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Opinions Vary in Indonesia on Impact of Jakarta's Suspension of US Beef Imports - 2004-01-30

Indonesia is among the Asian countries that prohibited the import of U.S. beef following the discovery in December of a case of mad cow disease in the state of Washington.

The chief of Indonesia's Food and Drug Control Agency, Sampoerno, announced the decision to suspend beef imports from the United States.

"To protect public interest, the Food and Drug Control Agency has ordered importers, distributors, supermarkets and retailers against selling to the public beef imported from the U.S.," he said, "until such time when we receive further information about the mad cow disease in the U.S." Public reaction to the announcement varies. But, many consumers express caution.

Mrs. Nuraida, an owner of a restaurant in Jakarta said, "I always buy beef for my restaurant at a local market. I prefer local beef because it is fresh. Imported beef is normally frozen."

Mrs. Siregar, a longtime Jakarta resident, says she heard the news about the ban on television.

"I guess we have to be careful now when we buy beef. I suggest people do not buy frozen beef imported from abroad. Local beef is better to consume because it is fresh," she said.

Cakung Slaughterhouse, Indonesia's biggest, is on the outskirts of Jakarta. It has the country's most modern equipment and facilities. Thousands of cows are kept at Cakung, and an average of 50 of the animals are slaughtered daily.

Dr. Ramzi, one of Cakung's veterinarians, says the animals are thoroughly inspected. In accordance with the established practice of Islam, experienced, well-trained butchers must recite special prayers before they slaughter the cows.

According to Thomas Sembiring, chairman of the Association of Beef Importers, Indonesia imports approximately 30,000 tons of beef annually. Of this amount, 12,000 tons come from Australia, 11,000 tons from New Zealand, and 7,000 or 8,000 tons from the United States.

Mr. Sembiring says he has not seen any significant decline in beef consumption since the suspension of imports from the United States. However, he says, American beef is unique.

"American beef has a distinct quality, something we cannot find here at home," he said. "It represents a special portion of the market that needs to be replaced, because of the existing ban. But the question is whether we can substitute that portion with beef imported from Australia and New Zealand."

Mr. Sembiring says it is too early to tell the impact of the ban on prices and markets. "I don't know yet, but it seems there have been some trends that the price of beef from Australia and New Zealand is beginning to rise," he said.

Mr. Sembiring also says that if Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, major importers of U.S. beef, decide to shift their imports to Australia and New Zealand, in the long term, this will certainly have a significant impact on prices.

The Indonesian government has made no announcement as yet how long the ban will last. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington continues to ensure that U.S. beef is safe.