What if I told you there’s a source of meat out there that’s truly sustainable? The population of this animal has boomed so much they don’t even need to be farmed. What if I also told you that this meat source has the lowest fat, highest protein and highest iron of any meat source worldwide? It’s not even new to the human diet, having been a staple food for natives for tens of thousands of years. Would you consider giving it a try?
What if I told you that the animal I’m referring to is the humble, free-roaming national emblem of Australia: the kangaroo?
Lately, the slaughter of this beautiful marsupial for consumption has become a moral and ethical dilemma that seems to have no end in sight.
A Lack of Consensus
There’s no doubting that kangaroo is making it to more and more menus the world over. It’s more affordable than ever and now exported to over 55 countries, including the United States. However, it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for the kangaroo meat industry in Australia, and whether these marsupials should be making it onto our forks has never been very black and white.
The sale of kangaroo meat was even banned in New York until 2010. The State Department of Environmental Conservation had listed marsupials as endangered even though kangaroos seldom need protection. The law was changed once it was realized there is estimated to be 20-40 million of them here Down Under. For the record, the very few endangered species are not hunted.
So what’s the right answer here: For meat-eaters, are they an acceptable main dish or not? Let’s take a quick look at the facts from both sides.
Why You Should Be Eating Kangaroo
The Australian environment, which is highly susceptible to overgrazing and resultant land degradation, contains a wide range of domestic, indigenous and feral grazing animals. In order to manage this environment, total grazing pressure (TGP) was developed, of which kangaroos typically represent 30 percent. If kangaroo numbers are uncontrolled, the TGP increases putting environmental sustainability at risk. It’s estimated there are at least 20-40 million kangaroos, a population which is rapidly increasing. The total population of Australia is only 24 million.
Subsequently the kangaroo meat industry helps to manage populations of kangaroos. Natural predators of the kangaroo are long extinct since the arrival of Europeans, so it’s thought the kangaroo population would be 30 percent higher than today if not for the meat industry.
Sustainable and eco-friendly:
Kangaroos are not farmed at all. Anywhere. For one they need large open spaces to roam, but because of the sheer number of them, it’s just not necessary. The freedom to roam and live a natural life means they’re eating as nature intended, with no added hormones or chemicals forced upon them. Compare that to CAFOd cattle, which are penned-in and constantly fed a cocktail of grains, hormones and antibiotics.
What’s more, sheep and cattle produce methane gas that is 21 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that the beef industry alone accounts for at least 15 percent of carbon emissions. Kangaroos don’t produce any methane.
Further, the long history of kangaroo consumption in Australia, by Aborigines, and the apparent sustainability of the industry has seen a new line of vegetarianism emerge, known as Kangatarianism. A kangatarian does not eat any meat except for kangaroo.
Kangaroo is the only animal with a 1:1:1 fatty acid ratio of saturated, polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats. Generally the more unsaturated fats, particularly mono, compared to saturated fats the better.
Kangaroo is also the highest known natural source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). It’s believed that CLA promotes muscle growth and reduces abdominal fat, hence why almost all body building and weight loss supplements contain CLA (synthetically made, mind you). So from a health perspective, it’s a no brainer.
Why You Should NOT Be Eating Kangaroo
Big health concerns:
Reports that the industry has been failing to follow Australian standards with regards to harvest, storage and transport have plagued the industry for several years now. There’ve been reports that kangaroo carcasses are usually crammed too close together, often touching the floor, and chillers (refrigerators) regularly malfunction in outback Australia.
Former NSW chief food inspector Desmond Sibraa said, “There is a big difference between animals slaughtered in an abattoir with an inspector present, and a kangaroo shot in the bush with dust and blowflies.” The ex-chairmen of the food advisory committee went on to say, ”Some of these blokes [hunters] don’t know what they’re doing.”
Moreover, to destroy salmonella in meat, the deep muscle must reach at least 60 degrees Celsius. Traditionally kangaroo must be cooked medium-rare to medium at most in order to avoid becoming too tough. Cooked this way, the meat generally does not reach 60 degrees.
In 2009 exports to Russia, the biggest export market purchasing 10,000 tonnes annually, collapsed after one batch was reportedly found to be contaminated. Of course, John Kelly the CEO of the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia reported the Russian market suspension had more to do with politics than meat safety.
Exporting to Russia recommenced at the end of 2012, however the kangaroo meat industry suffered another blow when the ban was reinstated in July after the discovery of unauthorized shipments.
National emblem of Australia:
Eating one of the animals on a national emblem could be regarded as quite taboo. I don’t think there are any other countries that eat their national emblems.
Questionable welfare of hunting:
Slaughtering kangaroos for consumption involves skilled hunters venturing into the bush at night and shooting the animals in the head. A report conducted by the RSPCA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) stated that, “If achieved correctly, kangaroo culling is considered one of the most humane forms of animal slaughter. An animal killed instantly within its own environment is under less stress than domestic stock that have been herded, penned, transported etc.” Despite these claims, for many people the act of killing an animal can never be “humane.”
Furthermore, if a female kangaroo is killed, her joeys must be “dispatched” as well. According to the RSPCA, “The dispatch of pouch young by professional shooters was generally by a sharp blow to the head or by decapitation.” Even though the RSPCA says that, “There is no reason to consider this as a cruel act,” I beg to differ. I think many others would feel the same.
Now that you have an impartial view of the dilemma we have on our hands, we would love to know what Care2 readers think. For those who do eat meat, should kangaroos be a principal source instead of beef, lamb and other meats? Hop to it in the comments!
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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