Currently most kangaroo meat is sourced from wild animals as a byproduct of population control programes. Both the meat and the hides are sold. Although most species of macropod are protected from non-Aboriginal hunting 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. Current estimates indicate that there may be between 35 and 50 million kangaroos in Australia. In 2002 the number of kangaroos allowed to be shot by commercial hunters was increased from 5.5 million to 7 million per year. While animal rights activists protested the move, Australian farmers claimed that kangaroos were a plague after a huge increase in their numbers. A 2002 report studying the grazing pressure caused by kangaroos indicated that scientific evidence is lacking that kangaroos reduce wool production or sheep carrying capacity. In 2007 the national kangaroo culling quota was more than 3.5 million (but significantly down on the figures earlier in the decade).
Kangaroos are protected by legislation in Australia, both state and federal. Kangaroos are harvested by licensed shooters in accordance with a strict code of practice. Meat that is exported is inspected by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).
The quotas created in Australia are the responsibility of each state of territory Government. For example in Queensland state, only the following breeds (up to 2017) were included in the quota: red kangaroo, eastern grey kangaroo, common wallaroo. "sustainable use quotas" are typically between 10 - 20% of the kangaroo estimated population. Culling is only allowed in certain state areas by approved shooters. Total populations are estimated by aerial surveys and a decade of previous data. Quota numbers 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".
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 is stronger in flavour than the meat from commercially raised food animals. It is considered to be tender. Minced (or ground) kangaroo meat may be substituted in dishes where minced beef would normally be used.
Kangaroo meat was legalized for human consumption in South Australia in 1980, and in all other Australian states in 1993.[dead link] 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 meat is also processed into dog food. The small kangaroo farming community is a more environmentally friendly meat industry than sheep or cattle farming since kangaroos require no processed feed, are well-adapted to drought, and do not destroy the root systems of native grasses. However kangaroo farming is economically unattractive due to the start up costs and inability of the farmed product to compete financially against animals that have been killed by hunters under the government quota system.
The kangaroo meat industry has attracted critical attention in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States from animal welfare organisations. These concerns have centred on the hunting process, in which all kangaroo meat for the global market comes from kangaroos hunted in the wild. Australia's kangaroo hunting programme is the largest annual wildlife hunting programme in the world. A 2009 report from 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. The report also raised serious public health and sustainability concerns. During the 1990s all British supermarkets agreed to stop selling kangaroo meat, however German retailer Lidl and frozen food outlet Iceland have since introduced kangaroo meat once more.
Kangatarianism is a recent practice of following a diet which excludes 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. 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.
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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Markets for meat and skins are limited and are adequately supplied from the existing rangeland harvest (i.e. kangaroo hunting). Farmed kangaroos could not compete successfully in these circumstances because of high costs associated with establishing and operating a kangaroo farming enterprise.