(Repeats story first published late on Tuesday; no change to
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY Nov 19 Once considered pet food,
kangaroo meat could soon be sold to China as a luxury product,
to encourage Chinese consumers to do something few Australians
will - eat it.
With a booming middle class, China's appetite for meat is
expected to rise nearly 17 percent over the next eight years,
the World Trade Organisation says.
Exporters do not yet have permission to sell kangaroo meat
to China but recent comments by Australian officials have put
the industry in a bullish mood.
"This is something that ticks a whole range of boxes,"
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told the Australian
"I'm going to try and look at further discussions with the
Chinese because I think there is a big prospect for a market
Wang Jun, the owner of a small restaurant in Beijing, said
he would be keen to try kangaroo.
"Why not? As long as it is delicious," Wang said.
Beef, pork and chicken are staples in China but some diners
also tuck into cat, rat, dog and more exotic animals in the
belief that they have medicinal qualities. Still, not everyone
may be so adventurous when it comes to kangaroo.
"How could we lay our chopsticks on such cute animals?" said
Liu Xinxin, a 21-year-old university student from Beijing.
Liu's comments echo sentiments in Australia that have kept
the kangaroo meat industry in a state of suspended development.
A 2008 government survey showed nearly a fifth of
Australians would never eat kangaroo on ethical grounds.
Others are reluctant to consume an animal that figures in
the national coat of arms. Just 15.5 percent of people eat
kangaroo meat more than four times a year.
Australia is already a large supplier of red meat to China,
with shipments worth A$616 million ($577 million) in the 2012/13
season. The kangaroo industry hopes to jump into the action.
"It would be huge if we could get access to the Chinese
market and they are certainty very interested," said Ray Borda,
founder and managing director of Macro Meats, Australia's
largest processor of kangaroo and wild game meat.
CHANGING THE IMAGE
Kangaroos, protected by state and federal law, are caught in
the wild, not farmed. Licensed hunters make a cull of a fixed
number and specific types every year.
Some of the impetus for exports follows a boom in the
population of the animals after good rains last year. Drought
this season in the largest cattle-producing state of Queensland
has prompted farmers to demand a bigger cull as kangaroos
compete with cows for grazing space.
Australian supermarkets sell kangaroo fillets for about A$20
per kg ($8.54 per pound), or about 30 percent to 50 percent less
than beef. The kangaroo industry aims for a different story in
China, by promoting it as an exclusive item, touting its health
benefits as a high-protein, low-fat food.
Australia's Department of Agriculture did not reply to
queries from Reuters about the status of export talks with China
but the interest on both sides is clear.
John McVeigh, Queensland's agriculture minister, has just
returned from China, where he talked to importers keen to start
trade in kangaroo meat.
Borda and his company are readying for an opening.
Macro Meats has partnered with New Hope Group Ltd
, one of China's largest agribusiness operators, and
the two firms have developed a strategy to woo customers and
project exclusivity by limiting supply.
"Our strategy will see us place kangaroo only in high-end
butchers, not in supermarkets," Borda said. "If the market was
to open tomorrow, we would enter without much fanfare."
($1=1.0642 Australian dollars)
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Clarence Fernandez)