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Activist photos spark local roo shooting investigation

The NSW government and police are jointly investigating two kangaroo shooting incidents after a confrontation between shooters and animal activists near Michelago, 50 kilometres from the ACT border.

Photographs taken by the Canberra activists of a vehicle carrying racks of gutted kangaroo carcasses have been emailed to Australian animal welfare representatives in Russia who are currently meeting government officials to discuss concerns over kangaroo meat exports.

Speaking to The Canberra Times from Moscow, Wildlife Protection Association of Australia director Mark Pearson confirmed the Michelago photographs had been included in presentations to European Union officials in Brussels this week. The photos, taken by members of a registered animal welfare charity called Animal Army, were also shown to Russian agriculture ministry officials.

''These photos raise hygiene issues, particularly with regard to contamination. That is something the EU and Russia are very concerned about,'' Mr Pearson said.

The NSW Office of the Environment has confirmed 20 kangaroo carcasses were seized and classified as unfit for human consumption, following an inspection earlier this week. The office confirmed it was assisting an investigation by Queanbeyan police into two alleged ''kangaroo offences'' near Michelago. Detective senior constable Phil McCloskey said illegal shooting of kangaroos was ''a significant problem'' in rural regions close to Canberra.

''Many people seem to be unaware that kangaroos are a protected species, and it is illegal to shoot them without obtaining a permit,'' he said.

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Commercial kangaroo shooters are required to enrol in a food safety program, and obtain a game meat processing licence. Vehicles used to transport kangaroo carcasses must be regularly checked for safety and hygiene, and numbered tags must be attached to all carcasses.

Russia placed a temporary ban on kangaroo meat imports from Australia three years ago because of concerns about hygiene and the possibility of E.coli contamination. The EU is the biggest importer, but concerns have been raised about hygiene and use of sulphur dioxide as a preservative. The EU has banned use of sulphur dioxide in meat products after tests established it was an irritant for asthma sufferers.

Mr Pearson said the photographs showed ''eviscerated carcasses, with body cavities open to dust and other pollutants'', swinging from the back of a vehicle. He said Russian and EU officials who saw the photographs ''were very firm in voicing opinions that they expect any form of meat processing must meet the highest standards of hygiene'' as well as animal welfare.

Animal Army spokesperson Marcus Fillinger said he and another activist confronted the shooters on a public road after they left a property near Michelago.

''We know there is a huge illegal industry built on supplying kangaroo meat to the pet food trade, because there are no inspectors on site to ensure regulations are followed,'' he said.

Sources working at local animal shelters have told The Canberra Times they know of several outlets in Canberra, Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Cooma that buy and sell illegally harvested kangaroo meat as pet food.

The NSW Food Authority regulates the killing and processing of kangaroo meat under its Wild Game Meat food safety accreditation program. A spokeswoman said all licensed retail meat premises in NSW were required to purchase meat from approved and licensed suppliers, ''so a butcher should know where the meat has come from.'' Similar regulations apply in the ACT.