Introducing a new report on the environmental impact of PKE use, Greenpeace New Zealand (GPNZ) climate campaigner Nathan Argent wrote in a blog post: “Since 2009, Greenpeace has repeatedly highlighted the links between PKE, Fonterra’s industrial dairying model and deforestation in Southeast Asia.
He added: “Yet Fonterra, and the government, have failed to address these concerns and imports of this palm product have sky-rocketed, threatening to damage New Zealand’s important reputation as a clean green producer.”
“So the game is up. It’s time for Fonterra to step up, kick PKE out of its dairy feed chain, and start being part of the solution to climate change, rather than the problem,” Argent said.
French-based scientist Dr Rob Carlton's report is entitled ‘The Carbon Cost of Palm Kernel Expeller from Malaysia and Indonesia’, and states that said 1.4m tonnes of palm product are imported into New Zealand each year to fuel Fonterra’s dairy operations.
Commenting on the study, Argent said: “The huge carbon footprint of palm kernel is due to the well-documented destruction of both rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands in Indonesia and Malaysia by the palm industry,” said Argent.
Growing global demand for PKE – New Zealand currently buys around over one third of global stocks – and co-products such as crude palm oil meant that increasing amounts of forest and peatland were cleared and converted to palm plantation, Carlton said.
These areas were vital for storing greenhouse gases, which when released helped drive climate change, he said, while serious biodiversity losses were also linked to deforestation.
Since 2000, volumes of PKE used by New Zealand (NZ) dairy farmers (almost of all of whom are Fonterra members) had “increased dramatically”, Carlton said. Due to forest destruction, he said that use of the product could be responsible for up to 8.91m tonnes of NZ carbon emissions per year.
Carlton noted that GPNZ commissioned his report to assess the impact of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions associated with PKE production, with reference to Fonterra’s 2009 report ‘Carbon Footprint Measurement’.
Greenpeace said in a statement that Fonterra eventually released a copy of this report to it under the NZ Official Information Act, “but with almost all input data and results blanked out…Parts of Fonterra’s report suggest that no climate impacts were attributed to PKE.”
Where Fonterra’s 2009 report assessed the carbon footprint of Fonterra products – on a life cycle analysis (LCA) basis – Carlton said. “Within the Fonterra study, the carbon cost of PKE was accounted for in a small proportion of high-input farms.
“However, feed supplements are used by 85-90 per cent of NZ dairy farms …giving rise to the concern that the study underestimates the true impact of PKE on the carbon footprint of Fonterra products.”
Fonterra’s study was also based on 2004/5 data, he added, but by 2010/11 NZ imports of PKE had increased 11-fold. “These factors have the potential to significantly change the carbon footprint of New Zealand dairy products,” Carlton said.
Invited to comment on the GPNZ report, John Hutchings, Fonterra general manager, sustainability and carbon, told DairyReporter.com: “Fonterra has already commissioned an update to our carbon footprint released in 2009, and undertaken by three independent research institutes, the University of New South Wales, AgResearch and SCION.
“The work Fonterra has done towards this has contributed to the Global Dairy Agenda for Action on Climate Change. This initiative was developed to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry on a global basis.”