, once or twice or three times, but not blowing it up like this,” Sembiring said.
Gunadi says when the local manager of Agro Giri Perkasa, Medan district’s biggest feedlot operator, confronted him with the section of the Four Corners video showing the Mabar activity, he lined up all his men.
“Show me any of my men doing this, I will take responsibility,” he challenged the feedlot manager. He could not, and was ordered off the premises, says Gunadi.
On June 1, AGP informed all its abattoir customers that only those that used pneumatic stunners would continue to receive Australian cattle. That applied to stock already in the country ahead of Senator Ludwig’s export embargo, as well as cattle shipped whenever it was lifted.
The private Zidin abattoir, which also featured in the Four Corners programme, immediately upgraded to using stunners and is the only Medan abattoir currently receiving AGP stock.
The Australian visited Mabar early on Sunday morning when four cattle were being killed for a trader; they were Australian steers bought from local farmers, remnants of stock already fattening in Indonesia when Senator Ludwig suspended the trade. The cattle were killed using a restraining box, quickly and without fuss.
At the Binjai slaughterhouse, there was no activity. The only person on the premises, a security man, said that since the week the Four Corners row started, the abattoir opened only two or three nights a week – sometimes to kill a single local cow.
Three Binjai workers whom Elianor said had been identified taking 50,000 rupiah each to allow Ms White’s team inside could not be found. But one of the men told a Fairfax reporter five weeks ago they were not paid to mistreat the animals.
Senator Back’s allegation of Mabar workers assaulting the mystery man and raping his wife and daughter were unanimously dismissed by everybody The Australian spoke to in Medan.
And the local police have no record of such a pattern of assaults in the area.