Farah Hancock reports on the curious case of kiwi in a South African Meat Safety Act update proposal

An oddity on a list of animals proposed to be covered by South Africa’s Meat Safety Act is New Zealand’s kiwi.

The unusual inclusion of a threatened taonga species on a list related slaughter rules has prompted New Zealand officials to get in touch with South African officials.

An updated list of proposed species to be covered by the Meat Safety Act appears to tighten up rules around of animal slaughter and processing requirements, especially for wild animals.

The reason for the proposals that is not made clear but could be related to concerns around the capture and killing of ‘bush meat’ is one way viruses can jump from animals to humans. 

New Zealand’s national icon, the kiwi are listed alongside ostrich and emu in the proposed updated schedule of animals covered by the act. Australia’s national icon the kangaroo is also on the list, however Australians have been eating their national icon and its meat for some time.

Kiwi included in a South African Meat Safety Act update proposal. 

The Meat Safety Act refers to how animals are killed and regulates abattoirs, including ensuring they’re approved and follow hygiene standards and animal handling procedures. 

The list includes domesticated animals as well as wild animals. Some of the animals included in the list, such as rhino, are endangered and their inclusion led to outrage.

South African officials responsible for the proposals issued a clarification late April.

“The Act does not make any decisions on which animals are to be slaughtered, but ensures that should an animal listed in the Schedule be slaughtered, all requirements stipulated in the Act would have to be complied with to ensure meat safety, but also to ensure compliance to animal welfare requirements.”

Decisions on what animals can be killed lies with South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. 

There are kiwi in overseas zoos in the United States, Germany and Netherlands but Newsroom was unable to find records of kiwi in South Africa.

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said officials had brought the matter to her attention.

“…I understand efforts are underway to engage with South African government on the matter with a view to having reference to kiwi removed from their legislation in line with the protection of kiwi as an endangered species.

“Kiwi are protected by New Zealand’s Wildlife Act and recognised as taonga, it is the first time since becoming Minister that an issue of this nature has come to my attention.”

Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand Fiona Gordon calls the inclusion bizarre. 

“I am certainly not aware of any kiwi breeding facilities in South Africa. This would be an absolutely shocking find if it were the case. I informed the New Zealand Department of Conservation about the inclusion of the “kiwi” on the proposed schedule and they confirmed that they will be looking into this matter.”

She said while the inclusion appears to be an anomaly she worries the expanded list opens a door to greater commercialisation of wild meat. 

There are game safaris in South Africa where the animals you hunt can be consumed. 

“Most wild game killed in South Africa is killed in the open. Obviously you don’t herd them onto a truck and take them to an abattoir. If you’re doing that in the open you’re not meeting the standards of the Meat Safety Act.”

In the last few years she’s heard of more mobile abattoirs being constructed to the standards of the Meat Safety Act.

“I’ve read quite a few papers from the game farming industry in South Africa around wanting to increase local consumption of wild meat, but also looking to export wild meat. What looks like a minor adjustment to a schedule associated with an act, is cog in a greater machine.

“If a species from New Zealand can make it onto this South African meat list then it really throws into doubt all the other species on the list as well. What kind of criteria have they actually applied?”

Not very tasty

Canterbury Museum senior curator natural history Paul Scofield has dealt with dead kiwi as part of his job.  

“They have a ridiculous layer of fat between the skin and the muscle, almost like the blubber of a whale. It’s really quite unpleasant smelling. It’s probably related to their diet of grubs and worms and anything else they happen to get in the soil.”

The distinctive odour is one reason why he thinks dogs are a threat to the birds, they’re easy to sniff out. 

He’s not sold on the suitability of kiwi for the dinner table. History suggests kākāpō, which aren’t on South Africa’s list, are a tastier option. 

“I guess if you’re on the bones of your arse and you’re after a good fatty meal then it would be a good fatty meal, but if you’ve got the opportunity to be selective you would much rather go for a pigeon or a parrot I would imagine.”

Newsroom has contacted the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and asked why kiwi was included, no response has been received.

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