Business, Economics and Jobs

Would you eat this animal?


This kangaroo in Australia wants to know what you think.


William West

Natural resources are at the heart of the booming Australian economy.

In particular, the country's success in selling these economic growth goodies to a ravenous China has transformed the Aussie economy.

China is today Australia's largest trading partner, buying up iron ore, coal, natural gas, and other industrial minerals to the tune of $55.2 billion a year — or more than 20 percent of Australia's total exports.

So it's not too surprising that some entrepreneurial Australians want to add another natural resource to that growing list: kangaroo meat. Australia is crawling with the creatures. And China is apparently hungry for them.

That's the plan, anyway, according to this fine feature story from Matt Siegel in the New York Times.

“The Chinese have a strong culinary tradition in using wild foods, not just meat, but a wide range of wild foods called yaemei in Cantonese and yewei in Mandarin,” John Kelly, executive director of the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia, a lobbying group, told Siegel. “Kangaroo will to a large extent just slot right into that existing tradition in much the same way it has in the European markets.”

China sent a government delegation to Australia last December to investigate the health and sanitary conditions of kangaroo producers, the New York Times reports.

And not without reason.

Kangaroo meat has come under increasing scrutiny following an E. coli outbreak in 2009, which led to a ban from kangaroo-scarfing Russia. The health scare also triggered a collapse of kangaroo meat exports, which tumbled from $38.4 million in 2008 to just $12.3 million last year.

But the new plan to sell kanga-meat to China comes with other challenges.

First off, kanga meat is a hard sell — even to Australians. According to a 2008 study cited by the New York Times, just 14.5 percent of Australians have "knowingly" eaten kangaroo meat, versus the 80 percent who eat beef.

The problem? Kangaroo meat has been commonly used as pet food and as skins for clothing.

Moreover, many Aussies view the country's 25 million roos —who outnumber the 23 million human Australians — as large, destructive, and sometimes dangerous pests.

But the bigger challenge might be taste.

"It's gamey — think beef plus arm pit," says Freya Petersen, GlobalPost's Breaking News Editor and our resident Australian staffer. "It needs to be cooked through but not over-cooked."

"To me, it smells like pet food because we used to feed it to our dog and cat," she adds.

Environmentalists and animal rights groups are also worried about the plan.

Australia’s kangaroo population “can’t even deal with the domestic and European consumption,” Nikki Sutterby of the Australian Society for Kangaroos told the New York Times. “How would it deal with a country as large as China starting to eat kangaroo meat?”

The kanga-meat crowd down under, however, remains undeterred.

“I’d expect us to be putting product into China at some time this year,” Kelly told the New York Times, adding that he expected China “at some stage to be a larger market than Russia ever was.”