Key Points:

After trying to persuade Australians to eat kangaroo, emu and crocodile meat over the past few decades, the nation's agribusiness leaders have turned their attention to the ship of the desert.

Last week, senior public servants were served camel at a barbecue in Canberra as part of a campaign to add the meat to Australia's bushtucker menu.

Camels, imported from the Canary Islands in 1840, have bred in such large numbers that the population is out of control. It is estimated that more than a million of the beasts now roam the Outback, inflicting major damage on desert ecosystems. As ruminants, with a tendency to expel greenhouse gases from both ends, the animals also add to global warming.

"We are very concerned that as the climate changes and the continent dries out further, the camel impact will worsen as they throw more pressure on water resources," said Dr Glenn Edwards, lead author of a study from the Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre.

Murray McGregor, an agribusiness lecturer, believes that eating camel could provide the perfect solution. "It's a bit like beef - it's as lean as lean, and it's an excellent health food." But Australians may prove unwilling to toss a camel steak on the barbie. While it may not have the same symbolic importance as the kangaroo, it has played a big role in Australian history.

Under the care of Afghans, the one-hump Camelus dromedarius made a substantial contribution to the development of the Outback.

By 1901 there were an estimated 6000 working camels in Australia, and they were still being used as recently as the 1950s. But as they were replaced by trains and motor vehicles, camels were allowed to run wild.

Half a century later, Australia is counting the cost.