Australian livestock exporters said on Saturday they were suspending live cattle exports to Egypt after a graphic video purportedly showed animal cruelty in Egyptian abattoirs and prompted Canberra to launched an investigation.
Agriculture officials said they had taken the matter up with Cairo, as Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said he was "dismayed" that the footage provided by animal rights group Animals Australia had not been made available sooner.
Animals Australia, which is campaigning for an end to the live export trade, said the footage was shot over recent months at two abattoirs approved under a joint agreement which allowed the resumption of live animal exports to Egypt in 2010.
Alison Penfold, chief executive officer of the Australian Livestock Exporters Council, said she was appalled by the footage but said she had visited the Egyptian facilities last year and found procedures then complied with Australian requirements.
"We are very genuine about the suspension. There will be no animals going into those facilities until the standards are met," Penfold told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The video showed "appalling practices during the slaughter process", she said.
Australia's live export industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the national economy, but has been beset by controversy. Local animal rights activists say the trade is cruel and should be banned.
Many of the animals go to predominantly Muslim countries, where they are slaughtered in accordance with Islamic requirements. Exports to Egypt were halted in 2006 but re-started four years later. Exports to Indonesia were halted for several months in 2011, also over cruelty allegations.
Animals Australia said around 3,000 Australia cattle were currently in Egypt awaiting slaughter and said the industry had no choice but to halt the trade.
"This was the only legitimate decision industry could take given the evidence clearly shows that the cruel treatment of cattle in both of these facilities is systemic and routine...," Lisa Chalk, Animals Australia communications director, said in a statement.
Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said in a statement that it had received "a complaint of alleged animal welfare concerns in Egyptian abattoirs".
"The department has already consulted with the Egyptian authorities and has formally requested an investigation in line with the Memorandum of Understanding on the Handling and Slaughter of Australian Live Animals between our two countries.
"The department is pleased with the levels of cooperation offered to date to address the concerns."