VIVA!, the British vegan and animal welfare organisation, across two decades has successfully created a consumer campaign to stop the sale of kangaroo meat in that country’s supermarkets. They have been able to convince celebrities like footballer David Beckham to live without kangaroo leather. Here’s their story as told to me.
“IN 1994, SHORTLY after the launch of Viva!, our attention was drawn to a new ‘product’ range in Tesco’s meat chillers, simply labelled ‘kangaroo steaks’. We discovered that this so-called delicacy was the product of the largest slaughter of land-based wildlife in history — hunted at night in the vast outback, with powerful four-track vehicles and mesmerising search lights, the startled animals are shot, supposedly in the head.
“We obtained video footage of a kangaroo shooter in action, exposing a cruel and barbaric blood bath. The footage showed animals being shot in the throat, their legs slashed open, a hook inserted and they were hauled on to the back of the vehicle, still gasping in agony. Large, still-conscious males were dragged up by their testicles.
“When females were shot, the first action of the killer was to search their pouches for babies. Having found one, he threw it to the ground and stamped on it, grinding his heel on the ‘joey’s’ head. He walked away, leaving it writhing. Obviously, there is no justification for this wildlife massacre and our research revealed the excuses offered by the Australian government were lies.
“Determined to stop this cruelty we targeted Tesco — persistently campaigning for two years to show the truth of the matter to consumers. We printed specific materials for their customers, organising hundreds of local groups outside their stores to distribute it, and supplied information to the media. The culmination was a double-page spread in the News of the World on kangaroo killing; Tesco dropped the trade four days later. That was 26 September 1997. As a result Somerfield also dropped sales, cancelling an entire frozen food range.
“In 1998, Viva!’s director Juliet Gellatley was invited to Australia by various wildlife groups and created a storm of controversy — doing about 50 media interviews and a press conference at Canberra’s Parliament House filmed live on national and regional TV news. She returned to the UK to reinvigorate the campaign — including a demonstration outside Sainsbury’s supermarket’s headquarters in London on 24 July 1998.
“Actress, Pam Ferris, cut up her Sainsbury’s loyalty card in an act of defiance against the industry in front of Australian and British radio and TV cameras. It was followed the next day with 100 demonstrations in the UK outside Sainsbury’s stores and in Australia at restaurants that sold the meat.
“Representatives of the killing industry came to the Brighton demo, desperate to protect their markets. It did them no good because Sainsbury’s also dumped ‘roo meat, followed closely by all major supermarkets — 1,500 stores in all. It led to Juliet being presented with the Australian Wildlife Protection Council award for services to wildlife.”
Despite the victory in Britain, sales of kangaroo meat and leather continued in Australia and the global market was on the rise. Hoping to spread the word and save “these unique and wonderful animals from further persecution” Juliet Gellatley returned to Australia in 2002. She appeared on the popular 60 Minutes, exposing key issues with the kangaroo slaughter. She visited the home of a kangaroo shooter to debate the industry. The hope was to build a collaborative network across countries. To some extent that has succeeded.
Viva! told me that in 2006 they had another win when, after a four-year campaign, David Beckham finally ditched his controversial kangaroo skin football boots in favour of synthetic ones reinforcing their Save the Kangaroo campaign.
Their next victory was in 2008 when they congratulated Booker Cash and Carry for taking an ethical lead and dropping sales of ‘exotic meat’, including kangaroo, to help preserve species after a meeting in which we provided compelling evidence of the cruelty and unsustainable nature inherent in the kangaroo trade. A second leading cash and carry company, Makro, removed sales of kangaroo meat due to similar concerns in 2009.
Kangaroo skin football boots made the headlines once again in 2011, after it was discovered that large manufacturers (such as Adidas) were moving away from using the leather due to pressure from Viva! and other groups. A quick check in 2019 indicated the big four (Adidas, Nike, Umbro and Puma) still used some kangaroo leather.
Kangaroo meat began making a resurgence in British supermarkets around 2013 when budget chain Lidl introduced a promotional burger range. Viva! Continued its campaign. “We launched an ongoing campaign calling for an end to trade in kangaroo, which secured major press coverage in The Sun newspaper. It didn’t stop there as frozen food giant Iceland followed suit in 2015 with the introduction of so-called ‘exotic meats’ — including kangaroo.
“Another supermarket chain, Morrisons, was also slammed in the national media for putting consumers at risk by selling kangaroo steaks and recommending the meat be cooked “medium rare”. Soon after the deluge of emails from Viva! supporters Morrisons too dumped the range.
“As kangaroo meat returned to both Tesco and Sainsbury’s Viva! condemned them publicly and soon both chains again dropped sales. Lidl and Iceland dropping their kangaroo meat lines in 2018. Lidl’s significant animal welfare issues and health concerns had been forwarded to Lidl UK’s Managing Director.”
This model campaign, carried out over two decades, showed how persistent the Australian kangaroo industry has been but also that persistence in return paid off.
— Excerpt from a forthcoming book by Maria Taylor on Australia’s uneasy and deadly history since settlement
with its native wildlife. Can we replace disrespect and removal with understanding and appreciation?