Rob Griffith/AP

Save the Earth: Eat More Kangaroo

January 05, 2009 04:15 PM
by Isabel Cowles
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Australian authorities are encouraging citizens to farm kangaroos instead of traditional, methane-producing livestock.

Cleaner Meat

According to Australia’s department of climate change, gassy farm animals are responsible for almost 70 percent of Australia’s agricultural emissions, which make up 11 percent of the country’s total emissions. Some are hoping to reduce such emissions by promoting the consumption of kangaroo meat.

Australia’s top climate change adviser, professor Ross Garnaut, noted in a recent report on global warming, “For most of Australia's human history—about 60,000 years—kangaroo was the main source of meat. It could again become important.”

Kangaroos are more environmentally friendly, according to researchers. These marsupials are equipped with unique bacteria in their stomachs that reduce the production of noxious methane gas, the International Herald Tribune explains.

Garnaut noted that shrinking Australia’s total carbon emissions by replacing traditional livestock with kangaroos could make the country more competitive in global emissions trading schemes, where carbon, methane and greenhouse gases come at a price.   

Kangaroos aren’t just better for the environment: they’re also better for you; the meat is very low in fat and high in protein.

However, major obstacles remain in adopting this scheme. Although they’re plentiful across Australia (their numbers double annually), it may take many kangaroos to extract the amount of meat available from a single cow. And although 80 percent of Australians say they would eat kangaroo, only 16 percent of them currently eat it four or more times a year.

International consumers might not embrace the meat; if they turned instead to other exporters for cattle and livestock, Australia—one of the world’s largest exporters of red meat—would suffer economically.

Reference: Kangaroos and greenhouse gases

In 2008, Australian researchers George Wilson and Melanie Edwards published a report in Conservation Letters, the journal of the U.S.-based Society for Conservation Biology, arguing that kangaroos could become a viable food source if farmers drastically reduced sheep and cattle numbers. They also published a follow-up piece to defend their original case for kangaroo meat against critics who questioned the feasibility of the effort.

Related Topic: Dealing with livestock methane

In 2006, the United Nations noted that carbon emissions from cattle and livestock surpass those created by transportation, including driving cars. Industrial farming also causes erosion and pollutes the water supply. According to a senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

Countries across the world have made efforts to deal effectively with the emissions created by livestock. In the Netherlands, for example, farmers and environmentalists employ a system of cooking manure to release methane gas, which can then be trapped and used to make electricity for local power grids.

Across the world, countries have formed partnerships to deal with the production of methane, notably through the Methane to Markets Partnership (M2M), which includes 21 governments and 630 organizations and companies. M2M works to recover methane gas from landfills, underground coal mines, livestock and oil and gas systems and use it as an energy source.

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