CONSIDERED only fit for pet food by most Australians, kangaroo meat could soon be sold to China as a luxury foodstuff.
With a booming middle-class, China’s appetite for meat is expected to rise nearly 17 per cent over the next eight years, claims the World Trade Organisation.
Exporters do not yet have permission to sell kangaroo meat to China but recent comments by officials in Canberra have put the industry in bullish mood.
“This ticks a whole range of boxes,” agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I’m going to try to look at further discussions with the Chinese because I think there is a big prospect for a market there.”
Wang Jun, owner of a restaurant in Beijing, yesterday said he would be keen to try kangaroo.
“Why not? As long as it is delicious,” said Mr Wang.
Beef, pork and chicken are staples in China but some diners also tuck into cat, rat, dog and more exotic animals in the belief that they have medicinal qualities. Still, not everyone may be keen to eat kangaroo.
“How could we lay our chopsticks on such cute animals?” said Liu Xinxin, a 21-year-old student from Beijing.
Her comments echo sentiments in Australia that have held back the kangaroo meat industry. A 2008 government survey showed nearly a fifth of Australians would never eat kangaroo on ethical grounds. Others are reluctant to consume an animal that features in the national coat of arms. Just 15.5 per cent of Australians eat kangaroo meat more than four times a year.
Australia is already a large supplier of red meat to China, with shipments worth A$616 million (£360m) in the 2012-13 season. The kangaroo industry is poised to jump into action. “It would be huge if we could get access to the Chinese market and they are certainly very interested,” said Ray Borda, founder and managing director of Macro Meats, Australia’s largest processor of kangaroo meat.
Kangaroos, protected by state and federal law, are caught in the wild, not farmed. Licensed hunters cull a fixed number and specific breeds every year.
Some of the impetus for exports follows a boom in the population of the animals after good rains last year. Drought this season in the cattle state of Queensland has prompted calls for a bigger cull to protect pasture.
Australian supermarkets sell kangaroo fillets for about A$20 a kg, or about 30-50 per cent less than beef. The industry aim to promote it in China as an exclusive item, touting its health benefits as a high-protein, low-fat food. John McVeigh, Queensland’s agriculture minister, is just back from China, where he talked to firms keen to trade in kangaroo meat.