Home Anty-Climax Kiss and sell: Will Chinese demand transform Australia’s cane toad problem into...

Kiss and sell: Will Chinese demand transform Australia’s cane toad problem into a princely export?


Australia weathered the global economic crisis better than most countries thanks largely to the preceding decade of bumper coal and gas exports driven by insatiable Chinese demand.

Now, a Queensland entrepreneur is hoping Chinese demand will solve one of northern Australia’s most pressing natural problems: cane toads.

Charleville meat processor John Burey is planning a trip to Beijing in February to determine the viability of exporting cane toads to China.

It is estimated that for every Australian citizen there are now 10 cane toads (approximately 200 million). Australia considers the toads noxious pests due to the poisonous venom stored throughout their bodies, which has been known to kill snakes and crocodiles and can cause temporary blindness and severe pain in humans.

However, in keeping with the adage ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’, the Chinese have been using cane toads as an ingredient in traditional medicines for generations. The toad toxin is used in a wide range of treatments, from skin remedies to heart stimulation to alleviating toothache. And cane toad meat is also considered a delicacy in some regions of China.

The cane toad is one of the great failures of environmental engineering in Australia. Imported from the Americas in the 1930s to control beetles that were damaging sugar cane plantations, the imperious cane toad quickly spread across northern Australia, leaving authorities nostalgic for the days when the beetles were their biggest headache.

But soon Australia might have the last laugh, transforming this tale of toad embarrassment into serious export revenue. If he and his company, United Game Processors, can negotiate quarantine and regulatory hurdles (cane toad toxin is classified a class-one drug in Australia), Burey could soon have a whole new eco-friendly recycling business on his hands. He told the ABC this week:

“Initial thoughts are a bit like collecting aluminium cans — anyone can go out and collect them and lob them off at our collecting points and we would come around in our trucks and pick them up after that…. But instead of sausage sizzles and charity drives, pie drives that sort of stuff — they could do a toad drive.”

Photo: Stephen Barnett