Would you eat kangaroo?

Whilst the thought of eating kangaroo meat is bizarre to most people the most widely available game in Australia is kangaroo!

Amusingly it is perhaps the most environmentally friendly meat available, even so kangaroo is not a food eaten regularly in the Aussie diet. So, when deciding whether to indulge in kangaroo meat, the big question is whether it is even safe?

There is a mistaken impression that kangaroos are an endangered species, yet the overwhelming numbers of kangaroos running rampant is a big problem for farmers. There are two kangaroos for every human Australia, so ecologists are proposing the country gets more of a taste for its favourite animal-

So, if you are reluctant to eat kangaroo, let’s look at the real facts and the perceived dangers: –

1. When did people start to eat kangaroo?

Although kangaroo meat was legalised for human consumption in South Australia in 1980, it was only sold as pet food until 1993 in the other Australian states and territories. Before the legalisation, kangaroo meat recipes were found in Australian cookbooks, with kangaroo tail soup being a favourite.

Kangaroo (Macropus spp.) tail stew: An almost forbidden fruit | The  Forager's Year

Even though kangaroo meat did become legal to sell many conservationists oppose its use and it has been slow to find its way onto menus.

It is argued that the meat of kangaroos played a vital role in the establishment and expansion of the early Australian colonies up to 1850. After that time colonial authorities distanced themselves from the native animals with the emphasis on kangaroos being a symbolic animal.

To Eat, Or Not To Eat, Kangaroo | Emily Contois

Kangaroos are now protected by Australian legislation and of the 48 species of kangaroo in the country, only five of the species can be commercially harvested. Kangaroo meat was once limited in availability but now is seen in supermarkets throughout Australia and has been exported since 1959.

Kangaroo meat at Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne

2. Why do Indigenous Australians eat kangaroo?

Kangaroo hunting in colonial Australia | Pursuit by The University of  Melbourne

Aboriginal Australians have been eating kangaroos for tens of thousands of years. They hunted kangaroo as a necessity for survival and a staple source of protein due to it being a high in protein and low in fat.

kangaroo skinning hunting aboriginal

Indigenous people have denoted special names and uses across their communities as well as ways of cooking and butchering the kangaroo for consumption. In Central Australia some Aboriginals remove the milk guts and singe the hair in the fire before skinning it, removing the tail, and cooking it in a hole in the ground which is then covered in hot coals. Whilst other Aboriginals use the bones of the carcass to make spears to help them with future hunts. Some Aboriginals just put the whole kangaroo on a campfire to roast.

3. Is Kangaroo a nutritious meat to eat?

Kangaroo meat is extremely nutritious as the protein content is even higher than beef and it is high essential minerals, such as iron and zinc. Compared to beef kangaroo contains double the amount of iron and three times more than that of pork or chicken. Kangaroo meat also has omega-3 fats and omega 6 fatty acids and contributes valuable amounts of B-group vitamins to the diet. 

Yarra Valley Kangaroo Meat suppliers Melbourne Australia for kangaroo meat  suppliers and distributors Victoria Australia.

It is a very lean meat with less than 2% fat, making it healthier than red meat. As well as being low in saturated fats it is free-range and organic. Combined with being rich in conjugated linoleic acid this produces a range of health benefits from reducing obesity to holding anti carcinogenic and anti-diabetic properties.

4. What does kangaroo taste like?

Perhaps because Kangaroos live in the wild and feed on grass and shrubs, it has a strong game flavour! This adds a great deal of bold, earthy flavouring, without being overpowering and tastes like a mixture of venison and buffalo. The texture is not as dry as deer, but it is a leaner meat than buffalo. Although not as flavoursome as venison, it tends to be a stronger flavour than beef or lamb

Culture - Australia Traveling Site

The dark red flesh is very lean and comparable to chicken or rabbit. The muscle tissue fibres are well defined but tender and gentle to the palate.  It is not as tough as venison and some foodies even prefer it to steak and lamb because of its tenderness and taste.

How to cook kangaroo meat: A kangaroo roast dinner! – sixthseal.com

Prepared similarly to steaks or burgers kangaroo meat can dry out very quickly. As a result, the meat is often served rare to medium. An overcooked kangaroo steak will result in an unpleasant dry meat that is very tough. Whilst an undercooked steak will be chewy.  Kangaroo is 98% lean, which means to cook it correctly, it must be on high heat until rare or medium to be tender. 

5. Why can kangaroo meat be bad for you to eat?

In terms of human health, kangaroo meat offers more benefits than risks if cooked correctly and never eaten raw.

Researchers have found that the compound L-carnitine found in all red meat is highest in kangaroo. So, kangaroo might not be the healthiest choice!

This chemical is associated with the build-up of arterial plaque, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart disease and strokes. As with all red meat it should be eaten in moderation. In a country where cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death, kangaroo meat should be considered as an alternative to other red meats and a balanced diet is always recommended.

Kangaroos can carry a naturally high parasite load and a kangaroo can be infected with up to 30,000 parasitic worms from up to 20 different nematode species. Yet even though considered ‘unclean’ by some, it is a fact that kangaroos suffer from fewer diseases associated with domestic animals such as cattle or sheep.

Like other wild ‘game’ kangaroo can harbour a wide range of bacterial, and fungal diseases as well as parasites. Toxoplasmosis and Salmonellosis are two bacterial infections which affect both kangaroos and human health. These infections can be spread to humans through handling and processing or when eaten. It is thought by some that it is safer to treat kangaroo the same as any wild game and freeze the meat to get rid of parasites. 

6. Does Australia have regulations for selling kangaroo meat?

The Australia Meat Inspection System has standards that have strict rules about how animals are harvested, transported, and stored so that salmonella bacterium and other bacterial contaminants are not harboured.  This is the same for both wild and farmed kangaroo. All government licences include strict enforced conditions making harvesting kangaroo for food or other commercial purposes, one of the top regulated activities in Australia.

NSW MP's campaign to stop Australia's kangaroo meat trade with China  'irresponsible' - ABC News

Some of these sanitation concerns are when kangaroos are slaughtered and disembowelled in the wild, they can gather dust and flies as when transported and stored for up to 14 days in a field chiller after being shot. Harvesting must be carried out in a humane manner by licensed workers under the control of government wildlife authorities. Certificates that ensure compliance with standards are expected for both human and pet consumption.

Kangaroos are only allowed to be culled for human consumption in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania

7. Which species of kangaroo can be commercially harvested?

kangaroo management on The Pinnacle

Commercially around 2 million kangaroos are killed each year in Australia from a total population in harvest areas of about 43 million.

The kangaroo management program regulates the commercial harvesting of 4 species of kangaroo out of a known 48 species from a total of 50-60 million of all species put together.

  • Eastern Grey allowed to be culled in New South Wales and Queensland
  • Western Grey allowed to be culled in New South Wales and Queensland
  • Red Kangaroo allowed to be culled in New South Wales and Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia
  • Common Wallaroo of Euro allowed to be culled in New South Wales and Queensland and South Australia

Commercial harvest areas of each state are divided into kangaroo management zones. These zones are used to allocate and issue harvesting quotas which limits the number of each species that can be harvested commercially in any kangaroo management zone. 

Commercial harvest of kangaroos is not allowed withing national parks and other reserved areas. Private landholder can only undertake harvesting with written permission.

8. Is eating wild kangaroo meat ethical?

Kangaroo meat deemed a healthy choice for consumers

The health, ecological and ethical issues are the same for all red meat animals which are consumed and with kangaroo it is no exception. 

Harvesting wild kangaroo in their natural environment means they have been put under no stress in their rearing by man. They are not ear-tagged, branded, or having mulesing carried out (a practice to remove skin/wool around their rear to help prevent flies from laying their larvae). They are also not mustered or trucked to slaughter.

Kangaroos to be harvested and used in pet food - New Food Magazine

Australian regulations for controlling how many kangaroos are harvested have policies ensuring the harvesting is at sustainable levels. These rules are checked regularly so that the kangaroo populations remain ecologically sustainable and are conserved.

Kangaroos are indigenous to the environment and eat a variety of indigenous shrubs consequently unlike some animals are not relying on the production of grain. Kangaroos do not need to be farmed as they are wild animals, so no land clearing or destruction of the habitat must be carried out. 

However, as kangaroos hold a cultural and spiritual significance to Indigenous Australians, then Aboriginal people are encouraged to work with the government when it comes to sustainability as well as management and harvesting.

9. What happens to the joeys when female kangaroos are killed?

Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story' Released Online! | News | PETA Australia

It is estimated that around 300,000 juveniles and 800,000 joeys in the pouch are killed or left to die each year.  

Much of the public concern about shooting kangaroos comes from the killing of females and the resultant death of their joeys. If female kangaroos are hunted, they may have joeys who are still in the pouch or dependant young kangaroos that will be left orphaned. To avoid this happening some producers will only hunt and kill male kangaroos.

Maternal care is not restricted to joeys in the pouch but continues well into the juvenile phase. Juveniles frequently accompany their mothers learning behavioural patterns vital for their survival.  A proportion of dependant youngsters orphaned through shooting will die of starvation, exposure or predation following weeks after the loss of their mother.

It is estimated that around 300,000 juveniles and 800,000 joeys in the pouch are killed or left to die each year.  

The Australian National Code of practice for Humane shooting of Kangaroos for Commercial Purposes discourages shooters from shooting females carrying large joeys in their pouch. The Code of Practice requires that if a shooter kills a female with pouch young, they must kill the joey. Depending on the size they either need to do a forceful blow to the base of the skull or if larger they must be killed by shooting. It is recommended that all shooters be trained and monitored to ensure all orphan joeys are killed humanely. Whilst this measure is meant to ensure that joeys die mor humanely rather than starving to death, there is concern about the huge waste of collateral damage by the industry.

10. What do Australians today think about eating kangaroo?

Today many Australians have a deep-rooted reluctance to eat their national emblem. For many the television program in the 1960’s called Skippy the Bush Kangaroo convinced Aussies that this animal was too endearing to cook. Others thought kangaroo as a novelty meal like crocodile or emu and considered kangaroo meat as only good enough for pet food.

Kangaroos biggest hurdle to farming in Western Division | The Land | NSW

Nowadays with the cuddly marsupial massing in plaque proportions they are competing with domestic livestock for food and water, damage crops and fences. Consequently, the annual cull in Australia brings a great amount of kangaroo meat on the market. Aussies are more aware of the nutritional points of the healthier option to other red meat free from pesticides and antibiotics. Even so it has never yet been fully embraced by Australians who still think of it as bush meat.

With the skippy factor being forgotten kangaroo meat is often championed at fine food restaurants. Several chefs are also now championing kangaroo meat as a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to pork and beef. Kangaroo has made a leap from the pet food isle in the supermarket to the fresh meat cabinet offering a range from fresh cuts of meat, meatballs, burgers, and sausages. 

Even so many Aussies refuse to eat the meat because of the ‘eating kangaroo’ thought!