Victoria's cull plan bad for health: roos and ours

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The idea of using culled kangaroos for commercial purposes, as proposed in Victoria, ignores the cruelty hidden in the slaughter practices and serious hygiene threats to human health.

The perception that kangaroos are a renewable resource, coupled with the labelling of these native animals as pests, has resulted in the largest slaughter of land-based wildlife on the planet.

In the past 20 years, 90 million kangaroos and wallabies have been lawfully killed for commercial purposes.

Yet this week, Victoria's Baillieu government is considering the feasibility of commercial hunting of wild kangaroos. Currently the commercial use of the thousands of kangaroos culled annually in Victoria is banned. All kangaroo meat sold in Victoria is sourced interstate.

While the commercial hunters have reacted positively to the news, stating that it will put to use the carcasses of animals that have been killed through the annual culls, the reality of putting a commercial kill in place is very different.

The human consumption of animals slaughtered in the wild presents a range of health issues.

Last month, ABC's Lateline featured research exposing the dangerous hygiene surrounding kangaroo meat for human consumption.

Over a number of years, Voiceless and Animal Liberation bought kangaroo meat for human consumption from Coles, Woolworths and IGA supermarkets in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and had the samples tested in an independent laboratory.

Of the 26 samples taken, eight tested positive for salmonella and 11 samples showed high levels of E. coli.

The quality assurance standard for raw meat of one of the major retailers allows for an E. coli count of less than 10 colony-forming units per gram of meat. However, one sample tested by Voiceless and Animal Liberation had an E. coli count of 24,000 colony forming units per gram and also tested positive for salmonella; another showed a staggering E. coli level of 46,000 units per gram.

Systemic food safety and hygiene violations such as these led the Russian government to announce a total ban on importing kangaroo meat in 2009, when Russia accounted for about 76 per cent of kangaroo meat exports.

This contamination should not be surprising, given that kangaroos are not killed in sterile slaughterhouses like other animals used for food but out in the field, sitting for hours with flies and insects in open bushland during the after-dusk hunt before finally being transported and processed.

Beyond concerns for human health are the obvious issues of animal welfare. Let us be clear, this is an industry that demonstrably places profit above animal suffering.

Kangaroos are shot in the wild and at night when they are most active, so the cruelty associated with the slaughter is largely hidden from the public.

Shooters are required by the relevant Codes of Practice to aim to shoot a kangaroo in the brain for an instantaneous death, but non-fatal body shots are unavoidable and cause horrific and painful injuries.

Kangaroos are often found with missing limbs or jaws or suffering from gaping wounds due to the difficulty of the shot.

Government monitoring of the slaughter to ensure it complies with the relevant codes is largely non-existent.

Meanwhile joeys that are not used by the industry must be killed; either shot, decapitated or having their heads bashed with a hard and heavy blunt instrument.

This brutal treatment is instructed by the government code. Those joeys not killed by these means die slow and stressful deaths due to starvation, predation or hypothermia.

Each year about 855,000 dependent joeys are killed in this way as collateral damage of the kangaroo industry, and yet, in a bit of twisted Orwellian logic, it is being propagated as "humane".

The launch of a commercial approach would dramatically increase the pressure that culling places on kangaroo populations.

The Southern Grampians Shire Council's economic development manager behind the push for the commercial industry says there will not be a rise in the number of shot kangaroos, just use of the bodies of those already killed through culls, but this cannot be regulated nor enforced.

No longer will population numbers or land competition be the motivator for culls, but instead it will be individuals seeking to profit from the slaughter of these creatures. This will undoubtedly result in the numbers of killed kangaroos soaring well beyond the current cull quotas and threatening populations.

It is irresponsible to commercialise the hunting of kangaroos, given these serious concerns of contamination and animal cruelty.

Dana Campbell is the chief executive officer of the animal protection institute Voiceless.

This story Victoria's cull plan bad for health: roos and ours first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.