Australia 's Gold Medal for Hypocrisy
Aug. 01, 2000
It is no accident that the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) has chosen the platypus, the kookaburra, and the echidna as its mascots for the September 2000 summer games. The kangaroo, it seems, will have a different role at some Australian venues?on the menu.
SOCOG is both allowing and promoting the consumption of kangaroo meat throughout the Olympic Village. It has appointed Jennice Kersh to establish a 200-seat branch of her restaurant, Edna's Table, in the media center, where her specialty of "rare" kangaroo will be served to visiting journalists. However, eating undercooked kangaroo meat can lead to severe illness as kangaroos can harbor a wide range of parasitic, bacterial, fungal and viral diseases, most of which are unapparent unless gross lesions are present on the animals. According to Des Sibraa, a lawyer and former chief food inspector for New South Wales (the site of the Olympics), "What meat inspectors can't pick up, because they do not look at the animal before it is killed, is whether the kangaroo was suffering from disease."
Health risks, coupled with great concern for the wild kangaroo populations, are causing increased alarm among those who oppose the government-sanctioned slaughter. The Australian kangaroo population is an estimated 25 million, including reds (the largest, and most desired for meat and hides), greys, wallaroos, and wallabies.
Kangaroos were established as "game" meat in 1989 by the Australian government because their flesh could not meet domestic health standards. The decision was made without any consultation or representation by animal welfare or conservation groups. Kangaroos are primarily killed for their hides, which are used to make baseball gloves, sports shoes, etc; the meat is a byproduct not commonly consumed by average Australians, and instead is marketed as an exotic or "fad" product. In 1999 more than 2.6 million kangaroos were killed specifically for export markets, not counting those killed for sport or by random cruelty. The Australian government?which set an unfulfilled 1999 kill quota of 5.7 million?justifies the "culling" by claiming that too many kangaroo threaten sheep and cattle by competing for resources, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support such unrealistic claims. Sheep are the main culprit of land degradation but the evidence is ignored.
Kangaroos are killed in the outback by professional shooters who go out each night in four-wheel-drive vehicles, using spotlights and high-powered rifles to slaughter the animals. The wounding rate could be as high as 15 percent, leaving kangaroos permanently mutilated and left to die slowly. Ex-kangaroo shooter David Nicholls writes in "The Case Against the Commercial 'Harvest' of Kangaroos" that "joeys are unceremoniously dragged out of their previously secure world (the pouch) by the hind legs and swung against a purposed hard object. One swing may be followed by another and yet another if the prior does not complete a death." More than 1 million older offspring ("joeys at foot") still dependent on their mothers die from starvation or predation when left orphaned. Private hunting is illegal but still commonplace. The kangaroos are eviscerated on the spot, the entrails left for feral animals such as foxes and pigs whose populations compete with the kangaroos and other ground-dwelling native fauna. The meat is exposed to dust, feces, maggots from fly infestations, urine from accidental bladder breakage, and other contaminants.
David Obendorf, Ph.D., of the Scientific Advisory Board to the International Animal Health Body, made the following motion on June 3 at the Annual General Meeting of the Australian Wildlife Protection Council (AWPC): "The Council endorse an investigation into the governmental policy and procedures (state and federal) which relate to the meat hygiene, public health and animal welfare standards applied to Australian game meats with particular reference to kangaroos, wallabies and possums for both domestic consumption and the export trade." John Auty, a former assistant director of the Bureau of Animal Health in Canberra and former Chief Commissioner for Land Conservation in the North Territory , will undertake this review.
Regulation of the slaughter in each Australian state is promised but not delivered. Early last year, the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service rejected calls for a reduced quota, and budget reductions have hampered proper enforcement of existing wildlife laws. According to Federal Minister for Environment Robert Hill, "Australian native wildlife is a renewable resource. If managed in an ecologically sustainable manner, wildlife can provide a perpetual source of economic benefits for all Australians." The United States removed kangaroos from its list of threatened species in 1995, thereby removing important trade-related protection for kangaroos.
Protests against the planned sale of kangaroo meat at the Olympic Games began in April and will continue until the Games begin in September.