Meat has always been a significant part of the Aboriginal diet, and is a valuable source of protein and nutrients. Kangaroo, wallaby and emu meat are considered to be particularly health promoting, and do not contribute to the build up of cholesterol, which is known to lead to heart attacks and strokes, the greatest killers of Australian people. Unfortunately, the same claim cannot be made for commercially produced, non-indigenous forms of meat. There are also many other issues associated with farm produced meat, many of which may not be immediately obvious.
Toxins that are used on farms, such as insecticides, herbicides and fungicides may be ingested by farm animals and stored in the body, and may accumulate to high levels. Many of these chemicals have been found to be highly toxic to humans. Australian beef, exported to the USA during the 1990s, was rejected because powerful weed killers, designed to remain active in the soil over decades, had accumulated in the meat.
It is now standard practice to feed feedlot cattle a protein-boosted diet, in order to put more beef on the cattle, sooner. Digesting large amounts of protein, which is foreign to the animal, induces acidosis, or abnormal quantities of acid in the bloodstream, cells and organs. This seriously weakens the animal and makes it more susceptible to disease, and so antibiotics are included with the feed on an ongoing basis, to prevent diseases breaking out in a highly concentrated animal environment. This has resulted in antibiotic-resistant diseases in people who have consumed animal products. The quality of the meat can hardly be thought of as ideal.
Some of the ways of boosting protein have had serious consequences. ‘Mad cow’ disease, is now understood to have been caused by replacing copper in cells with manganese, through feeding animal offal, in particular brain and spinal chords, to cattle, which is unnatural to the cow’s digestion, and turns it into a cannibal, which is totally unnatural for a herbivore. Chicken meat commonly contains hormones fed to promote rapid growth in the bird, which is believed the cause of early breast development and menstruation in young girls. Sawdust containing high protein fowl manure was found to have been fed to cattle in NSW, causing many deaths in a lot-fed farm.
Cattle and sheep have never suited the Australian ecology. Hooves have had a devastating impact on the native vegetation, and have caused soil compaction. Deserts having an extreme dependence on slow-growing, salt-tolerant vegetation have lost much plant life by cattle tearing out plants that would be merely trimmed by native fauna, and by sheep nibbling down saltbushes, until they can never regenerate. The overall effect has been to turn much of Australia’s heartland into barren salt-lakes.
Growing meat is not an efficient use of either farmland or water. Feed-lotted cattle consume several kilos of grains for every kilo of meat produced, making the price of meat very high. Many people believe that if humans were to consume those grains directly, instead of indirectly through consuming grain fed meat, we could virtually eliminate starvation on the planet, because there would be much more grain available. Ironically, lot-fed cattle contribute to starvation on the planet by their high consumption of grains, which far more people could be eating. One remote community ended their loss-making cattle concern, which enabled their entire desert property to naturally revegetate and bush up.
The CSIRO have estimated that whereas 1 kilo of meat requires 100,000 litres of water, compared to a kilo of soybeans, which requires only 7,000 kilos of water, a 1400% saving. It is now thought that the greatest damage to rivers and streams in northern NSW has been caused by cattle destroying riverbanks and polluting the water. The effects of cattle production on water should be a cause for concern on the driest continent on the planet, with the most fragile soils.
An overall solution to this predicament may be the organic farming of native species, as free range as possible. Natural, wild organic Kangaroo meat is available from many butchers and supermarkets. At present, an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 camels have well adapted and are eating the heart out of desert regions through destructive browsing, and populations are doubling about every 8 years. It would solve two problems if they were utilised for meat, both local and exported, and live export encouraged. Some consider organic camels a far more healthy eating option than beef.