At one-point-two million head, it's already the world's biggest feral camel population. Now instead of seeing the animal as a pest, an effort has begun to turn camel into a multi million dollar industry. The small but growing number of camel suppliers have been given a grant. The aim is to capitalise on the huge international demand for camel meat and milk, as well as make it readily available in Australian stores.
Presenter: Paula Kruger
Speaker: Lauren Brisbane, Chairwoman of the Australian Camel Industry Association; Craig Cook, MD of Prime Quality Meats
PAULA KRUGER: The Federal Government spends $19 million on culling Australia's massive feral camel population. The camels are shot in what the small but growing camel industry calls the drop and rot. It argues culling isn't that effective in controlling feral camel numbers and is having the added impact of cutting back available stock. Lauren Brisbane is the chairwoman of the Australian Camel Industry Association which only formed in January this year. She says now is the right time for the Federal Government to stop pouring so much money into culling and to do more to help their burgeoning industry.
LAUREN BRISBANE: We're in the enviable position of having markets that we can't fill. So, our main markets are international markets so there are our halal meat, camel meat, and they're all over the world.
PAULA KRUGER: The biggest market for camel meat is in the Middle East where it has traditionally been considered a delicacy. But there is the possibility of growth in the health food market where camel meat could provide a high protein, low cholesterol alternative to beef. The Australian Camel Industry Association has been given a $20,000 grant, not a huge amount but enough to develop a plan for a commercial camel industry.
LAUREN BRISBANE: And what we're looking at doing is moving the industry from a feral harvest situation to a managed domestic supply.
PAULA KRUGER: The camel industry isn't just eyeing the international market, it wants camel meat promoted as a healthy alternative here in Australia.
LAUREN BRISBANE: It's primarily a niche market for the restaurant trade but we are hoping to develop that. The meat is fabulous. It's 85 per cent less fat. It's the same cuts of meat as beef. It's omega three and omega six and low in cholesterol. So it's a healthy meat.
PAULA KRUGER: But there are doubts Australians would be willing to have camel on their plate. Craig Cook, the managing director of Prime Quality Meats, says it is a conservative market.
CRAIG COOK: I think in countries where they don't have the level of availability of quality cattle and quality lamb and meat products that we have in Australia, it may work. But I think in a country like Australia, Australians are very parochial about what they eat and what they do and I know they're out to try most things but I just think it would have more ramifications than people that were inspired to eat it.
PAULA KRUGER: There were ramifications in July for a Perth butcher when he was sent death threats after he started to sell horse meat for human consumption. Craig Cook also says economically, now is not a good time to bring something new onto the market.
CRAIG COOK: At the moment breaking into new areas in the marketplace is quite tough due to the economy. People are very careful about how they spend their money and I think to sort of try and break out with something as exotic as camel, you would probably find people a little reluctant to take a risk on it with their money, with money being as tight as it is at the moment.
PAULA KRUGER: Marketing camel meat may be a hump the industry still has to get over but in the shorter term it's hoping to have the plan for the commercial camel industry completed by the end of the year and implemented by early next year.