Kangaroo meat is sourced from abundant species of kangaroos that are harvested in the wild. Although most species of macropod are protected from non-Aboriginal hunting in Australia by law, a small number of the large-sized species which exist in high numbers can be hunted by commercial hunters. This policy has been criticised by some animal rights activists. On the other hand, the kangaroo harvest is supported by a wide range of professional ecologists in Australia. Groups such as the Ecological Society of Australia, the Australasian Wildlife Management Society and the Australian Mammal Society have stated their support for kangaroo harvesting. Such groups argue that basing agricultural production systems on native animals rather than introduced livestock like sheep offers considerable ecological advantages to the fragile Australian rangelands and could save greenhouse gas emissions.
Though it is impossible to determine the exact number, government conservation agencies in each state calculate population estimates each year. Nearly 40 years of refinement has led to the development of sophisticated aerial survey techniques which enable overall populations estimates to be constructed. Populations of the large kangaroo species in the commercial harvest zones across Australia vary from approximately 25 to 50 million kangaroos at any given point in time.
Kangaroos are protected by legislation in Australia, both state and federal. Kangaroo harvesting only occurs in approved harvest zones and quotas are set to ensure the sustainability of kangaroo populations. If numbers approach minimum thresholds harvest zones are closed until populations recover. Kangaroos are harvested by licensed shooters in accordance with a strict code of practice to ensure high standards of both humaneness and food hygiene. Meat that is exported is inspected by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).
Harvest quotas are set by state or territory governments but all commercial harvest plans must be approved by the Australian Government. Only approved species can be harvested and these include: Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus), Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus), Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), Common Wallaroo (Macropus robustus ssp robustus). Sustainable use quotas are typically between 10–20% of estimated kangaroo populations. Total populations are estimated by aerial surveys and a decade of previous data and quota numbers are calculated by government and science organisations to ensure sustainability. Even though quotas are established by each state, very rarely does actual culling reach 35% of the total quotas allowed. For instance, "[i]n the 2015 harvest period, 25.9% of the commercial harvest quota (for Queensland) was utilised". When quotas are not utilised landholders in most states and territories resort to culling overabundant kangaroo populations. As kangaroos are protected, permits are still required but culled carcasses are generally left in paddocks to decompose and not utilised.
Nutrition and products
The kangaroo has been historically a staple source of protein for indigenous Australians. Kangaroo meat is high in protein and low in fat (about 2%). Kangaroo meat has a very high concentration of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) when compared with other foods. CLA has been attributed with a wide range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties, in addition to reducing obesity and atherosclerosis.
While kangaroo meat has enjoyed popularity for its organic nature, little information has been available about its nutrition benefits besides articles dedicated to the value of CLA's. While basic nutritional data (total protein, fats etc.) are published worldwide, little research has been provided about the nature of the kangaroo protein and its composite amino acid profile. Of the 22 amino acids within protein, ten are vital to human and animal well-being because they can't be manufactured in the body. These are called 'essential amino acids' and the primary research on kangaroo muscle meat nutrition is from a seminal research paper by the primary Australian government science organisation CSIRO in 1970.
Using this research paper as a primary data source essential amino acids have been calculated for dried kangaroo muscle meat (DM) and compared to various other farmed meat sources such as chicken, pork, beef and lamb. By comparison to these farmed meats, kangaroo meat is higher in threonine, isoleucine and valine and lower in arginine and methionine-cystine amino acids. This information is invaluable in calculating balanced diets or when a subject requires an extra natural source of a specific essential amino acid.
Kangaroo meat was legalised for human consumption in South Australia in 1980.[dead link] In New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria it could only be sold as pet food until 1993. Kangaroo was once limited in availability, although consumption in Australia is becoming more widespread. However, only 14.5% of Australians were reported in 2008 as eating kangaroo meat at least four times per year. Many Australian supermarkets now stock various cuts of kangaroo including fillets, steaks, minced meat and 'Kanga Bangas' (kangaroo sausages). Many Australian restaurants serve kangaroo meat.
Kangaroo meat has been exported since 1959. Seventy percent of kangaroo meat is exported, particularly to the European market: Germany and France. It is sold in two supermarkets in the United Kingdom and before a suspension on imports of kangaroo meat to Russia in 2009 it was widely used in Russian smallgoods. In 2008, the industry is worth around A$250–270 million a year and provides around 4,000 jobs in Australia.
The kangaroo meat industry has attracted critical attention in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States from animal rights organisations. Their concerns centre on the hunting process, in which all kangaroo meat for the global market comes from kangaroos harvested in the wild. In 2009 wildlife ecologist Dr Dror Ben-Ami for a University of Technology Sydney think-tank estimated that 440,000 "dependent young kangaroos" are bludgeoned or starved to death each year after their mother has been shot. However, kangaroo harvesters must follow a strict Code of Practice to ensure the highest standards of humaneness and the Code provides strict guidelines to ensure young aren't left to starve. A report published in 2020 The Australian kangaroo industry: male-only harvesting, sustainability and an assessment of animal welfare impacts demonstrates that commercial harvesting actually has better humaneness outcomes than other forms of population control.
In the United Kingdom, the sale of kangaroo meat has prompted protests from animal welfare campaigners. German retailer Lidl announced in 2018 that it would stop selling kangaroo steaks following "customer feedback". Iceland, Tesco and Morrisons have previously stopped selling lines of kangaroo meat.
Unfortunately, when such campaigns are successful in decreasing commercial harvesting rates, this leads to an increase in non-commercial culling of kangaroos – permits for which are available in every Australian state and territory to address issues associated with over-abundant kangaroo populations. Non-commercial culling can be carried out by non-professional shooters, unlike professional harvesters who are required to undertake regular accuracy testing to ensure that humaneness standards are being met. It is more difficult to monitor non-commercial culling practices and kangaroos killed under these permits cannot be sold commercially so they are left to decompose in paddocks, rather than being utilised as a sustainable and renewable resource.
Kangatarianism is a recent practice of following a diet that cuts out meat except kangaroo on environmental and ethical grounds. Several Australian newspapers wrote about the neologism "kangatarianism" in February 2010, describing eating a vegetarian diet with the addition of kangaroo meat as a choice with environmental benefits because indigenous wild kangaroos require no extra land or water for farming and produce little methane (a greenhouse gas) unlike cattle or other farm animals. Advocates of kangatarianism also choose it because Australian kangaroos live natural lives, eat organic food, and are killed humanely. For similar reasons, Australians have discussed eating only the meat of Australian feral camels ("cameltarianism").
There has been recent discussion from the kangaroo meat industry about attempting to introduce a specific culinary name for kangaroo meat, similar to the reference to pig meat as ham and pork, and calling deer meat venison. The motivation is to have diners thinking of the meat rather than the animal and avoiding adverse reactions to the eating of an animal considered to be cute. In 2005 the Food Companion International magazine, with support from the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia, ran a competition hoping to find a name that would not put diners off when they saw it on a menu. The three-month competition attracted over 2700 entries from 41 nations, and the name australus was decided in December 2005. The name was penned by university professor Steven West, an American about to be naturalised as an Australian citizen. Other finalists for the name included kangarly, maroo, krou, maleen, kuja, roujoe, rooviande, jurru, ozru, marsu, kep, kangasaurus, marsupan, jumpmeat, and MOM (meat of marsupials).
The competition is not binding on the Kangaroo Industry Association, which has not moved to adopt the new name in any official capacity.
Traditional Aboriginal use
Kangaroo formed an important part of many traditional Aboriginal diets.
You find kangaroos in flat country or mulga country. In the old days, people used to sic their dogs on them and spear them. The milk guts are pulled out and a wooden skewer is used to close up the carcase. Then it is tossed on top of the fire to singe the hair which is scraped off, and then it's [put in a hole and] covered up with hot earth and coals. The tail and both feet are cut off before cooking. These are put in together with the rest of the carcase.
The kangaroo is chopped up so that many people can eat it. The warm blood and fluids from the gluteus medius and the hollow of the thoracic cavity are drained of all fluids. People drink these fluids, which studies have shown are quite harmless. Kangaroos are cut in a special way; into the two thighs, the two hips, the two sides of ribs, the stomach, the head, the tail, the two feet, the back and lower back. This is the way the Arrernte people everywhere cut it up.
The Anangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples of Central Australia call kangaroo "malu". They use malu mainly for meat (kuka) but other uses include materials for spear making. They are an important totem species. The Angas Downs Indigenous Protected Area Rangers are currently undertaking land management activities to increase this important species in the landscape. This process is named Kuka Kanyini – looking after game animals.
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