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Food forensics in the human and pet-food industry: Use of a simple technology to identify commercially important species of kangaroos from Western Australia

Spencer, P.B.S. and Marshall, K. (2013) Food forensics in the human and pet-food industry: Use of a simple technology to identify commercially important species of kangaroos from Western Australia. Journal of Forensic Research, 04 (03).

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Abstract

The kangaroos and wallabies are iconic fauna that are immediately identifiable with the Australian landscape. The group belong to the superfamily Macropodoidea (or macropods), which contain about 45 living species in Australia [1]. These species are found naturally in the wild only in Australia and New Guinea, although some feral populations have been introduced in New Zealand, Great Britain and Hawaii. Of these, four are commercially harvested in an internationally recognised sustainable industry (red kangaroo, common wallaroo, western and eastern grey kangaroos; [2]). None of the commercial species is threatened or endangered and the red kangaroo remains the sole example of a national emblem that is harvested for human consumption. The Red kangaroo, Eastern grey and Western grey kangaroo are the most abundant species on mainland Australia and make up over 90 per cent of the commercial harvest. In the harvested areas, and depending on seasonal conditions, their combined population sizes have fluctuated between 15 and 50 million animals over the past 20 years. The intensity of harvest is relative to the population size and determined on a quota basis that is reviewed annually (see: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/). These quotas are set on the basis of population size/trends and long-term climate predictions. The proportion of animals taken adopts a precautionary principle as conservation of the species remains the foremost consideration. This approach ensures that the harvesting of kangaroos has, and is, managed in an ecologically sustainable way.

Over 99% of the commercial kangaroo harvest occurs in the arid grazing rangelands, some 2 million km2 [3]. As with any natural population, all species of kangaroos undergo natural fluctuations in population abundance, generally in response to rainfall [4,5]. The Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act of 1982 regulates the exports and imports of kangaroo products. In addition, as a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Australia has the responsibility to regulate the exports and imports (and harvest) of all native animals and plants including kangaroos. Like many wildlife products, once the product has been processed (into packing/shipping containers), it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to identify the species, or origin of the sample simply by inspection of the product. Forensic investigations can offer an important service in the regulation of illegal killing as well as fraudulent mis-description of end food products. This is important because consumers are demanding clear and accurate information for the food they buy (‘truth in labelling’), be those for conservation, religious, social, health or lifestyle reasons [6]. Furthermore, in any wild harvest there is also a conservation concern, as overharvesting may ultimately lead to the decline or even complete collapse of the industry as has been seen in some fisheries. As such, an important function of wildlife protection authorities is to make sure that illegal (over)harvesting does not occur. To do this, authorities need to be equipped with indisputable tools that would allow them to regulate and detect discrepancies within the product that is being regulated. The harvesting of kangaroos is an example of such an industry. Furthermore, given the significant differences between the pricing of premium versus substandard and inferior substitutes, it is also an increasing concern that there is ‘truth in labelling’.

For investigative work with kangaroos, we were unable to identify an existing dataset with sufficient fine-scale resolution to identify the macropods to species level. As such, here we describe a dataset generated from a range of commercial and other species of macropods for the express purpose of forming the basis of a database that can be used to identify a seizure sample to a known species of origin.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Publisher: OMICS Publishing
Copyright: © 2013 Spencer PBS, et al.
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/30650
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