Kangaroo on the menu for envoys

CANBERRA - Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce is having foreign representatives, including a Thai diplomat, over for a kangaroo dinner as the government seeks to increase consumption of the native meat in overseas markets.

''It should be a resource we use,'' Mr Joyce told reporters in Canberra before Wednesday night's gathering. ''I'll be having a range of ambassadors to dinner at Parliament House and were going to be having kangaroo on the menu.''

While the kangaroo is a national symbol, appearing on the coat of arms and the one dollar coin as well as the tail of Qantas Airways jets, in some regions the animals are considered pests as they damage crops and fences while competing with livestock for drinking water in droughts. The kangaroo industry is worth about A$270 million (7.83 billion baht) a year, according to the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia.

''The envoy's dinner is to try and break down some of those conceits you could easily understand that somebody not from Australia would hold,'' Mr Joyce said on Tuesday.

Representatives from Russia, China, the Philippines, Thailand and the European Union will attend, according to a spokesman for the minister, who asked not to be identified in line with department policy.

Kangaroo meat and skins are shipped to more than 55 countries, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which said exports of meat to Europe started in 1959. The European Union and Russia are the most significant markets, with the United States and Asian sales rising, it said on its website.

There are about 40 million grey kangaroos in Australia, according to Mr Joyce. The minister is seeking to break the notion that exists overseas that there are only a few kangaroos left in Australia, he said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.

Quotas for the number of kangaroos to be culled are set annually as a proportion of estimated populations, according to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Annual harvest levels of about 15% of the grey kangaroo and wallaroo populations and about 20 percent for red kangaroos are considered sustainable, it says.

Many kangaroos are staring at death because of the drought and because they arent controlled at all, said Mr Joyce, 46, who grew up on a cattle and sheep property near Woolbrook in New South Wales. The best way of looking after kangaroos is through a controlled harvest.

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