Friday, November 27, 2009

Camel meat ~ is Australia out of touch?

Many people who have visited Morocco can attest to the wonderful flavour of camel meat. Either as steaks, minced up in kefta, or even (if you visit Cafe Clock in Fez) - camel burgers. But in some places, camels are being shot and left to rot. The View from Fez investigates:

It is not very often that you hear people on the streets of Morocco talking about events in Australia. So it came as a shock to many people that Australia, a country with between 600,000 and one million camels, is planning to simply shoot thousands of them and leave their bodies in the desert to rot. The question has to be asked; how many people could be fed with that amount of camel meat? Just how many burgers could you make?

According to press reports, the long drought has brought what has been described as a 'biblical' camel plague into the small town of Docker River. The camels come in search of water, leaving residents cowering in their homes as they have smashed through water mains and even invaded the airstrip. The response? Australian authorities are preparing to use helicopters to round up a 6,000-strong herd of wild camels and shoot them dead in the desert.

"This is a plague of biblical proportions laying waste to a sensitive and arid environment":~ Luke Bowen, head of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association.

Graham Taylor, a local official, said the thirsty creatures were posing a real danger to residents, with fears they could resort to forcing their way into homes. "I think the words 'under siege' are good words because it talks about people being stuck in their homes and looking out and seeing just numbers of camels at your front door," he said.

According to historians, the first camel arrived in Australia in 1840 from the Canary Islands. Legend has it that this was not a very lucky voyage because it accidentally killed its owner and was shot.

The camels arriving over the next fifty or so years were dromedaries (the one humped variety Camelus dromedarius)from India and Palestine. Theses days camels are scattered through the arid interior of Australia with an estimate of 50% in Western Australia, 25% in the Northern Territory, and 25% in western Queensland and northern South Australia.

Not everybody is happy with this action

The newly-formed Australian Camel Industry Association has been set up to capitalise on up to a million wild camels roaming central Australia. And they take a dim view of the waste that will be caused by simply killing the camels and letting them rot.

Nick Swadling from Queensland's Department of Primary Industries says a pre-feasibility study has been done and stakeholders have met to discuss the potential of camel exports.

"It was decided to call it the Australian Camel Industry Association, so it's an Australian-wide representative body that enables the industry to talk to government and other bodies," he said.

"The pre-feasibility study contains recommendations for the development of a commercial camel industry .... as a meat product."

Closer to home, Aisha (23), a Fez resident who broke the story to The View from Fez, said "I am horrified that such a thing is happening. It is irresponsible to cull animals that could feed so many starving people."

According to Mike Richardson, proprietor of Cafe Clock, which does a roaring trade in camel bugers, says " What a stupid waste! One camel will produce on average, 150 to 200 kilos of kefta (minced meat). As our burgers are around 180 grams, that works out at 1000 burgers per camel. Now simple maths will show you that the Australians are wasting six million burgers! "

So what should Australia do with its camels?

Apart from tourism (camel rides) and the export trade of racing camels to Saudi Arabia, they could produce a lot of camel products. These would include, milk for consumption or the production of yogurt and cheese. While being low producers compared to cows, camels need less feeding and produce over a longer period of time.

Camel Oil is lower in cholesterol than other animal cooking fats, camel oil is also suitable for manufacture of soaps and cosmetics. Camel oil based products have unique properties with baby dermatology creams being one specialist product. The uses and quality of camel oil goods is evolving with research and development.

Camel wool is a valuable 12-27 micron fibre with production of over three kilograms per camel. Camel wool fabrics could provide a source of income for many isolated communities in Australia. Camel hides also make excellent leather four to five times stronger than cattle hides.

And then there is the meat. It is tasty and as it is low in fat and high in protein, camel meat has the approval of the Australian National Heart Foundation. More information on the development of the camel meat industry can be found at Camels Australia Export website.

One odd thing: According to Jewish tradition, camel meat and milk are not kosher. Camels possess only one of the two kosher criteria; although they chew their cuds, they do not possess cloven hooves. yet the meat is not haram for Muslims.


Zany said...

Sounds like a crazy situation to me. However, I believe the problem stems not only from a lack of imagination and difficulties of access - the camels are likely to be shot from the air - but the fact there aren't suitable abbatoirs set up to process the meat. Given the vast distances the animals would have to be transported to such a facility makes it a financially challenging proposition. Investors would need to be found to set up the infrastructure required.

Anonymous said...

What a waste! I am Australian and feel ashamed they would do such a thing. Aboriginals in remote communities could benefit from a camel industry.

Anonymous said...

I think Zany might be on point. The camels are generally in very remote locations with limited road access - and the roads that are available are rough dirt roads that see little use. We are talking very large distances to be covered to transport these creatures which would use large amounts of fuel. Although I think a camel industry may be viable in some remote communities, I suspect there would need to be a certain amount of culling to keep the large population under control in areas which are not affected by the 'farming'. Feral camels do cause damage and outcompete native species with the appetites that come with animals their size and abundance - Australia doesn't really have native land animals that can match them for size. I guess i'm trying to say is that whilst I think some industry related to camels is viable in some areas, don't think it will solve the issue of feral camels in Australia, which although unpalatable to many it's the reality.