Updated: Jun 1, 2019
In Part I of this blog series, I discussed the health concerns associated with kangaroo meat as a reason why I don't recommend feeding kangaroo to your pets. Read Part I here.
In this part, I delve into the ethical concerns associated with kangaroo meat, which includes an insider's perspective on the realities of the commercial kangaroo industry - an industry that is not as regulated and humane as it would like you to believe.
I have a lot to say about the ethical concerns and so I have needed to split this post into two parts. The next part, which will be Part III of this series, will be available soon.
Warning: the contents of this article may be disturbing for some readers.
There is a predominantly held view that the commercial kangaroo industry is strictly regulated and that, as a result, kangaroos are humanely killed. This view is promoted by the Government and the commercial kangaroo industry - the two parties who benefit the most from the largest commercial slaughter of land-based wildlife on the planet.
I have been directly exposed to industry representatives who shared this misconception about the kangaroo industry.
Between 2011 and 2013, I worked as legal counsel for Voiceless, the animal protection institute. In my role, I was exposed to horrific accounts of cruelty inflicted on kangaroos by the commercial and non-commercial kangaroo industries. I was also at Voiceless when the 2012 investigation into kangaroo meat was undertaken in partnership with Animal Liberation NSW, which revealed contaminated kangaroo meat for sale in Australian supermarkets (see part I of this blog series).
I was deeply affected by the accounts I heard and saw.
And I witnessed first hand members of the Australian kangaroo industry telling the Australian public in correspondence and presentations that the kangaroo industry is strictly regulated and the most humane way we have of producing meat and leather. I was shocked and concerned to hear their claims of how ethical the trade is and how heavily regulated it is.
As well as being an animal nutritionist and naturopath, I'm also a lawyer. Being a lawyer, I can interpret and apply laws and regulations. I can look at the facts of a case and draw a conclusion as to whether laws have been broken. I can assess the effectiveness of these laws.
The kangaroo industry is regulated but it falls far short of being"strictly regulated" or humane. Over the next two posts, I will explain how I have reached this conclusion. In this post I will talk about the regulation of the commercial kangaroo industry. In the next post, I will discuss why the trade is not humane or ethical.
The trade is not strictly regulated
The commercial kangaroo trade is regulated, however, a trade that centres around the killing of wild animals in remote areas at night can never be strictly regulated. The costs of strict regulation would be prohibitive as the trade would require significantly more oversight than it currently has.
Regulation of the industry
The commercial kangaroo industry is regulated by the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes ("Code"). The Code is adopted under Nature Conservation legislation. It is currently under review and the draft code is expected to be available for comment soon.
The Code requires that commercial shooters aim to shoot a kangaroo in the brain, thereby achieving instantaneous death. In theory, this is all well and good. But the practicality of shooting kangaroos is another matter.
Many factors affect a shooter's ability to shoot a kangaroo in the brain, such as:
Impaired vision due to darkness and distance;
The small target size of a kangaroo's head;
Unexpected movements of kangaroos who are startled from being shot at; and
The skill and experience of the individual shooter.
"While generally achievable, my concern with the brain shot standard is that it is a small target and, as such, offers a high margin for error. Misjudge the wind, or have it shift on you at the last moment, pull a shot, or shiver at the wrong moment on a cold night, and the kangaroo may suffer an awful, lingering death with a broken jaw."
Non-fatal body shots are an unavoidable part of the industry, causing horrific and painful injuries.
It is estimated that about 120,000 kangaroos are mis-shot annually. That's a lot of suffering kangaroos.
In Maryland Wilson and David Croft's 'The Kangaroo - Falsely Maligned by Tradition', David Nicholls, a former kangaroo commercial shooter, paints a vivid picture of the types of injuries that occur:
"The mouth of a kangaroo can be blown off and the kangaroo can escape to die of shock and starvation. Forearms can be blown off, as can ears, eyes and noses. Stomachs can be hit expelling the contents with the kangaroo still alive. Backbones can be pulverized to an unrecognisable state etc. Hind legs can be shattered with the kangaroo desperately trying to get away on the other or without the use of either. To deny that this goes on is just an exercise in attempting to fool the public."
The killing of kangaroos happens at night in rural areas. The cruelty inherent in the trade is largely hidden from public eye.
There is a significant lack of industry monitoring or auditing in the field. Whilst some inspections of chillers and processors occur, these are far from sufficient in terms of monitoring compliance with the Code. But what government officer is going to go out to remote areas at night to monitor the killing of kangaroos?
In Queensland, the industry is monitored by the Macropod Management Unit, which sits within the Department of Environment and Science. Within this unit, there are just two officers responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nature Conservation legislation that governs the shooting of macropods (kangaroos and wallabies). They do this by inspecting dealer sites, processor sites and harvesters though infield and desktop auditing. It is reported that wildlife rangers, the Queensland Police Service and Safe Food Production Queensland also assist with some "collaborative compliance work".
Statistics are not published as to how many infield inspections are carried out or whether they are conducted at night when the shooting occurs (at point of kill). Without this information, one might reasonably assume that these types of inspections are not conducted. In fact, evidence given in legal proceedings in 2004 revealed that "there was no monitoring at the scene of the killing to ensure compliance with the Code... only monitoring by random checks at chillers and processing plants and of records kept and supplied by shooters and processors" (Papayanni 2005).
In 2018, the two Macropod Management Unit compliance officers conducted 14,359 inspections, representing only 1.8% of the 795,747 kangaroos and wallabies killed. The inspections resulted in 20 warning notices being issued and three fines. There were no prosecutions.
Over the past 10 years in Queensland:
there were 11 prosecutions;
153 fines were issued, 18 of which were for non head-shots;
the majority of offences seem to relate to failures to keep records and other administrative requirements. This may be because most of the inspections are desktop audits and/or that infield inspections occur during standard office hours, which is not when the shooting is taking place.
When a shooter fails to shoot a kangaroo in the brain, a breach of the Code has occurred.
Australian governments refer to non head-shots as being a breach of the Code. It is not clear whether they are strictly interpreting the Code by reference to a non head-shot - are they meaning that a kangaroo hasn't been shot in the brain or do they mean the head? If it's the latter, the Code is not being strictly applied.
Regardless of the interpretation, fines are rarely issued for non head-shots (see above). I don't think this is because all shooters at every kill are complying with the Code requirement to shoot a kangaroo in the brain. Rather I think it's because of the lack of industry monitoring, specifically the lack of infield inspections at point of kill.
Non head-shot kangaroos are generally not meant to be processed, so the detection of non head-shot kangaroos is limited.
When kangaroos are shot, shooters will "dress" them before loading them on to their trucks. This includes removal of their heads, paws and organs. The only way for inspectors to properly assess whether a kangaroo has been shot in the brain is by inspecting the kangaroo heads. Under the current regime, this just doesn't happen - the heads are left in the field with the other dressed body parts, and the inspectors only inspect the carcasses, which have had the heads removed. Without examining the heads how can the inspectors properly assess whether a kangaroo has been shot in accordance with the Code?
Former kangaroo shooter, Lyn Gunther, says that "any kangaroos which have the head cut off close to the shoulders are definitely not head shots but the roo has been throat shot, causing damage to the throat area and thus requiring the shooter to remove the damage leaving no neck area in place on the carcass".
It has been suggested that the Code should require that "heads remain on carcasses in order to determine whether carcasses have been shot correctly in the brain".
Without any evidence of infield inspections being conducted when the shooting occurs, and with less than 2% of killed kangaroos and wallabies being inspected, I am not convinced that the trade is effectively monitored.
A trade that is not effectively monitored is not a trade that is strictly regulated.
Penalties for non-compliance
Another way to assess whether a trade is strictly regulated is by looking at the penalties for breaching regulatory requirements.
Breaches of the Code are generally dealt with by issuing warning notices, fines, licence cancellations and prosecutions.
Whilst cruelty against kangaroos can be prosecuted under animal welfare legislation, most if not all prosecutions regarding breaches of the Code are carried out under the legislation that integrates the Code - the Nature Conservation legislation. Under this regime, penalties are lower than they are under animal welfare legislation.
For example, if a shooter in Queensland failed to comply with the Code because he mis-shot a kangaroo, the maximum penalty he could face would be $22,139.75 (Nature Conservation (Macropod) Conservation Plan 2017, section 12). Under Queensland's animal welfare legislation (the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001, section 18(1)), the maximum penalty for being cruel to an animal is $261,100.
In 2013, a NSW man was prosecuted for shooting 61 kangaroos that he was not licensed to shoot. The outcome of that prosecution was a $6,000 fine. That's $98 per life taken.
As stated above, prosecutions for Code non-compliance are rare and when do they occur, the penalties are very low. In the past ten years, there have only been 11 prosecutions in Queensland. Is this because Queensland shooters are complying 100% with the Code or is it because the Code is not strictly enforced? I vote the latter.
Responsibility for compliance and enforcement rests with state environmental government departments. The same departments are also responsible for promoting the industry. This is clearly a conflict of interest.
Summary of this part
In summary, the commercial kangaroo industry is not strictly regulated due to:
the difficulty in complying with the Code;
the lack of industry monitoring;
the lack of enforcement; and
the low penalty levels.
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References (in addition to those linked/referenced in the article itself):
Papayanni, C 2005, 'The Kangaroo In Court', in Wilson & Croft (ed.) Kangaroos: Myths and Realities, The Australian Wildlife Protection Council Inc, Melbourne.