Kim Knight at the Sunday Star Times provides welcome investigative journalism today in a story and major feature on the origin of the massive amount of palm kernel expeller (PKE) that New Zealand imports for supplementary feed on dairy farms. She writes:
It looks like Armageddon. It’s just a palm plantation.
Palm oil is a controversial component of everything from cosmetics to confectionery. Its use has been blamed on the destruction of tropical rainforest and habitat for the Sumatran tiger and orang-utan. Public discontent is growing. Just last week, Cadbury New Zealand announced it had shelved plans to use palm oil in its Dairy Milk chocolate.
But oil is not the only product that comes from palm.
Palm kernel expeller or PKE is a product made from its crushed and processed fruit. Unlike palm oil, its use has received minimal press. Two weeks ago, the Sunday Star-Times travelled to Indonesia, with an unofficial environmental and rural sector delegation, to investigate this trade first-hand.
Russel pointed out the massive increase in palm kernel imports last year, and the latest figures show it has again doubled in the last year. We imported 1.1 million tonnes in 2008.
Kim’s feature story quotes Russel’s speech in Parliament where he said:
Increases in consumption of palm kernel mixtures or `cakes’ by New Zealand agriculture over the last seven years, excluding this year , would need up to 900,000 hectares of rainforest to be cleared for palm oil to meet the increased demand if new plantations were required … equivalent to clear-felling rainforest four times the size of Te Urewera National Park.
So, adding in 2008’s 1.1 million tonnes the area may be now more like all of New Zealand’s National Parks combined! The scale is mind-boggling. Just picturing 1.1 billion kgs of PKE is difficult – that’s the same weight at 2.2 billion packs of butter or 200,000 male Asian elephants!
This morning Russel notes the impact that New Zealand’s addiction of PKE is having on our own farmers:
Just this week members of the NZ Grain Council wrote to the Green Party concerned about large-scale PKE imports because it is environmentally destructive, is a biosecurity risk, and is leading to the ‘demise of the NZ domestic grain industry’.
The Farmer’s Weekly magazine reported last week that New Zealand grain farmers have been hit by a ‘perfect storm’ with ‘a large carryover of maize, wheat and barley from last season’. Unsustainable imported feeds like palm kernel are used instead of locally-grown supplementary feeds.
New Zealand is skating on thin ice here. We countered “food miles” claims by pointing to our sustainable and natural outdoor grass-fed farming practice, yet the whistle has now been blown on an increasing and large-scale addiction to a terribly destructive imported ‘fast-food’.
Cadbury realised pretty quick they were on a hiding to nothing with palm oil in their chocolate; will our Government and industry act to prevent this sabotage of our ‘clean and green’ economic advantage?