California roo ban fight continues as exporters look to new markets

Australia’s beef industry is often touted as our biggest agricultural export market, delivering much-needed revenue for our farmers and economy. But the demand for leaner meat and high-quality products derived from a different source is an opportunity that our game meat exporters are jumping at the chance to pursue.

The kangaroo has transcended its status as a tourist token for some and destroyer of pastoral land for others, now ticking the boxes of nutritionists salivating for a healthier meat and fulfilling the needs of shoemakers striving to craft premium soccer boots. However, the failure to lift a moratorium on the sale and import of kangaroo products in California last year has resulted in the rare situation where our kangaroo meat, fur, and most importantly, leather is now banned from the Hollywood state.

A Bill set to repeal this ban and allow imports to continue beyond January 1 was introduced to the Californian Senate in February 2015, followed by some amendments in September, but its passage to becoming law stalled as the parliamentary year concluded. The Senate will revisit the Bill this year. Until then, Australian exporters have ceased all supply of kangaroo to California, leaving our producers in limbo and animal liberationists falsely ecstatic.

The Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia (KIAA) has been campaigning for the Californian Government to remove the odd sunset clause that caused the ban to come into effect. KIAA president Ray Borda, who is also director and founder of game meat supplier Macro Meats, said California is a relatively small market but important for leather goods due to the number of shoe producers there. “California is the seventh biggest economy in the world and this ban will affect more than 200 retailers,” he said. “In fact, the California Retail Association has got involved because it will harm them even more than it will harm us.”

Animal liberation group The Humane Society in the US (HSUS) has misleadingly declared it had “blocked an attempt to repeal a California ban on importing or selling kangaroo parts”. “The ban has the potential to end the use of kangaroo parts throughout the nation,” it boasted on its website.

Responding to such claims, Mr Borda said that simply wasn’t the case. “California is the only place in the world that this situation applies to and it is because the Californian parliament didn’t get time to review the law, so it reverted back to the sunset clause which has resulted in a ban,” he explained. “This will be addressed in the next few months and more than likely (exports) will be reinstated.”

Exporters have also been battling an on-again, off-again ban on imports to Russia, with the trade - worth more than $1.6 million - first suspended in 2008, resumed in 2012 and then banned again in 2014. Mr Borda confirmed that although there are ‘rumblings’ to resume exports, there are plenty of opportunities in other markets such as Japan, India, Thailand and the Philippines. “There are over 70 countries we can export to,” he said. “The demand has always been there, we are now trying to make people aware of the benefits of the product and build a higher profile.”

Export 61, an online initiative dedicated to driving global sales of Australian products, promotes kangaroo and game meat exporters to the world. Its director of Global Business Development, Peter Crawley, said the exclusive market offers real potential for Australian game meat businesses and he expects 2016 to be a much better year for kangaroo processors. “Kangaroo is such a great meat, it’s 98 per cent fat free and high in protein...like goat meat, it is not banned by any religion,” he said.

Mr Crawley said although the industry has fluctuated - with recent figures indicating 60 per cent of the product is exported and 40 per cent is used domestically - there are realistic opportunities to significantly grow the market, particularly with the Aussie dollar hovering around the US 70 cents mark. “Europe is the largest importer, with China, India and South America now emerging as large markets for kangaroo meat, but there needs to be a concerted effort from the government, processors and exporters as well as all the way down to the shooters to broadcast the benefits and actively promote this great product,” he said.

The Australian Government is reportedly considering further action to ensure the Californian Government overturns the ban. In the meantime, kangaroo producers are focusing on promoting the benefits of the meat to a health-conscious society. The industry, which saw more than $18 million worth of meat alone exported between 2011 and 2015, is directly benefiting from a $350,000 boost to expand exports to premium overseas markets, as announced by Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce in September 2015. “There is significant potential to develop our domestic roo industry and to expand access to overseas markets. Kangaroo is not only a great source of lean protein, but it also provides some of the world’s best quality leather that is used in a range of products,” Minister Joyce said at the time. “This targeted support comes on the back of historic trade agreements the government has signed with China, Japan and Korea and a recent technical market access gain for kangaroo meat exporters to Peru.”

While the sun may have set on the Californian market for now, the future can be bright for Australia’s kangaroo producers, harvesters and exporters if the case for Skippy to be an accepted dinner alternative and premium product, both here and overseas, continues to be promoted by all stakeholders involved.

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