You are here

Viva! email to Sainsbury's CEO Mike Coupe

Sent: 7 June 2017

"Dear Mr Coupe

I am writing to you from animal-campaigning charity Viva!. We were horrified to learn that you have announced plans to sell kangaroo meat across your stores (today’s Telegraph news paper) and ask you to remove it immediately. Both Tesco and Morrisons withdrew similar plans in 2015 after we expressed our grave concerns to them.

This is deeply concerning on a number of levels, including animal welfare and conservation issues (which I will detail later). However, we also have genuine concerns about the human health impact of eating kangaroo meat.

Sellers in the UK often claim their suppliers “... process the meat in EU-approved facilities that ensure the highest standards of food safety and hygiene.” However, this ignores the actual killing and initial butchering of the animals – which happens where they are shot in the heat and the scrub of the outback. Kangaroos are not farmed, but are shot in the wild out of sight. Kangaroos are only inspected for disease after they have been killed, but the unclean nature of killing on dirt (with bacteria, excrement and blood on the ground, dirty trucks etc) means that many do not consider the meat safe to eat.

A recent report in the Australian press said that investigations by the NSW Food Authority found numerous failures in basic hygiene by the NSW kangaroo meat industry.  This led Australian MP John Kaye to say: "This so-called healthy alternative to other red meats could be riddled with pathogens." A few years ago, independent testing had found dangerously high levels of Salmonella and E.coli in kangaroo meat bought from supermarkets. In 2014, dog 'treats' made from kangaroo meat were withdrawn because of Salmonella contamination. In May 2014, Russia detected contamination in kangaroo meat for a third time imported from Australia. Russia has subsequently banned imports of kangaroo meat due to unacceptable levels of E.coli bacteria. A letter from Defra (April 2015 - attached) confirmed that there are no checks on kangaroo meat by British authorities and that they rely on testing in Australia before the meat is exported. This is despite them being aware that Russia has banned kangaroo meat because of human health concerns and continuing failures within Australia itself. Furthermore, new rules will mean less health monitoring of food related illnesses and deaths in Australia.

Infection with Toxoplasma gondii is a “significant problem” in kangaroos. Experts say that T. gondii infection in kangaroos is“… also of public health significance due to the kangaroo meat trade.” Humans can contract foodborne Toxoplasmosis from eating raw/undercooked meat containing parasitic cysts. Because kangaroo meat is often undercooked (due to low fat content) this can heighten the risk of infection. Although T. gondii  infection may not result in illness in most healthy adults, Immuno-compromised groups and pregnant women are especially at risk of complications from contaminated meat. The American Government says“Severe toxoplasmosis, causing damage to the brain, eyes, or other organs, can develop from an acute Toxoplasma infection or one that had occurred earlier in life and is now reactivated. Severe cases are more likely in individuals who have weak immune systems, though occasionally, even persons with healthy immune systems may experience eye damage from toxoplasmosis.” The Australian Senate confirmed in February 2015 that kangaroo meat for human consumption is not tested for zoonotic diseases such as Toxoplasma gondii and that this is not a requirement for any importing country - including the UK. In other words, no one knows how much diseased kangaroo meat is being imported into the UK and how many people have been infected by it. 

There are also other human health concerns with kangaroo meat. A chemical called L-carnitine is present in all red meat but kangaroo meat has more per gram than any other meat. Research from 2013 associates L-carnitine consumption with a build-up of fatty deposits in blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease, strokes and heart attacks.

You may not be aware that Sainsbury’s will be one of the few British supermarkets to sell kangaroo meat in over a decade. Indeed, Sainsbury’s withdrew kangaroo meat after pressure from Viva! after widespread demonstrations outside of stores in 1999; which drew support from celebrities such as Paul McCartney.

Above: actress Pam Ferris cuts up her loyalty card outside Sainsbury’s HQ in London with Viva!’s founder and director Juliet Gellatley (1998)

Other UK supermarkets took it off the shelves after they discovered what exactly happens to these animals in the Outback (as mentioned both Morrisons and Tesco withdrew kangaroo meat in 2015 and have told us that they have no plans to sell it in the future) – and we urge you to join them by taking an ethical decision to remove kangaroo meat and pledge not to sell it.

Currently, only both Iceland and Lidl occasionally sell kangaroo meat and we have an ongoing campaign to persuade them to drop it. In March 2015, Viva! held a National Day of Action outside Iceland stores, which saw over a hundred actions. We will be considering our options depending on your reply to this letter on what similar consumer action we will take if Sainsbury’s continue to sell kangaroo meat.

You can read about this and other issues regarding our ongoing campaign to persuade Lidl and Iceland to pledge not to offer kangaroo meat in the future at: www.savethekangaroo.com

In 2015 (latest available figures) 6.8 million kangaroos were earmarked for slaughter. This doesn’t include the baby kangaroos (joeys) that are not even used by the meat and leather industries, but are simply thrown away. An adult female kangaroo will usually have two youngsters with her: a baby kangaroo in pouch and an adolescent at foot. This slaughter is supposedly governed by guidelines. However, these guidelines advocate pulling baby joeys from their dying mother’s pouch and smashing them around the head and/or decapitating them.

You can read these official Australian Government guidelines here: https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/publications/national-codes-practice-humane-shooting-kangaroos-and-wallabies

The adolescents are meant to be shot, but many will escape the carnage and die of predation from other wild animals. For almost every female kangaroo killed to fill your freezers with kangaroo meat, two other lives will be snuffed out. Around a million baby kangaroos die each year because of the trade in kangaroo parts. There can be no justification for this.

We are aware that the kangaroo industry is now trying to claim that they are operating a ‘male only’ shooting policy. If it is true that they source meat from males only then this would mean that the baby and adolescent joeys will not be killed. However, the industry has been saying this for years and it is a standard excuse we have heard many times before. We have not yet been provided with any evidence that this is true. Tesco said the same then backed down immediately when challenged back in the late 1990s. Lidl tried to claim a male bias – but then admitted that some of the meat they sell was from females.

Even if it was true then killing just one sex of a wild animal makes no sense whatsoever from a conservation point-of-view. Shooters tend to take the largest males (most meat/skin). In effect, this means you are removing the strongest animals and those with genetic superiority. That leaves weaker males to mate and, in the long term, could threaten the very survival of the species.

Far from exploding, populations of kangaroos in some areas of Australia have plummeted in recent years and have dropped by half in most areas of Queensland in recent years  alone. Analysis of NSW (New South Wales) government count data obtained under FOI by the Green Party in Australia showed up to 64% of NSW western survey transects returning zero counts of kangaroos.

I’m sure you will have received assurances about the welfare provisions around kangaroo hunting. However, it is impossible to truly assess the welfare of the adults that are shot (and their young), as this is invariably done at night in the Outback. The Australian RSPCA has estimated that around 100,000 adults are not killed humanely and some may temporarily survive with horrific wounds, such as having their jaws shot off.

A few years ago, California reintroduced a ban on kangaroo meat and skins after concerns about cruelty and the unsustainable nature of the trade. This was backed by a letter from over 70 scientists, academics and public figures expressing increasing concern about the science used to justify the continuation of the kangaroo shooting and export industries. Letter attached for your information.

Booker and Makro wholesalers introduced kangaroo meat in the UK (in 2008 and 2009 respectively), but both also quickly withdrew from it after we explained the intrinsic problems in this trade. All other major UK supermarkets withdrew it back in 1999 after realising that they couldn’t justify to their customers photos of dead baby joey kangaroos to provide a novelty meat.

We have worked with the national media many times on this issue, and – as you can see below – The Sun newspaper ran a story with a quote from Dame Judi Dench condemning Lidl for selling kangaroo meat and supporting our campaign. Joanna Lumley has now joined the call for an end to this trade and I’m sure others will soon join.

We work closely with Australian wildlife groups that have been fighting the commercial hunting of kangaroos for well over a decade now – and we will let them know your response.  Your response will also dictate what consumer action we ask our supporters to take.

We hope that now you have been made aware of some of the horrifying reality of the kangaroo trade that you follow the lead of other major businesses in the UK and pledge not to sell kangaroo meat. At the very least we ask that you remove kangaroo meat from sale immediately over the potential health concerns of eating undercooked meat.

You can read more here: www.savethekangaroo.com/factsheet

Obviously, I would be delighted to send any further information through about the welfare and health implications of this trade or to meet in person. Please contact me at justin@viva.org.uk or phone me 0117 944 1000.

Yours faithfully

Justin Kerswell
Viva! campaigns manager
www.savethekangaroo.com