Australians were unwittingly fed donkey meat, goat and maggot-ridden offcuts by some of the country's leading meat producers, according to newly revealed royal commission findings.
Papers presented to Justice Albert Edward Woodward in the 1980s and made public for the first time describe Hammond Wholesale and Retail Meats trimming off the dye legally required on pet food and selling it for human consumption while another unnamed company regularly falsified halal certificates.
Some companies passed off kangaroo, horse and other pet-food-only grade cuts as human-grade mince, while others sent low-quality scraps off to be used for dim sim fillings.
Meat rejected for export to the United States from Souery Pty Ltd, was described by a veterinary officer as ''rubbish and floor sweeping'' and ''eligible for pet food only'', but was sold to unsuspecting buyers in Adelaide.
The cleanliness standards at one Katherine abattoir in the Northern Territory were also described as filthy with ''maggots … very much in evidence''.
Justice Woodward said there was no doubt Melbourne meat supply company Steiger's Meat Supply ''purchased considerable quantities of pet food which was injected into the human food chain''.
He said the owners of the business then attempted to cover up the operations and committed perjury so the scale of the operation could not be accurately assessed, but he suggested the substituted meat was freely available in Victoria and much of the east coast of Australia.
''The flesh of donkeys, goats, kangaroos, buffaloes and horses, killed in the field and without regard to any consideration of hygiene … was used indiscriminately to produce food for human consumption.''
The details of the scandal have only come to light as the result of the country's longest-running freedom of information battle by veteran Fairfax journalist Jack Waterford.
Waterford first requested the documents in December 1982 on the day the Freedom of Information Act came into existence. After the decades-long battle he was finally given access to ''Appendix H'' of the 1980 royal commission into meat substitution last week.
In total Justice Woodward named 35 cases requiring further investigation and/or criminal proceedings.
Some, but not all, of the companies were sanctioned and faced prosecution under the Trade Practices Act, as the $100 penalty imposed under the Export Act did not offer any deterrent.
The documents also name Mr J. Bernhard, who also operated under the alias J. Curtis, who purchased at least 85 tonnes of pet meat in one year and repackaged it as boneless beef.
''Bernhard was buying kangaroo meat from Queensland and horse meat in Victoria, ostensibly for distributing to retail pet shops but was selling at least some of the pet meat to dim sim manufacturers.''
The owner of Hammond Wholesale & Retail Meats said he kept greyhounds and bought $160,000 of pet meat in 10 months. His purchases would have fed 3000 dogs and he admitted that about half of the meat he sold for human consumption was pet meat.
Justice Woodward also found that Jakes Meats Pty Ltd substituted buffalo meat for export quality boneless beef or bull.
The documents also refer to previously unreported, large-scale substitution of halal meat, which sets down that Muslims may only eat meat from permitted animals and then only if those animals have been slaughtered in accordance with detailed ritual procedure.
Justice Woodward said the operators of one large meat company, which he did not name, routinely falsified halal certificates.
''The size of the operation can be gauged from the fact that, when found out, some $2 million worth of meat certified in this way was still being held in storage.''
This week's release of ''Appendix H'' comes more than 30 years after the main document was made available to the public. While many of the companies named faced sanctions and had export certification cancelled, some are still involved in the meat industry.