Russia has banned the importation of kangaroo meat from Australia. Producers fear the decision will decimate their industry. Russia was the main market for the Australian kangaroo trade, accounting for about 70% of international demand.
Russia is worried about the bacterial contamination of kangaroo meat. Officials in Moscow have said that several recent consignments have been tainted with E-coli bacteria and will not allow further shipments into the country.
The import ban is a major blow to Australian producers. Russia was their biggest international customer and hundreds of jobs are now at risk. Already a handful of meat processing plants have closed down.
There are also invironmental concerns. The kangaroo industry believes that if the marsupials are not hunted commercially their numbers will sharply increase, causing damage to farms as well as depleting valuable water supplies.
Brent Finlay from AgForce, which represents farmers in the northern state of Queensland, says Russia's decision could have far-reaching consequences...
"When the harvesting ceases, the population of the 'roos gets to an extent where they're actually in plague proportions and they have eaten themselves to death," he said. "I think a resolution, from what I hear, is a long way away unfortunately. And we'd urge the Australian government to work vigilantly. There's a lot at stake for rural and regional communities. We need these exports income to keep young Australians in jobs.'
China has emerged as a possible alternative market for Australia's kangaroo exports. Senior members of the Australian government led a trade delegation to Beijing earlier this year to spur interest in kangaroo products, although overcoming China's strict quarantine regulations is likely to problematic.
Australia's kangaroo population is estimated at 25 million animals. Government rules allow for about 15% of the population to be killed by professional marksmen.
Despite concerns from animal rights groups that the annual hunt is barbaric, industry representatives have insisted it is humane.
Before the Russians imposed a ban on imports, Australia's kangaroo trade was $225 million annually. It produces steaks and sausages for domestic and international consumers overseas, as well as for pet food manufacturers, while soft kangaroo leather has been used to make sports shoes.