GETTING past the image problems of harvesting an icon species is one of the challenges a kangaroo export market analysis currently being undertaken will need to address.
If it can, Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan sees plenty of overseas opportunities to be investigated, not just China.
He would like to see a scenario where everyone living on Asia’s eastern seaboard and throughout Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia ate even one gram of kangaroo meat a year.
“If that were to happen, we wouldn’t be able to keep supply up,” he said.
Turning a “sow’s ear into a silk purse” – for many, the concept of eating the native product of the land is abhorrent – and the social licence aspect of kangaroo harvesting will be a big hurdle to jump, but Mr O’Sullivan hopes the study will be the key to finding a way forward for the troubled industry.
Commissioned by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and being undertaken by Sydney-based consultancy Oliver and Doam, it will provide a snapshot of export markets, according to Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia executive officer John Kelly.
It is tasked with asking what could be done better and with the job of examining potential markets.
“It will also look at the gross benefits to the country, to agriculture and the environment, but also the auxiliary benefits such as the motor insurance industry,” Mr Kelly said.
Once that was quantified he hoped it would give the federal government more confidence in the return on assets that could be expected and more reason to support industry expansion requests.
“Throwing a couple of million dollars at marketing is only giving us incremental sales growth,” he said.
“We are doing reasonably well in our niche markets, but if we are going to help the pastoral industry, as many want us to do, we need to significantly expand our market growth.”
To do that, government representatives shouldn’t be afraid to put kangaroo on the menu at international meetings, according to Mr O’Sullivan, and raise its profile at that level.
“You’d have to be cautious – it would attract attention, and a lot of people only experience kangaroos on a Sydney golf course – but people order wild duck or wild barramundi at restaurants.
“If I’ve got to speak out to support the industry though, that’s what I’ll do.”
Mr O’Sullivan was referring to his motion carried in the Senate recently calling for recognition of Australia’s ability to develop and expand the kangaroo meat and hide industry, which brought a heated response from the Australian Greens, who claimed kangaroo numbers were in decline and were an “at risk” species.
He said the market analysis would be important for graziers as well as harvesters, where it was widely acknowledged that improvements made to pasture and water had contributed to the huge numbers being recorded.
He pointed to available date that showed the number of kangaroos in Queensland had more than doubled from about 12 million to more than 25 million over the past decade.
“Environmental opposition doesn’t understand that the only other choice graziers have is to cull heavily, where they are shot in the paddock and nothing is made of their product.
“People in Melbourne don’t think about this. It’s part of the challenge and where government can play a role.”
As well as bringing about a government mindset that saw kangaroos treated as a valuable commodity, Mr O’Sullivan saw a role for government in the regulatory environment and removing any red or green tape that may impede progress.
“We can also look at ways the industry can harmonise their efforts,” he said.
“People say it’s disjointed. That’s not an issue for government but we have a role to help organise.
“Look at the real lift in live-export fortunes in the last 12 months. The government did a lot to support that. That’s what’s needed on another level for kangaroos.”
This is why Mr O’Sullivan is eyeing off the market access agreements Australia currently has with 70 countries worldwide.
“It’s a difficult industry to make money from; you need a lot of carcases to make enough meat, but some of these countries have the ability to strip them down and turn every part into edible foodstuffs.
“There are serious volume markets on our doorstep we should look at.”
Mr Kelly hopes the information gained from the analysis will refocus government attention on China as a market, which he said had the potential to change the face of western Queensland overnight.
The market research is expected to be completed by late June.