Scientists like to make people think.
That was probably University of Southern Queensland vice chancellor’s research fellow Dr Ben Allen’s intention when he proposed exporting wild dogs to China, transferring their control costs to Asian consumers.
Instead he got howls of outrage, death threats and convoluted media coverage.
In China eating dogs is not frowned upon, in fact there are even festivals to celebrate devouring canines.
Could there then be hope for Australia’s wild dogs, the bane of graziers’ lives, to become a new protein export?
Dr Allen sees wild dogs hanging on fences and he sees waste.
Dingoes are Australia's sacred cow.
“We have wild dogs we’re culling and leaving to hang on a fence, yet there’s millions of people who would be happy to eat those things,” he said.
“Why not give it to them?
“There would be some people who would argue that it is unethical not to.
“We’ve got to have these discussions about bigger picture, sustainable living.”
Dr Allen talks about the future of humanity and cultural differences that must be overcome if we are to continue on a path of unbridled population growth.
“The talk I’m giving is not so much about wild dogs as it is about how you get sustainable use to work properly,” he said.
“Really the talk is about, in this concept of sustainable use of wildlife, how do we get things working smoothly, what we call a stable supply chain. From the paddock to the plate, how do we get that to be nice and sustainable and profitable, because if any one link is not working right then the whole thing shuts down.
“Personally I think harvesting wild dog meat is a great idea, but if anyone wanted to do it they’re going to face a mountain challenges, not the least of which is social opposition,” he said.
“At the moment your ‘roo shooter will shoot a kangaroo and put that in the truck, he’ll shoot a pig and put that in the truck, he’ll shoot a wild goat and put that in his truck, but he’ll shoot a wild dog and leave it on the ground. Why not put that in the truck too?” Dr Allen says research and development would need to be undertaken to determine whether Australian dogs could fit a niche market.
“The first step is to determine whether people want it,” he said.
“Well, 30 million dogs are eaten in South East Asia every year, so presumably there might be a market.
“We’re only shooting 10,000 to 15,000 a year, if we can only supply that and they’re eating 30 million we’re never going to be a big player.”
On that front, he said, there were probably people in South East Asia who wanted to eat dog meat but did not, because of animal welfare concerns.
“So maybe if they have an option of something that has been humanely slaughtered we can supply them,” he said.
“We’re only ever going to have something like a high-value, low-volume premium product.
“So we’ve got to do some work about what is the competition and where would we fit in the mix.
“Is it going to be chilled meat, is it going to be tinned meat, or is it going to be jerky?
“What’s the product in the market?”
He said then more practical matters of logistics kicked in.
“How do we get that from the paddock to the plate?
“Are we going to farm them in cages, or are we going to wild harvest them?”
He said with dogs a wild harvest would be most appropriate, simply using those already killed by shooters and trappers.
“There is a lot of work to do to get any wildlife harvesting business up and running, it can take decades.
“It’s just fascinating to me that dingoes are Australia’s sacred cow even though they’re not from around here and to even suggest it is so offensive that 6000 or 7000 people will sign a petition to stop an entire conference or at the very least stop me from even mentioning it because it is so extreme.
“What’s so extreme about it when we already have a kangaroo industry?
“We have to be talking about these things, not everyone in the world can raise sheep, cattle and goats.
“Wild dogs are suited to Australia, kangaroos are suited to Australia, we can certainly use some of these things. The dogs are already dying, so it’s not about should we or should we not kill them. There’s a detachment of people in cities of where they think their food comes from and the realities of producing that food.
“It’s all well and good to sit back and say ‘we don’t want you to take that wild dog and sell it to someone’, but would they be wanting to pay $50 a kilo for their lamb chops if we had no free-range lamb because of wild dogs?”
“But that’s what we’re looking down the barrel of in 10, 20 or 30 years if we have no rangeland production of sheep. We’ve got to think about this stuff rationally.
“Outside of social media, where you get all the armchair critics and keyboard warriors, there is support for the idea. You don’t get rational discussions on Facebook, you get it at international forums,” he said.
“I hope that at the end of it people don’t go away thinking about wild dog meat, but rather how can we make the kangaroo industry better, or how can we get the camel meat market going, or how can we make use of crocodiles better.”
“It takes a long time to get these things going, but that process might become shorter if you follow a clear research and development plan,” he said.
“Everyone forgets the process and wants to talk about dog meat.”
Did he expect death threats and outrage at his proposal?
“The reaction people have given really just illustrates what we’re trying to talk about at the conference,” said Dr Allen.