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Bribing for beef in Indonesia

Corruption, smuggling and secretly mixing pork with beef are exacerbating the country's beef crisis.
Last modified: 18 Feb 2013 13:26

Corruption, smuggling and secretly mixing pork with beef are exacerbating Indonesia's beef crisis.

Late last month, Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, the high-profile chairman of the Prosperous Justice Party, was arrested for allegedly accepting bribes from beef importers, and a container that was said to contain fish but turned out to be carrying illegally imported Australian beef.

This is the latest example of how a beef shortage is triggering illegal practices in the country.

In urban centres like Jakarta where consumption is higher than supply, prices are being driven up to nearly $10 per kg.

In 2011, the government slashed imports from Australia after ABC Four Corners aired a video exposing poor conditions in Indonesia's slaughterhouses.

This year, only 267,000 cows can be imported from Australia. Before 2011, Indonesia imported around 500,000. However, officials denied the footage sparked its decision and claimed Indonesia needed to rely on its own production.

This should have encouraged consumers to eat local beef and support the domestic industry, but traders say Indonesian farmers can't deliver enough cows.

That's why sheds in Serang, in West Java, are half empty.

More cows needed

Before, a shipment of cows from Australia would arrive each month. Now it only comes once every three months.

Beef farmer Toni Mandianto's supply has decreased to 12,000 from 30,000 imported cattle a year, but high prices means he sells less.

Instead of a few hundred cows a day, traders now pick up around 20.

"It is clear that we still need to import cows," explains Mandianto.

"Indonesia is not ready for this kind of demand. Only when we change our mindset and become producers instead of traders, we will be able to do it."

Although Indonesians consume on average just 2.4kg per year, compared with Germans, for example, who get through 50kg a year, there is still a shortage.

Some government officials have recommended eating chicken or rabbit instead, a statement that has angered cattle farmers who insist Indonesians have a right to eat beef and that the government should ensure it is available for a reasonable price.

Last year, the shortage of beef led to another scandal, the "bakso fiasco". In December, some vendors were found mixing pork into Indonesia's famous bakso, or meat ball soup.

But the crisis really heated up when Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq was detained late January.

He is suspected of accepting a bribe of over $100,000 from one of Indonesia’s largest beef importers.

'End the corruption'

The money was reportedly stuffed in a suitcase, ready to be handed over, when the arrest took place.

The importers allegedly wanted him to help them get a higher quota. According to sources within the Anti-Corruption Commission, these secret transactions have been going on for a few years since the minister of Agriculture restricted the quota.

The case still has to be brought to court.

"Although it is a lot more difficult to smuggle live cattle into the country people also think we are involved in corruption," says Mandianto.

"This is really bad for our industry, especially if we want to develop beef production and become self sufficient."

Lined up behind huge chunks of beef, butchers at Jakarta's meat market complained that consumers are chased away by the high prizes and would rather go next door to the chicken sellers.

"The government better fix this, end the corruption, and make sure the price goes down," said Dody, who has been in the beef business for more than 10 years.

Follow Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen on Twitter: @stepvaessen