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Kangaroo meat

It's a touchy issue to eat our national icon, but what does the evidence say?

Which kangaroos are harvested for meat?

Four species of kangaroo and two species of Tasmanian wallaby are commercially harvested. None are threatened or endangered species. Making up over 90 per cent of the harvest are the Red Kangaroo, Western Grey Kangaroo, and the Eastern Grey Kangaroo. The remaining ten per cent consist of the Common Wallaroo, Bennetts Wallaby and Pademelon.

The Department of the Environment keeps yearly population estimates for kangaroos within the commercial harvesting areas. For 2007, the numbers for the three species above were:

Red Kangaroo 7,645,963
Western Grey Kangaroo 3,154,658
Eastern Grey Kangaroo 10,343,615
How many kangaroos can we harvest?

The amount of kangaroos harvested is based on a quota system. For each kangaroo species harvested, a detailed management plan must be approved by Environment Australia. The quota amount for each species changes yearly, depending on that year's population estimate. The quota generally works out to somewhere between 10 to 15 per cent of the species population.

For 2008, the quota limits for the three main species were:

Red Kangaroo 1,333,764
Western Grey Kangaroo 440,154
Eastern Grey Kangaroo 1,468,606

This works out to roughly 30 million kg of meat, with exports sent to over 60 countries.

Once the quotas are set the State Authority issues individually numbered, lockable plastic tags. These are designed to be tamper-proof, and every harvested kangaroo must have a tag fixed to it.

Harvesters are responsible for contacting the State authority every month, reporting what tags they have used, and the species, sex and weight of the kangaroo attached to each tag. The tag use is monitored to ensure that the harvest is not exceeded in any area.

No kangaroo may be processed for product without an accompanying tag, and the processor must also contact the Authority monthly to report the tags they have received.

In order to purchase tags, an individual must be a licensed kangaroo harvester, having been educated in the relevant rules and regulations, animal welfare, hygiene controls, and firearm competency.

How are kangaroos harvested?

There are no kangaroo meat farms in Australia; all kangaroo meat is harvested from wild animals. The Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos specifies that kangaroos should be rifle shot in the head/brain. The code also allows for a secondary shot to the heart to put down a wounded kangaroo if the shot to the head missed.

In 2002 RSCPA Australia prepared a report for Environment Australia on adherence to the Code of Practice.
They found that 97.26 per cent of kangaroos meant for human consumption were successfully head shot (with state compliance ranging from 91 per cent in WA to 99.48 per cent in NSW). The remainder were body shot.

These results, however, do not take into account body shot kangaroos that were discarded as unacceptable to processors, or any dependent joeys. The Vertebrate Pest Unit of NSW agriculture estimates that one per cent of shot kangaroos are injured but not killed by harvesters.

NSW has introduced a "zero-tolerance" scheme where only head shot kangaroos carcasses are accepted by processors for consumption. While this policy increases care taken by hunters in shooting, there is also the possibility that hunters will lose incentive to follow up any body shot kangaroo and dispatch is humanely.

What are the environmental benefits of eating kangaroo meat?

The fragile Australian rangeland environment is easily degraded, and the kangaroo population explosion caused by European settlement is damaging to the soil and vegetation. Because the kangaroo has reached pest levels on cleared and vulnerable land, population control is needed.

Selling the meat is one way of making the pest control pay for itself - otherwise nearly the entire cost would fall on farmers.

Greenpeace recommends that Australia reduce its beef consumption by 20 per cent, as the agricultural sector is the biggest contributor of methane (a greenhouse gas) to the atmosphere, and beef production is the biggest contributor within that sector.

Kangaroos do not emit methane, so replacing a portion of the beef industry with kangaroo meat helps Australia to combat climate change.

However, eating less meat in general as well as substituting kangaroo for other meats is recommended.

As well as not producing methane, kangaroos are drought-adapted creatures that require less food than cows and sheep, and do not destroy the root systems of native grasses, when their population numbers are controlled.

The kangaroo's status as a national icon means that public interest is extensive enough to ensure that governmental monitoring is thorough and ongoing, and likely to protect the kangaroo from over-exploitation.

What are the health benefits of eating kangaroo meat?

Kangaroo is a low fat option (two per cent fat) with high levels of protein, iron and zinc.

Kangaroo is also an extremely high source of the "healthy" fat CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), containing up to five times the amount found in lamb (also considered a high CLA content meat). CLA reduces obesity and high blood pressure, and is potentially anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetic.