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Why should regulated production of kangaroo meat be prohibited in any Australia jurisdiction?

Published: 1 Apr 2015

By Joe Lederman and Gemma Mainland (FoodLegal Consultant)

FoodLegal Lawyers and Consultants

© Lawmedia Pty Ltd, April 2015

 

Numerous restaurant reviews have assessed the taste of kangaroo as a cross between the gamey flavour of venison and buffalo meat. Not quite as dry as deer but still leaner than buffalo, kangaroo meat can be well-marbled and produce a juicy steak. Popular with tourists in Australia and Australians looking for a healthy red meat, kangaroo presents a commercially sustainable resource for affordable protein. Already kangaroo meat is exported from Australia to 55 countries, so why is the law in some Australian jurisdictions lagging?

 

Many people outside Australia are under the mistaken impression that kangaroos are an endangered species, and have no idea of the overwhelming numbers of kangaroos running rampant in Australia.  

Australian government environmental experts and conservationists all agree with the estimate of the current kangaroo population for commercially harvested species of kangaroos (there are 4 such licensed species out of a known 48 species, and 2 licensed wallaby species in Tasmania) being about 50 - 60 million.

All government licences include strictly enforced conditions that make the harvesting of kangaroos, for food or other commercial uses, one of the most highly regulated activities in Australia.

The 50-60 million figure means there are more than twice as many commercially viable kangaroos in Australia as there are cattle (28.7 million) or a little more than half that of the Australian sheep population (113.3 million). As the Australian Wildlife Society says on its website “it's a long time since anyone considered Australian sheep or cattle to be at all endangered”.

All the experts agree that the current kangaroo population is the highest ever recorded and it unquestionably makes kangaroos amongst the most common large wild land mammals on earth.

In spite of a commercial kangaroo harvest of about 2.5 million in 2013, the figures clearly show how sustainably managed the kangaroo population is, as a result of commercial kangaroo industry guidelines and strict licensing conditions and constant monitoring by governments, both at Federal and State (and Territory) levels.

Australian regulations for the controlling of kangaroo harvesting is based on policies that aim to ensure –

  • that harvesting is at sustainable levels,
  • that the decisions on permissible harvesting are based on proper scientific evidence,
  • that levels of exploitation are checked frequently and such levels are revised on the basis of sound management plans and management practices which are themselves based on hard scientific data,
  • that as in the case of all animal species, harvesting is carried out in a humane manner by licensed operators under the control of relevant government wildlife authorities, and
  • that kangaroos cannot be commercially taken in conservation areas.

State regulations of the killing of kangaroos for use for human consumption

Kangaroos are only permitted for culling for human consumption in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Only the following species can be killed for consumption:

  • Red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) can be culled in areas of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia
  • Eastern grey kangaroo (M. giganteus) can be culled in areas of Queensland and New South Wales
  • Western grey kangaroo (M. fuliginosus) can be culled in areas of New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia
  • Common wallaroo or euro (M. robustus) can be culled in areas of Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia
  • Bennet’s wallaby can be culled in Tasmania
  • Rufous wallaby (Tasmanian Pademelon) can be culled in Tasmania

Food Standards Code definition of ‘meat’

It is interesting to note that the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Food Standards Code) definition of ‘meat’ does not expressly mention kangaroo (but does specifically list a variety of other animals permitted for consumption). However the same definition also states that meat can include “… the carcass (of an animal) slaughtered other than in a wild state”. Yet, kangaroos are exclusively culled in wild conditions.

However, the legal definition of ‘meat’ under the Food Standards Code also allows any other animal meat that is “permitted for human consumption under a law of a State, Territory or New Zealand”.

Any kangaroo flesh that has been slaughtered, butchered and processed in accordance with State law will therefore meet the Standard 2.2.1 definition of ‘meat’ in the Food Standards Code.

State regulations

In South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland, kangaroo meat falls within the definition of ‘meat’ meaning it is included directly by the Food Standards Code definition. In Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia, kangaroo is considered ‘game meat’ and therefore can also be permitted as ‘meat’ but it is required that the kangaroo be culled and processed in South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales or Tasmania, in accordance with the relevant State’s legislation in order for kangaroo meat to fall within the Food Standards Code definition of ‘meat’.

Northern Territory and ACT – no express permissions

Ironically, in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, kangaroo does not fall under either the definition of ‘meat’ or ‘game’. This lack of express permission in ACT and NT permitting human consumption of kangaroo meat has not stopped the consumption of kangaroo in various well-known restaurants in the Northern Territory and the ACT, let alone the consumption of kangaroo by Aboriginal consumers of kangaroo as a traditional food.

A senior official from the Ministry of Primary Industries in the Northern Territory told FoodLegal that kangaroos have never been approved for human consumption in the Northern Territory as there has never been a need for commercial culling of kangaroos. Kangaroo meat is permitted to be sold in the Northern Territory principally because the regulators presume it is legal. It is likely it is also imported from the State of South Australia and, as such, will have met the requirements SA requirements.

For indigenous people there is no express legal carve-out for the killing of kangaroos for human consumption. However, the NT official confirmed that no legal action would be considered against consumption of kangaroo by indigenous communities.

In the ACT, various reasons have been given by the ACT government as to why it is unlikely kangaroos will be permitted to be killed for human consumption in the ACT. These include the following:

  • “The high costs of establishing, administering and monitoring commercial operations are unlikely to be cost-effective for the ACT government, and
  • “Potential for negative publicity due to focus on commercial kangaroo harvesting by animal rights organisations, and
  • “Small numbers of kangaroos that would be taken for harvesting would not be sufficient to reduce grazing pressure to desirable levels.”

Separate regulations for production and consumption

Current practice indicates that consumption of kangaroo meat is accepted and permitted in all Australia States and Territories. However, not all permit the production of kangaroo meat, and the Territories lack laws that authorise human consumption of kangaroo meat.

Currently in Victoria, kangaroo meat can be consumed but must be processed in another State where it is permitted to do so – despite the fact that kangaroos are being culled locally in Victoria.

In March 2014, the Victorian government introduced a 2-year trial allowing the commercial processing of culled kangaroos for use in domestic pet food. Prior to this trial any kangaroo killed under a permit was required to be buried. No announcement has been made as to whether processing of kangaroo in Victoria could be extended to human consumption.

Conclusions

One would hope for a more uniform approach and greater consistency nationally in relation to a food resource such as kangaroo. It is also odd that a food sold legally elsewhere for human consumption is not lawful in the Territory in which so much is, or could be, consumed by the Aboriginal population.

New Food Standards Code definition of ‘meat’

The new Food Standards Code, expected to commence on 1 March 2016, has redrafted the definition of ‘meat’ in a way that removes some of the legal arguments over the current definition of ‘meat’ in the existing Food Standards Code. However, this may still not be sufficient in its proposed current wording when it is applied to kangaroo meat.