HORSE, donkey and possum meat could be on the dining menu for the first time as SA Health explores adding the animals to a legal consumption list.
The proposed culinary changes have been condemned by animal groups.
The State Government is opening consultation on a revised Food Standard Code definition of game meat allowing buffalo, camel, deer, donkey, horse, pig and possum to be slaughtered and legally sold.
Current law means none of these animals can legally be sold for eating in SA, despite some domesticated horses and donkeys already being butchered for export mainly to Europe and China.
Convenor of the Animal Justice Party South Australia, Geoff Russell, said state MPs would not have the courage to back up the changes with their own names.
“That’s the thing with these kind of industries. People who grow broccoli will proudly chop off a head and display it for a camera … not so people who kill horses or possums,’’ he said
“The newly proposed game industries are particularly obnoxious because they produce meats that people don’t even like.
“This has been the case with the kangaroo industry for decades. They export just 4000 tonnes into markets with over a billion people.”
Greens MLC Tammy Franks said the inclusion of horse meat in SA shops, even as wild game meat, would be controversial as a major cultural change.
Domesticated horses will still only be allowed to be killed for export or pet meat in SA.
“This objection goes back to horses being a companion animal and the role horses have held in Australia,’’ Ms Franks said.
“It is out of step with cultural expectations and it is controversial, the idea of eating horse here, in the UK and the US, and another issue is the health implications given the medications given to horses are not suitable for human consumption.
“This is a big step and SA Health will have to think carefully about the medical implications.’’
The Food Standards Code game meat definition will be updated from the current legal list which only includes; goat, rabbit, hare, kangaroo, wallaby and bird.
But hunting permits will still be required for some species.
“While the proposed game meats will be permitted to be sold for consumption in SA, the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 restricts protected species (like possum) from culling, and the harvesting of these animals is only permissible under permit,’’ a Health Department spokeswoman said.
“Any South Australians wanting to hunt protected species in SA would need a permit as per the legislation.”
It would also be legal to eat or sell possum meat.
The spokeswoman stressed none of the additional species of animal could be sold for human consumption in SA until the new standards were completed in September next year, with consultation open until February, and if the changes go ahead the animals must be killed from their “wild state”.
The new species added to the SA list are copied from the national Food Standards Code, which was updated in March 2016. While the code is national, it has to be enforced with state laws and breaches can only be acted on by state authorities.
SAMEX abattoir general manager Gary Marriott welcomed the consultation, which he said would clarify “very complex” laws that differed in each state.
Horse meat sales were legalised in WA in 2010, after a 20-year campaign by a Perth butcher, but due to a backlash from the anti-horse racing industry, which feared former race horses would suffer, the practice has not spread.
“You cannot eat horse here (in SA), and there needs to be a national policy so that industry knows where it is going,’’ Mr Marriott said.
“There has been a fair interest in donkeys but they are not allowed for human consumption in SA and other states but they are in NSW and in WA, so if they are tidying that up that is good.
“I have not struck anyone who wants to eat a possum.”
SAMEX is a major slaughterer of wild camels, and recently bought a Peterborough abattoir which is one of only two in Australia to butcher wild and domesticated horses for human-consumption export, allowable since 1977.
The new food rules come despite householders who have wild possums being subjected to strict Environment Department protection laws in SA which do not even allow for the relocation of the animals caught in their roof cavities.
Possums are highly territorial and the householder must release the possum nearby, after trapping and sealing the roof space, so that it can remain in the immediate vicinity.
Something Wild co-owner and game meat expert Richard Gunner said there was a possum meat industry in Tasmania, from where the company sourced wallaby meat.
“There won’t necessarily be a big demand for possum just because the law has changed, and there are a whole lot of rules still that apply,’’ he said.
Mr Gunner said there were many wild donkeys in the APY lands and there was a market for these animals in China.
“There will be an immediate demand for locally killed deer, for the domestic market,’’ he said.
“Possum would be an extremely small market, camel and buffalo probably won’t change.
“Our wallaby supplier from Tasmania does produce possum.
“I have never eaten donkey but in China it is a very popular meat and there have been Chinese people here in SA with an interest in export. Horse potentially as well for export to China.’’
The new laws will also increase fees for council inspections of food outlets. Small venues will now pay, $118 up from $85.50 and large outlets $294 up from $214.
“Between 2002 and 2014 there was no increase in fees and the Local Government Association of SA advocated strongly for local councils to be able to charge more,’’ the Health Department spokeswoman said.
“We believe the pricing gets the balance right between recovering costs for councils while keeping it fair for food businesses.”