SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Move over, beef. Camel meat could become the newest Australian export as early as 2012 if an Egyptian businessman is successful with his bid to open a slaughterhouse and meat processing plant in a rural South Australian town.
Magdy El Ashram's ambitions would not only bring camel meat, which he says is healthier than beef, to dinner tables around the world, it would also reduce a feral camel population in the Australian outback that has caused serious ecological problems, and create up to 300 jobs in a place that badly needs them.
"Camel meat is much better than beef...it's the lesser fat than all the meat kingdom. If you put beef, mutton, kangaroo, emu any meat, then camel meat will be the lesser fat than all of them," he said.
"Camel is a popular food in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, and Australia has the resources to provide meat to people who like it."
Originally introduced in 1840, mainly from India to provide transport, there are currently more than 1 million feral camels roaming over 3 million square km of outback Australia, breeding at a rate that doubles their population every nine years.
The Australian Federal Government has provided A$19 million ($20 million)over four years to assist in managing feral camels, and a camel culling program began in 2010. The animals cause more than A$10 million a year in damage to fragile outback ecosystems.
"Controlling the numbers decreases the pressure on the landscape in dry conditions and will result in fewer camels dying very cruelly due to starvation, dehydration and trampling," said Jane Ferguson, Managing Director at Ninti One Limited, a management firm in charge of the Australian Feral Camel Managing Project.
"Commercial camel operations need to be driven by economic considerations and need to address the animal welfare issues associated with mustering and transporting wild camels over large distances."
El Ashram said he applied Friday to the Port Pirie rural council for permission to develop what would eventually be the largest abattoir in Australia, capable of processing 100,000 animals a year.
This would also include donkey and goat meat destined for the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Wild camel feeds largely on grasses and could be viewed as a high quality "organic" alternative to purpose farmed stock, according to El Ashram. Licensed musterers would deliver the animals.
"Obviously it's a good environmental solution and it will bring important employment alternatives to the area," Port Pirie Mayor Brenton Vanstone said.
And the flavour?
El Ashram describes camel meat as similar to beef in the shape and smell, but richer in iron and vitamin C than both beef and lamb.
"The only thing about camel is, if it's aged it's a bit chewy," he said. "But that's the same case with an old cow."
Editing by Elaine Lies