Hop Over to Kangaroo Meat: The More Sustainable Choice

By Michelle Nairn

There is much debate over eating kangaroo, our national emblem. But the truth is that it is far healthier and more sustainable than eating beef or lamb. Here I outline 5 reasons to make the switch to kangaroo meat.

1. Kangaroos Produce Barely Any Methane

Methane produced from livestock makes up 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and has 25% more warming potential than Carbon Dioxide (Trivedi, 2008). Kangaroos have different microorganisms in their guts than cows and sheep, resulting in kangaroos producing very little methane (Trivedi, 2008). In fact, cows produce up to 600 times more greenhouse gas (in the form of methane) than kangaroos (Trivedi, 2008). Replacing 1/3 of Australia’s sheep and cattle with kangaroos would reduce Australia’s entire greenhouse gas output by 3% (Trivedi, 2008).

Image from Trivedi, B (2008) ‘Kangaroos to the Resuce’ New Scientist 20-27 December pp. 48-50 www.newscientist.com

Image from Trivedi, B (2008) ‘Kangaroos to the Resuce’ New Scientist 20-27 December pp. 48-50 http://www.newscientist.com

2. Kangaroos Eat Less than Sheep and Cows

Kangaroos eat less than sheep and cows, resulting in less grazing pressure. To put it into perspective, cows eat 6 times that of a sheep, bulls eat 10 times that of a sheep and kangaroos eat 0.625 as much as a sheep, in other words 1 sheep is equivalent to 1.6 kangaroos (Department of Primary Industries, 2010). Furthermore Kangaroos feed on native vegetation and can eat lower quality foods than sheep and cattle. This reduces the needs for extensive irrigation and damaging fertilises.

3. Kangaroos are Super Healthy

Kangaroo meat is low in saturated fat, and is 98% fat free (Macro Meats, 2012). It is high in iron, protein, zinc and B-group vitamins. Kangaroo meat is also a good source of omega-3 fats, which help reduce the risk of heart disease (Heart Foundation, 2013). Furthermore, kangaroo meat contains conjugated linoleic acid, and antioxidant that helps reduce body fat.

4. Kangaroos are Abundant

Kangaroos are super abundant, so much so that they are considered a pest. The Australian government allows for the cull of 10-15% of the kangaroo population each year. It makes sense to use these kangaroos for meat, and keep the population at bay at the same time.

5. Kangaroos are More Gentle on Our Land

Image from: http://www.sierranaturenotes.com/naturenotes/CSERC_GrazingImpacts_201001.html

Image from: http://www.sierranaturenotes.com/naturenotes/

The hooves on livestock including sheep, cattle and pigs are detrimental to Australian land. Hooves cause damage to vegetation and cause soil pugging, which is the compaction of soils. Severe compaction results in erosion (WWF, 2013). Kangaroos have padded feet, which are much gentler on soil.

Kangaroo meat is also delicious! Check out this website for tips on cooking and delicious recipes: http://www.kangaroo-industry.asn.au/recipes/recipe_frame.htm


Department of Primary Industries (2010) ‘How to use Dry Sheep Equivalents (DSEs) to compare sheep enterprises’ accessed May 12, 2013 from http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/farmbusiness/budgets/livestock/sheep/background/dse

Heart Foundation (2013) ‘Omega 3’ accessed May 12, 2013 from http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/fats/pages/omega-3.aspx

Macro Meats (2012) ‘Kangaroo, The Super Food’ accessed May 12, 2013 from http://www.macromeats-gourmetgame.com.au/Nutrition/NutritionQAs

Trivedi, B (2008) ‘Kangaroos to the Rescue’ New Scientist 20-27 December pp. 48-50 www.newscientist.com


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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16 Responses to Hop Over to Kangaroo Meat: The More Sustainable Choice

  1. A great argument for kangaroos to play a larger role in our diet. In my life-time, kangaroo meat has evolved from unobtainable, to something not out of the ordinary, although it is still not mainstream. Of course, there are factors holding back the industry: the inability to herd and slaughter kangaroos at an industrial scale, a cultural aversion to eating them and an animal-rights movement against their slaughter.

  2. Bec says:

    Great summary Michelle! The amount of Kangaroos culled and not sold for meat in the ACT is a travesty. Its a tricky one though, I guess that government doesn’t want to be seen to engage in commercial profiteering and If they allowed outside parties into the nature reserves to do it regulation would be difficult.

    I’ve been a vegetarian for more than a decade for environmental and animal rights reasons. The eco butcher in Belconnen with its sale of kangaroo meat and culled feral animals is definitely tempting me back. I just have to get past the “aw Kangaroos are so cute!” issue….

    • Helen Bergen says:

      hi Bec. Kangaroos are in real trouble, and the industry is trying very hard to have commercial shooting allowed in ACT because the NSW Western shooting zones are running out of kangaroos. Also, not sure why you think kangaroos are “feral animals” when they’re an essential part of our natural biodiversity?

      Australians’ attitude to the kangaroo is a very strange thing – as though somehow the species’ don’t belong in our environment?! Please take the time to read the links in comments below and be a little more critical in your thinking. Kangaroos are in real trouble: http://www.kangaroosatrisk.net (NSW Nomination to the Scientific Committee).

  3. An interesting read but the issues surrounding the consumption of kangaroo meat are far more complex than this article lets on. I would suggest taking a look at some of the resources provided by THINKK (http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au) on ecology and sustainability and also at the Voiceless website (www.voiceless.org.au) for more information about the ethical and welfare issues associated with eating kangaroo meat.

  4. VivKay says:

    Do these promoters of more “sustainable” kangaroo meat think that our native animals are an unlimited source? They cannot be farmed due to being wildlife. They take much longer to mature and produce body weight than livestock, and a high joey death rate. Their bodies have only a fraction of the human-quality meat that young cattle or sheep have. Their health can’t be checked or controlled as that of livestock, so eaters should be prepared for the inherent risks of eating “game” meat.

    • Thank you for highlighting the contested nature of this issue. Some species of kangaroo breed prolifically and have reached high local population densities because permanent water points established for livestock production and improved pasture reduces periods that the species enters diapause (when reproduction is suspended). In addition to harvesting for human consumption and pet meat, culling occurs where the resulting elevated numbers of kangaroos conflict with livestock production and where heavy grazing by kangaroos impact on threatened species (e.g., Natural Temperate Grasslands in the ACT). However, harvesting and culling as a management tool is clearly not accepted by everyone and this must be acknowledged.

  5. Helen Bergen says:

    There is so much that is incorrect here that I don’t know where to start, and this article reads like something straight out of the Kangaroo Industry of Australia Association’s handbook.

    Kangaroos do not breed prolifically – they are a slow breeding marsupial. An EGK has about 8 breeding years (if she lives that long), one joey to independence pa (it takes about 18 months to independence), and 75% joey mortality. Populations are only biologically capable of growing at 3-10% pa (in good years only), with up to minus 60% growth during drought. Embryonic diapause in EGK is rare, and does not confer any reproductive rate advantage in Reds where it occurs.

    Actual government survey data shows kangaroo numbers are in fact crashing. In NSW every shooting zone has a 30 yr declining trendline, with some western zones having too few kangaroos to count. Further, survey transects fly over national parks and reserves (non-shooting areas) and extrapolate those numbers to empty farming landscapes (after multiplying by more than ‘correction factors’. You can read a paper to the NSW Scientific Committee nominating kangaroos as threatened at: http://www.kangaroosatrisk.net

    There is not more permanent water in the landscape, we have bulldozed, diverted, dammed and drained the waterways and ephemeral chains of ponds through the landscape; and sacrificial zones around dams in outback are not kangaroo friendly – being well away from habitat and containing no food which is more important for kangaroos.

    Our pastures are improved for cattle, not kangaroos – which have been shot out of whole landscapes across Australia. Further, kangaroos do not stray far from their habitat, which is open timber. Huge empty paddocks = no kangaroos.

    The myth of kangaroos competing with livestock has been debunked by the science, and the claim that kangaroos are putting threatened species at risk in ACT does not stand up to scientific scrutiny -especially where soil and vegetation structure required by the earless dragon is completely damaged by extensive weeds, and where surrounding suburbs come with cats and dogs.

    The Minister recently confirmed on Hansard that kangaroo meat is not tested for toxoplasmosis – a zoonotic disease that can cause miscarriage, brain damage and death, and a disease rife through kangaroo populations. There is a plethora of papers in Parasitology journals predicting the next toxo outbreak in humans will occur in Europe because kangaroo is being marketed so heavily there by the industry, and because kangaroo must be undercooked to be palatable. A recent paper in the Nature Medicine journal warned against eating kangaroo because it is abundant in L-carnitine (being super-lean) which gut bacteria thrives in and turns it into high amounts of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which build up of plaque in arteries which causes heart attacks, strokes and vascular disease..

    There’s more, but I’ve taken up too much space already. Thanks.

    • Couldn’t these population crashes be because of “bust and boom” population dynamics? i.e. the kangaroo populations flourish–>outcompete each other, starve or become more disease prone–> flourish again.
      Are there any estimates of Eastern grey distribution and population size before the introduction of farming landscapes? This might give us a better estimate of how much might of increased the population.

      • Helen Bergen says:

        Good question Katelyn. Droughts can cause minus 35-60% population reductions. And big wets cause “mass mortality” events (probably cocci/toxo) in populations with thousands dying (not too mention those drowned in fences during floods). But kangaroos can’t “boom”. They are biologically only able to grow populations at 3-8% and that in good years only. Consider this: an eastern grey doe has one joey to independence pa (it takes about 18months from pouch to independence from ma) She breeds about 8 years out of her 14/15 yr life span (if she lives that long). And juvenile mortality is about 73%. In a nutshell, she’ll have on average 2 surviving joeys in her lifetime. Assuming M:F parity as in the science – (again all averages) she’ll replace herself just once in her lifetime – IF she breeds every year, IF she lives her full breeding life, IF all joeys survive. Kangaroos are slow breeding, slow growing marsupials. They’re nothing like goats or pigs or cows!

        There really is a lack of science to support much of what is ‘believed’ to be true. Those notions of abundance are behind all the myths repeated uncritically as fact: “outcompete each other” has no fact in science. In fact, the science shows that we’ve removed water from the landscape, and “improved” pastures are for farms not improved for kangaroos. They need habitat, which is woodland, and the science shows they stray not far from the edges of that habitat and are firmly bonded to place. So all those vast empty cleared paddocks are empty of kangaroos (quite apart from the fact they’ve been shot for 200+ years on such properties.

        The author of the NSW Nomination of kangaroos as threatened has been looking closely at historical records, at ecology and habitat requirements etc, and has some really interesting and alarming findings: You might be interested in the Nomination paper and its supplementary sub requested by the Committee: It’s at http://www.kangaroosatrisk.net. His contact details are there also if you’re interested.

        It’s a really really interesting thing, this lack of peer-review and the lack of critiquing the basic scientific first principles. Even the ACT KMP quotes alarmingly impossible population growth rates as justification for shooting. I really do encourage you to read the papers at the site above, and contact the author if you are really interested. He’s looked at pre-European landscapes and at farming landscapes. It’s a bit of a read, but take your time over time to go through it and see what you think.

        The role of the industry in directing policy and their marketing communications strategy (see RIRDC – New and emerging industries, and then search for kangaroos) is really alarming, but that’s another story.

  6. Menkit says:

    A better solution would be to adopt a plant based diet. Why is this not discussed? We are not carnivores nor are we omnivores. Look at our dentition, our jaw structure, facial muscles, jaw motion, mouth opening vs head size, saliva, stomach ph, stomach capacity, length of intestines, liver, kidneys and nails – we are 100% herbivores! No wonder hospitals and nursing homes are full, we are all eating the wrong food!!!

    Not only are kangaroos ‘gentle on our land’ they are critical for survival of many species. See Canberra Times, Saturday 17 October 2009, p.4 ‘Roo best custodian for some plants’. Also they eat the dry grasses that ignite easily in bush fires, thus minimise fires. They eat native grasses and help regenerate them by dropping them in the ground with their dung. Therefore, the more kangaroos the better!

    Also check out http://www.nokangaroomeat.org

  7. What’s wrong with the following argument? “bicycles take up less rooms than trucks, so lets use them to transport our wheat harvest” It’s pretty obvious. What matters isn’t environmental impact in absolute terms, but per calorie. The difference between the ratios of meat and types of meat on a kangaroo and on a cow is huge. Kill a kangaroo and the carcase is a small part of the animal and the prime and second cuts are about 12-20%, the rest is only fit for processed meat (stuff which causes about 3 times the bowel cancer per 100 grams that red meat does, but probably via different mechanisms). It may take 120 kangaroos to provide the same amount of prime cuts as a single cow (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2008.00034.x/full). We have about 30 million cattle in Australia at present. How benign do you think 3.6 billion kangaroos would be on the landscape?

    I’d suggest also Michelle that you read far more widely than industry propaganda about kangaroo meat’s health attributes. The meat is high in both heme iron and l-carnitine. The first causes bowel cancer and the second heart disease.

    The L-carnitine causal link is a quite new discovery and the research is fascinating …

    The bottom line is simple. If you care about the environment then you’ll be vegan or very close. If you care about your health? Ditto. If you care about animal suffering? ditto.

  8. In summary have to agree with Geoff Russell. Any roo argument that has not included some attempt to quantitatively scale up the roo consumption to a significant level of the cattle, lamb and pig consumption is as relevant as energy arguments for solar PV that don’t attend to actual levels of consumption in the nation: not really relevant at all.

    If a few people nibble a roo now and then, the ecology won’t suffer. Eat them like we eat cows and it would be a very different story.

    • Helen Bergen says:

      That’s the nux of it. If it was just a few roos out of a mob – a different story. But it’s shooting at 15-20-40% of “estimated” populations, while population growth is only 3-8% pa, and that only in good years. During drought populations crash by up to 60% but the shooting has continued. Interestingly, the industry is no longer able to even shoot up to the quotas allowed because “peak kangaroo” as passed. This is why it’s working so hard to open up new commercial shooting zones and in different states.

      Commercially killed roos are used in pet-food in Australia, with 80% for human consumption exported overseas. The problem is that hundreds of thousands are being commercially shot and rural landscapes really are being emptied of them when the commercial shooters move in for a few months and wipe them out where they can.

      You can read about the cow equivalent conversation, or about the absence of roos in kangaroo shooting zones in western NSW at http://www.kangaroosatrisk.net.

      How the industry operates (co-funded by government via the RIRDC) and it’s amazingly honed communications and marketing strategy, AND the extent of the Australian pysche that believes notions of kangaroo abundance (& thus pest) to the point that concerns by scientists are diminished by accusing them of being “activists” is an incredibly interesting and depressing untold story.

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