Eating kangaroo – reprise

My piece on the Australian relationship with eating kangaroo meat seems to have stirred up a lot of interest and emotion! It was one of the most read and shared articles on the BBC news website throughout the day it was published, and I received a fair number of tweets, emails and comments about it, roughly divided between people who agreed with what I said and those who didn’t.

On Twitter,  @RestaurantsRant said: ‘I think Australians, in general, are pretty unadventurous’. According to @QuarryHillWines, ‘That was a good piece. It’s a fine meat to cook with. Takes to cumin, coriander seed, star anise, ras el hanout… versatile’. @Bruce_Palling asked if it was ‘frying the flag’, while @Cam_Mck suggested my article was an example of ‘how to: 1. Ignore the richness of our food culture. 2. Write about our  ignorance. 3. ??? 4. Profit’ (I have to say, given the fees paid by the BBC, I had to laugh at his suggestion that I was profiting by writing the piece!)

Anyway, the issue is clearly quite complicated, and here’s some further food for thought: according to the abovementioned @Cam_Mck, you can read  the ‘real facts’ about kangaroo meat here.

And Dr Gerard Bodeker, of the Division of Medical Sciences at University of Oxford (and also Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology and Columbia University, New York) sent me a very interesting email which I reproduce here with his permission:

“In response to Fuchsia Dunlop’s online BBC News Magazine article ‘Eating Skippy: Why Australia has a problem with kangaroo meat’, it would be important to add that there are many real health concerns about eating kangaroo meat that lend support to the cultural aversion aversion to ‘eating Skippy’.

“A BBC report in April 2013 cited a study in Nature on the dangers of L-carnitin in red meat. The study found that when L-carnitin is metabolised by gut bacteria, it turns into a compound which damages arteries supplying blood to the heart and to the brain:

“It turns out that kangaroo meat has more L-carnitin per gram than any other red meat. In view of this, there is now a re-think in Australia about favouring kangaroo meat as a ‘healthy’ red meat.

“There are other health reasons as well for a re-think on kangaroo meat.

“Two serious infectious diseases are known to be transmitted via kangaroo meat. Toxoplasmosis and the bacterial disease, Salmonellosis are directly related to the handling, processing and consumption of kangaroo meat. Chefs recommending rare & raw treatments of kangaroo meat run the risk of exposing the public to acute health conditions.

“Indeed, Russia, cited in your article as a major market for kangaroo meat, banned kangaroo meat exports from Australia in 2009 after finding high levels of bacterial contamination.

“Supporting the national aversion to ‘eating Skippy’, there are also animal welfare issues in the kangaroo meat industry, including reportedly inhumane killing methods and cruel killing of baby kangaroos:

“While ‘Eating Skippy’ may be a cultural reflex that prevents many Australians from eating their national animal – against the advice of some nutritionists – that sentiment may be protecting them from very real dangers of a so-called ‘healthy red meat’ and the ethics of its supply chain.”

As I replied to him, I was under the impression that the Russian export ban was a response to a campaign by animal rights activists on cruelty grounds (and was revoked when the kangaroo meat industry agreed to slaughter only males); I hadn’t heard of these health considerations.

And I’d also be interested to know about the scale of difference in the relative health risks of kangaroo and other red meats, and whether the infections he mentions are peculiar to kangaroo, or found in other wild game (it’s worth remembering the salmonella risk of eating chicken, and the risks of eating uncooked pork).

6 Responses to “Eating kangaroo – reprise”

  1. Frank Hopewell-Smith

    Yes – I have a feeling there is risk with all meat. Surely it is just the case of having good education on how to handle the meat – like we have done with raw chicken in this country in particular (people treat it like Uranium!)

    The L-carnitin(e?)causing atherosclerosis paper is certainly not conclusive although a fairly large base size. Again I’d be interested to see how the difference between, say, beef and kangaroo levels of L-carnitin effect the CV system.

  2. Damon

    Put simply, get the facts. Which Kangaroos were tested? What species? What cuts? How many? What regions? This is purely anecdotal and irresponsible. Please see some links to reputable articles showing that this is simply scare mongering. As I stated earlier, get the facts.

  3. John Kelly

    Dear Fuchsia
    This story really is a very good example of the responsibility of journalists to be very careful with the ‘truths’ they publish. Please let me look at many of the claims made in the above.
    Firstly re the l-carnitine story. The paper you’ve referred to claiming to make a link between red meat consumption, l-carnitine and heart disease has been heavily criticised for going several steps to far in it’s conclusions. The science is complex, but a very simple demonstration of the flaws in this study is that seafood’s typically have much higher l-carnitine levels than red meat, spuds and carrots on the other hand have similar l-carnitine levels to red meat. Do they carry the same heart disease risk?
    Secondly, re the assertion that kangaroo carries a greater risk than other foods because it is high in l-carnitine. Well I’m sorry to say but l-carnitine levels in kangaroo meat have only been examined once, in the 1970’s, using only 2 pieces of meat. The rub is that l-carnitine levels vary widely depending on the animals age, sex, diet and also vary widely between different parts of animals and between individual animals of the same species. So levels in two pieces of meat DO NOT mean all kangaroo meat has high l-carnitine. Put simply we really don’t know how much l-carnitine kangaroo meat has.
    Finally, another paper published only a week after the one discussed looking at the real health outcomes of l-carnitine suplementation in over 3,600 real people found L-carnitine was associated with:
    • Significant 27% reduction in all-cause of heart related mortality
    • Highly significant 65% reduction in ventricular arrhythmias
    • Significant 40% reduction in the development of angina.

    Kangaroo meat is a healthy product. It’s production is widely supported by professional Australian ecologists and a wide range of Australian wildlife and animal welfare NGO’s, a list of some of these is available at

  4. Fuchsia

    Damon, and John Kelly
    As I hoped I’d made clear (by putting the relevant section in italics), the comments on L-carnitine were not mine, but were quoted from one of the communications I received on my original article – in this case from Dr Gerard Bodeker of Oxford University.

    Thanks very much anyway for your comments!

  5. Justin Kerswell

    The 2009 Russia ban on the importation of kangaroo meat was after consistent bacterial E.Coli contamination and human safety fears. It was not because of animals welfare issues. Further, whilst the concerns of Dr Gerard Bodeker are those that I would share, I think a closer examination of the welfare issues is needed also.

    An inescapable truth is that the annual kangaroo slaughter in Australia is already the largest massacre of land mammals on the planet today. Each year, millions of kangaroos are shot for their meat and skins. Baby joeys and dependent young are bludgeoned, shot or decapitated when their mothers are killed. Even with just 20 per cent of females being taken this is the horrific fate of around a million defenceless young animals a year. They are not even used by the industry and are dumped as ‘trash’ in the dust. In other words, if you eat kangaroo meat the chances are sadly good that a baby animal was ripped from his or her mother’s pouch and brutally killed.

    We hear much about conservation, but what true conservation effort would take a disproportionally high number of one sex? That in itself is nonsensical and in reality reveals the real reason for doing so: larger male carcases produce more meat. In other words it is about money.

    It is a brutal, grubby trade that many Australians do not support and we should not be encouraging people in the UK to buy this meat.

  6. Dr Gerard Bodeker

    While l-carnitine data are by no means yet conclusive – for or against claims of health damage or benefit – they do merit more concern than kangaroo meat industry spokespeople would acknowledge.

    The views of Australia’s nutritional experts are mixed on the Nature Medicine research on l-carnitine in red meat. The Australian Science Media Centre offers the views of a selection of Austria’s leading nutritional experts:

    Professor Garry Jennings, Director of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, comments: “While this paper makes some clever observations, the overall evidence that red meat is harmful is not consistent with a broader body of evidence. Some studies have shown a moderate adverse effect, others only with processed meats and others have shown no risk associated with red meat.” He also notes: “Healthy people do not need extra carnitine”.

    Professor John Funder, Executive Chairman of Obesity Australia, “relevant to Australian red meat eaters, kangaroo meat – long considered very healthy, given its very low fat content – has more L-carnitine per gram than any other red meat; on the basis of the authors’ findings, it may not be such a healthy option after all.”

    Professor Mark Wahlqvist is Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Past President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences states that the Nature Medicine study “finds yet another factor in meat which may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, namely l-carnitine”. He notes: “It is increasingly evident that neither carnitine nor choline may be safe as nutrient supplements and that the safest way to obtain them from the diet is from a varied plant-based diet.”

    Professor Mark Wahlqvist, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Past President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences, and Professor Peter Clifton, Professor of Nutrition at the Samson Institute at the University of South Australia question the findings of the Nature Medicine study and call for more data.

    The BBC News Magazine article about kangaroo meat in Australia did not report on the l-carnitine debate or the variety of views among Australia’s nutritional experts. Contrary to the opinions of the kangaroo meat industry, there are not yet facts in this field – just findings, which are sufficient to raise concerns among some leading experts. Ignoring or dismissing these concerns goes against the precautionary principle in public health and food safety

    And the animal welfare issues – trivialised by those wanting to explain away many Australians’ distaste for eating meat with a cruelty image as ‘not wanting to eat Skippy’ – are real, they are troubling, and they are jeopardising the kangaroo product export market:

    Regarding the four year ban by Russia on imports of kangaroo meat, this was due to bacterial contamination:

    Finally, readers comments here have not addressed the risks of chefs recommending raw or rare kangaroo meat, as was reported to be a trend in the BBC article. Here we do have a fact: kangaroo meat – like some other game meats – does carry a risk of infectious disease, as noted in my earlier remarks:

    And there is a food safety issue when chefs ignore this fact.

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