« Freedom, Marching | Main | Bad Prediction? »

Too Good To Check?

Jared Diamond explains (page 391) why you can't eat a tasty 'roo burger:

However, that proposal [kangaroo ranching] faces real obstacles, both biological and cultural ones. Unlike sheep kangaroos are not herd animals that will docilely obey one shepherd and a dog, or that can be rounded up and marches obediantly up ramps into trucks for shipment to the slaughterhouse. Instead, would-be kangaroo ranchers have to hire hunters to chase down and shoot their kangaroos one by one. Further strikes against kangaroos are their mobility and dence-jumping prowess: if you invest in promoting growth of a kangaroo population on your property, and if your kangaroos perceive some inducement to move (such as rain falling somewhere else), your valuable crop of kangaroos may end up 30 miles away on someone else's propery. While kangaroo meat is accepted in Germany and some is exported there, sales of kangaroo meat face obstacles elsewhere. Australians think of kangaroos as vermin holding little appeal for displacing good old British mutton and beef from the dinner plate. Many Australian animal welfare advocates oppose kangaroo harvesting, overlooking the facts that living conditions and slaughter methods are much crueler for domestic sheep and cattle than for wild kangaroos. The US explicityly forbids the importation of kangaroo meat because we find the beasts cute and because a congressman's wife heard that kangaroos are endangered. Some kangaroos are indeed endangered, but ironically the species actually harvested for meat are abundant pest animals in Australia.
Fascinating. But is this true about the congressman's wife? Why doesn't Diamond name the happy couple? This EPA document seems to indicate that kangaroo-importation rules were amended in 1995 to permit the importation of non-endangered kangaroo species. But I'm not a kangaroo expert, so maybe I've got this wrong. Does anyone know anything about this? Is it really illegal to import kangaroo meat? Was a congressman's wife really to blame (the domestic cattle lobby sounds like a more likely culprit)?

January 1, 2005 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Too Good To Check?:


When google doesn't answer, try froogle. Kangaroo meat is easily available in the U.S. Not absolutely certain it's imported, but almost certainly.


Posted by: old guy | Jan 1, 2005 3:19:47 PM

shouldn't they just have free range roos, with brands.

i could move to australia and be a roo rustler.

Posted by: bryan | Jan 1, 2005 3:46:22 PM

"congressman's wife" can easily overlap with "lobbyist for cattle industry," but I have no idea who it is.

Posted by: dstein | Jan 1, 2005 3:48:56 PM

Damn you, Matthew Yglesias. Damn you to hell.

Posted by: Bob Keeshan | Jan 1, 2005 3:54:22 PM

Tesco in Britain used to sell it (along with ostrich and alligator) at the height of the BSE crisis but I have not seen it much lately. Of the three Ostrich is by far the tastiest with alligator being a strange mix of meat and fish, kangaroo is allright and a decent addition to the roster of meat and game.

Posted by: Tim Bassett | Jan 1, 2005 4:02:39 PM

Roo boiled in pouches? ummmm....

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 1, 2005 4:20:17 PM

I ate kangaroo while in australia. Both steaks and sausage. Didn't seem to me that they were viewed as vermin.

Posted by: Goldberg | Jan 1, 2005 4:27:01 PM

I live in the Australian bush outside Canberra (capital). We have some 30-40 kangaroos on our property.

All of Jared Diamond's points are true. I esp. like the bit about one's stock moving off. Kangaroos soar over even 6 foot fences.

But there is one additional crucial point. Wild kangaroos routinely carry hydatids, a horrible parasitic worm that can kill you. Dogs get them from eating kangaroo remains. In general, the safe part of a wild kangaroo is the tail.

How you keep this out of a mobile, "domesticated" kangaroo population is not clear.



Posted by: Jeffrey Harris | Jan 1, 2005 4:57:16 PM

I don't think I've ever seen any here, which is a shame. Kangaroo tastes good.

Posted by: Atrios | Jan 1, 2005 5:03:53 PM

Hi Matt,

If you haven't noticed by now: Diamond is sloppy. Sometimes it's just dopy little details like the (entirely mythical and apocryphal) Congressman's wife; sometimes it's more serious stuff.

Diamond got started as a Pacific Island bird guy. Some of my best friends are Pacific Island gird guys. (I used to live on a small Pacific island. Long story.) It's a small community, so they all know each other pretty well. They all agree that Diamond is smart, charming, tirelessly energetic, and an endless bubbling fountain of fascinating ideas, many of which are worth looking into and some of which are damn good.

They also all agree that, on a good day, he has a bit of a tendency to puff, ramble, and claim expertise where he had little and authority where he had none. On a bad day, ten pounds of bullshit in a five pound bag.

Which is not to say that Diamond isn't worth reading. Pas de tout. He's interesting, he's provocative, and sometimes he's even right. But take him with a big grain of salt, and fact check the hell out of him. As you've just done -- good on ya.

(FWIW, my co-blogger Carlos Yu has made something of a hobby of catching Diamond playing fast and loose. If you pop on over to our blog and drop him a line via e-mail or comment, I'm sure he'd be happy to share some examples with you. Just don't mention Austronesian languages -- Carlos says that's one where Diamond slid from sloppy to deliberately mendacious, and he can get quite heated about it.)

Finally: if you like this sort of thing, allow me to recommend _The Song of the Dodo_, by David Quammen. By far the best thing Quammen has ever written, it's a biology book for policy wonks. It's well-written but /very/ informative, and on the whole quite accurate.

In your copious spare time, of course.


Doug M.

Posted by: Doug Muir | Jan 1, 2005 5:06:41 PM

"A congressman's wife" seems like a good euphemism to use for lobbyists.

Posted by: weev | Jan 1, 2005 6:24:36 PM

It should be noted that thousands of tons of horse meat is consumed in France.

Posted by: econotarian | Jan 1, 2005 6:32:33 PM

Will these disputes be settled in a kangaroo court?


Posted by: Bernard Yomtov | Jan 1, 2005 8:00:47 PM

I've cooked 'roo. We tried to make prosciutto out of it for a wine dinner. (It was not a very good experiment)

In saner attempts I've found that it cooks up pretty well and is suitable for braising.

Posted by: def | Jan 2, 2005 12:26:28 AM

The following is from an undergrad thesis, but I'm only using it to provide the relevant dates:

In December 1974 the Red kangaroo, Western Grey kangaroo and the Eastern
Grey kangaroo in mainland Australia were listed as threatened species by the United
States and the commercial importation of kangaroos, their parts and products were
banned. After an improvement in kangaroo management programs and survey
techniques by Australian States, the ban was lifted and an export trade was resumed
in 1981, under supervision of the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries.
However kangaroos were still listed on the U.S. list of Endangered and Threatened
Wildlife, making their commercial use more susceptible to ‘environmental’ bans. It
was not until April 1995 that these three species of kangaroos were delisted from the
U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (Short, 1995). This ban reflected
concern about the effectiveness of population monitoring, which has now been
resolved, and the extent to which the harvests may have been impacting adversely
upon kangaroo populations (Pople & Grigg, 2001).
This ban on exports by importing countries during the 1970’s was due to poor
meat quality, contamination and parasite infestation and resulted in reduced harvest
offtake. Trade was not resumed until 1981 under Government supervision.

I can remember stories from around the mid-eighties similar to the one Jared told. There was a campaign by Greenpeace at the time to get the ban reimposed. The stories centered around the US's reasons for imposing the ban in the first place. They were of the "Americans were so stupid that..." kind. I don't specifically recall a story about a congressman's wife, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that such a story was in circulation.

It wouldn't even surprise me to learn that the story is actually true, that there was a congressman who said something along the lines of "My wife informed me that there is a terrible crisis, blah, blah, blah". It's just ordinary political rhetoric.

It can be very difficult to get to the root of who said what, and why, several decades after the event.

Posted by: SJ in Sydney | Jan 2, 2005 7:34:50 AM

It can be very difficult to get to the root of who said what, and why, several decades after the event.

I should clarify that a bit. The "American are so stupid that..." stories were obviously promoted by the kangaroo shooters in Australia. That was readily apparent at the time. It's the factual basis or otherwise of the claims that's hard to establish.

Posted by: SJ in Sydney | Jan 2, 2005 7:41:29 AM

I second Tim's endorsement of ostrich. That is delicious meat, like extremely lean beef.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin | Jan 2, 2005 1:40:39 PM

I think a lot of people here - especially those who think Jared Diamond plays fast & loose with the facts - would be interested in Jared Diamond's earlier Nature paper on ethnic variation in testis size and its consequences for human sexual behavior.

No, this is not a joke. He really did publish a paper in Nature, in 1986, complete with scale diagrams of Danish testes vs. Hong Kong Chinese testes. A full scan of the paper is available at the preceding link.

Might be useful for those who question whether JD was being intellectually honest in Guns, Germs, and Steel...and whether he's being intellectually honest with the idea that "ecocide" lead to civilizational destruction rather than invasion & ethnic cleansing.

Posted by: gc | Jan 3, 2005 2:28:19 AM

I think a lot of people here might also be interested to know that the previous post's link takes you to the site of a crypto-racist, whose beef with Diamond is that Guns, Germs and Steel "is an attempt to explain why Europeans dominated during the last 500 years without recourse to any sort of evolutionary, genetic, or IQ-related evidence whatsoever."

You see, according to this person, members of the "reasonable left" take to Diamond not because his thesis about the effect of geography on civilizational development better explains how highly developed yet somehow IQ-deficient cultures like China, or Egypt, or ancient Babylon waxed and then waned (and why Europe was so late to enter the scene with borrowed knowledge), but because it flatters our sense of political correctness.

My only regret is that I won't be around in 1000 years when the mongrel race ruling the earth looks at the writings of that nitwit as an example of the IQ deficiency of the European "race."

Posted by: JA | Jan 3, 2005 11:31:12 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.