Sober Sunday reading

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 [2008], 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?

57 Comments Posted

  1. Yeah we should also have a program to rid this blog of useless spammers.
    I suggest breaking fingers as “part of good internet protection.”

  2. rocket182 – my windows are in an appalling state, due to the flocks of galah that fly constantly overhead. What can you recommend?

  3. Panda, “I am just a simple farmer looking for a cheap feed for my cows”
    And you shouldn’t be persecuted for that. Our ignorance (or blindness) is bliss.
    The only thing that might help is a gov’t that taxes bad stuff so that the bad feed isn’t cheap anymore. Carbon taxes. But who will vote for them?

  4. I thought the above photo was one of Canterbury’s Selwyn Plantation Boards clearing for further Dairying.

    But it seems that I was wrong I guess vandalism looks the same everywhere!!!!

    I am in full support of BjChip we all need to take note of what he says or Panda’s may very well become an extinct species.

  5. Panda

    If they did not sell the “by product” the product would be much less profitable overall. Right?

    So you ARE contributing to the profitability of deforestation when you buy this by product.

    Lignite is low value and “carbon rich” too.

    Looking for “a cheap feed for my cows” is remarkably like looking for a cheap source of power. It does not, as a problem statement, examine any consequence other than the immediate price.

    We very consistently applying the principle that we must put a cost on the destruction of the commons. We have no brief to “keep the poor poor” and that is an illogical conclusion to draw from our opposition to the use of this “cheap feed” or the burning of coal.

    As a country we have to pull back from the factory farm principles and go back to the pastoral preservation principles that stood us in such good stead for such a long time prior to the current “boom”.

    Pushing more livestock onto a piece of land than that piece of land can reasonably support is a deadly error in judgment for the species as a whole. We did what was economically convenient. We’ve built up an oil and energy intensive farming industry. We did NOT pay the true costs to the environment and we worked hard to leverage our wealth in fossil fuels. The result is a human population overshoot, not a small one.

    You worry about economic consequences. However, there is every reason to expect that human populations will crash as the fuel and planet run out. There is every reason to expect that this will be neither peaceful nor pleasant.

    Because each of us has been “optimizing” our own individual economic result in an economic environment which put NO cost on the abuse of the commons or the depletion of resources.

    So putting farms in NZ on a sustainable basis is actually a very good idea from the perspective of the survival of New Zealand and New Zealanders. That everyone should have to pay for this change in management style is perfectly reasonable as well. After all, if it is not possible to sustainably produce massive amounts of milk solids then the prices of things dependent of them does need to rise.

    Lots of stuff to think about. Not just the immediate question of “cheap feed for my cows”.

    Cities are sustainable and even a good idea, if they are managed properly. Much the same as farms.


  6. panda – keep the low value materials in the country, on the site of origin. By all means export .. honey or whatever .. high quality, low bulk end product, but for goodness sake don’t ship bulky, low value carbon rich materials away from the ground that produced it. Put it back in, in such a way that furthers your cause and keeps the quality of your soils high/sustainable

    Sorry ? low value carbon rich

    I am just a simple farmer looking for a cheap feed for my cows
    it is a bye product !!!what part of that don’t you understand
    why cant they be allowed to make money from it ?if I want to buy it

    this is typical elitist green thinking
    keep the Poor, Poor

    The environment will be better off while rich elitist Greens live in unsustainable cities

  7. It can be done though can’t it, as you have proven several times. I think key is playing a risky game with his attitude towards this issue, he is saving it for a more opportune time.

  8. Shunda

    I read the Borrow’s amendment and I truly hope that if Key “looks at it” he finds someone with greater legal and logical talents to write a new version.


  9. Principle? Leave it out! That’s the kind of thing Sue Bradford holds to.

    That’s only going to lead to heartache.

    Principle. Hah!

  10. “Just can’t avoid that tired framing, can you.”

    No, but I am still on a learning curve, I like your comment about the “fighting over the centre ground” It seems JK is fairly determined to govern from the centre on a number of issues. I wonder whether he really is more centrist in his thinking or if he is implementing a more long term strategy.

  11. I think Key needs to look at the Borrows amendment, and I think he will do it just before the next election.

    As bj predicted first and could well be true, but only as an election promise. Even Chester says he supports the law now. It won’t change before the election unless some new evidence emerges. And today’s announced steps from Key to tighten how the law is applied will make it even less likely this will happen.

    I thought you’d be pretty happy to hear that CYF will get some specific instructions not to hassle good parents like you, Shunda?

    Key is playing politics and I don’t like it, everybody should be concerned how the left and right have allowed our democracy to become so weak.

    Just can’t avoid that tired framing, can you. They are both mainstream politicians fighting over the centre ground. Principle is a luxury such people cannot afford when the electorate demands to be pandered to.

  12. Shunda – no, my opinion of Key hasn’t changed one iota. I’m pleased that yours has though. I am taking some pleasure in the difficulty ahead for anyone wanting to rework/overturn the repeal. My guess is, something slippy and slidey will be offered and people will swallow it, just as they have so many of Nationals sugar-coated dung-balls.

  13. I think Key needs to look at the Borrows amendment, and I think he will do it just before the next election.
    Key is playing politics and I don’t like it, everybody should be concerned how the left and right have allowed our democracy to become so weak.
    I had hope that key may have been of a different order but now I think he is revealing his true colours. I was particularly disgusted when I listened to what he said on this video before the election:

    Happy greenfly? has your opinion changed of Key?

  14. panda – keep the low value materials in the country, on the site of origin. By all means export .. honey or whatever .. high quality, low bulk end product, but for goodness sake don’t ship bulky, low value carbon rich materials away from the ground that produced it. Put it back in, in such a way that furthers your cause and keeps the quality of your soils high/sustainable. It’s like us exporting silage to India (for example). Daft as.

  15. panda – they may well ‘dig a big hole’ but here is, as you know, a better way. Looks like our obligations to sustainability extend beyond our shores as well.

    You say: we when you talk about farmers, but you seem to forget that many Greens are farmers also and they are members of the ‘enviro lobby’.

    Shooting NZ’s cow herd? Nah, that was a David Farrar dogwhistley/ scaremongery thing (for which he is well known). He made it up. Quite deceitful that.

  16. you know as well as I do that all they will do dig a big hole and bury it .it wont be evenly spread on soil as a biomass fert

    as for appeasement of course we don’t do it just to appease you but you have to admit nothing will ever be good enough for the enviro lobby

    wasn’t shooting 1/3 of the NZ cow herd your last great idea

  17. panda says that if we don’t take palm kernel, they’ll have to put it back into the ground. That sounds like an excellent idea! Exporting biomass instead of feeding back into local soils is a bad idea and NZ farmers shouldn’t be having a bar of it. I agree whole heartedly with you that us ‘urban liberals’ should clean up our own acts (I’m literally on the urban/rural boundary btw). As for;

    appeasing you lot means nothing
    no matter what we do you always come up with Something else !

    surely you’re not making improvements to your practices just to appease us!!! You are environmentalists also, aren’t you? Surely you are doing it for the sake of a better environment. As for Something else – yes.

  18. Here we go again
    The greens playing bash a farmer !!!

    why don’t you Urban liberals look at your own unsustainable city lifestyles

    oh that’s right that would mean you affect your support base and they would have to make changes in THEIR lifestyle

    Not Just meaningless changes like recycling or not using plastic supermarket bags, but costly change like doubling rates to make sure their Sewerage is treated !!!

    As for the palm kernel or PKE it is a byproduct of palm oil
    they don’t grow palm plantations for us, they grow it for the oil
    we use what is left over and if we didn’t feed it to cows they would have to burn it or bury it !!!!

    We know we are Not perfect !!! but appeasing you lot means nothing
    no matter what we do you always come up with Something else !

    I for one am getting heartily sick of being a convenient whipping boy for your new age religion

  19. No Greenfly, there are not that many “fundamentalists” in the country.
    What have you got against democracy any way?

  20. The fundamentalists demand that parliament sits under urgency to repeal the smacking law – Key bombarded with angry emails and palm kernel could carry foot and mouth to our shores! Wowsers!
    Jamie has it right – our lowland forests (and our lowland rivers) are gone or ruined – it’s hit and myth – what a way to start the day!

  21. This is depressing. One of the best pieces of “green” environmental journalism in years…credit to Kim Knight and the Sunday Star Times…

    Here’s some links:

    what RD1 tells farmers about PKE

    (I love the token use of “sustainability” in the last sentence, when they don’t even mention from where their product is sourced)

    a general article about palm oil development in Indonesia

    (It seems palm oil, like all monocultures, relies on a few other chemicals and fertilisers, and only lasts for twenty odd years before land is retired…The article also points out that much deforestation is a logging scam and not too closely related to palm oil development)

    Lets not forget that our “clean green” dairy and wider agriculture industry is founded off the almost complete destruction of our lowland forests, not to mention our relatively young and vigorous soils (ie not exploited for thousands of years). We need to stop believing our own myths.

  22. “As to ‘fertilizers’ Shunda – the amounts of oil/gas based fertilizers applied to pasture for the purpose of forcing grass growth in NZ is a genuine problem for a raft of reasons. ”

    Yes I agree, but modern horticulture is every bit as reliant on fertilisers and other chemicals as agriculture is.
    The palm kernel use in NZ is a surprise, it does appear to be unsustainable and I would have thought unnecessary, I guess it must be very cheap to buy.

  23. Greenfly,
    That they gain medical benefit is besides the point for this distinction, the classification relies on the source of nutrition.

    I think we can agree that to exceed the carrying capacity in the long term is non-green as such an ocurance vastly increases the chane that gaian life will cease to persist. Atleast it seems to me that this is a common thread amonst almost all interpritations of ‘green’.
    Past this what ‘green’ is depends highly on the persons personal interpritation of ‘green’. Some people think of ‘green’ as a religion or mental disorder, others as a pragmatic approach to the problems which face us. That which I pursue may be called ‘green’ in terms of its ultimate benfit for gaian survival, prehaps even the most ‘green’, but by no means do I attempt to abide by any definition of the concept.

    If we can agree that to activly pursue a path which leads to the likely destruction of gaian life is a non-green choice then it may be true what you say about carrying capacity but it does not neccacarily follow that to be at carrying capacity is always non-green. What I am saying is that it depends on the physical constraints.
    Consider this; in several billion years earth will almost definatly be destroyed due to the life cycle of the sun, well before that it will become uninhabitable even lacking human intervention, and that is assuming another threat does not present itself before hand. Because of this if ones goal is the ultimate survival of gaian life, the assumed goal of any green, it becomes necacary to develop a mechanism where-by this event would not stop the continuation of gaian life. Thus space travel is necesitated, presumibly in a inter-stelar form. As a general rule the smaller a society the smaller the scientific advance and thus the longer it would take to develop the needed technologies and as such a larger population, within the environmental constraints, will tend to be better for gaian survival due to its relation with scientific advance; the faster the advance the better due to the potential for an impact event or other intervention. As another note, the more scientific advance we make the more peoples worth of production one person can produce. So ultimatly as technology advances each additional productive individual will be able to support more unproductive individuals such as academics which drive further advance. However, each additional academic contributes less to the advance of science than the last and thus eventually becomes uneconomic to support. So, with an ever increasing productivity each additional individual can support more and more people at the same consumption level however unproductive jobs for those supported individuals are limited in effective number and thus past a certain point we get individuals whose production is supurfluous to needs in the absence of greater per capita consumption. These individuals become unproductive unemployed. When the number of unproductive unemploied rises so does the level of political unrest and with rising levels of political unrest scientific advance slows. Because of this population actually has a bell-curve rather than exponetial relationship with population. Thus the position of the optimum population level, be it before or at the carrying capacity, depends on the bell curve.
    So in short, yes the optimum population may be below the carrying capacity but it may also be at the carrying capacity. Where it is bellow then increasing animal levels to the carrying capacity would be beneficial up to a certain limit. So, meat eating is only non-green if the level of meat eating exceeds the level supportable by the difference between the carrying capacity and the optimum human number plus the optimum animal number. If that makes sense.

    I think I went off on a tangent there but meh, ive been meaning to air that for awhile now. As to the values we should hold, that is also a value judgement and thus is entirly subjective due to the nature of the diallelus. As you know, I am utilitarian and as such I would suggest only those values that produce a net benefit, or atleast do not produce a net loss, to ones cause should be held or encouraged.
    Additionally and as previously discussed, the preservation of life offers significant potential benefits to humans and to the survival of gaian life and thus, under my value system, should be encouraged so long as it does not start to produce a net loss.

  24. Sapient says (of carnivores):

    they can gain little to no nutrition from plant based diets.

    and that may be so, however carnivores can and do obtain medicinal benefit from the consumption of plants. Nutrition ain’t the whole story.

  25. My reaction to the importation of palm kernel expeller into NZ by farmers;

    stupid, short-sighted, shameful and one of the actions that is being shushed down by the farming sector. One of the actions.

    Lets tak about the induction of calves in dairy cows somwetime, shall we?

  26. Kiore,
    While that understanding may be correct at a form one level, however, it is incorrect even at level one biology. A carnivore is defined as a being which requires the entirety, or a large majority, of their nutrition to be obtained through the consumption of animals whilst an omnivore is able to acquire the vast majority, or even all, or its subsistence from either plants or animals and is thus not limited. The digestive systems of the two groups are very different, with omnivores generally displaying little to no specialisation whilst carnivores being so adapted to the consumption of meat that they can gain little to no nutrition from plant based diets. So whilst a omnivore may persist on the diet of a carnivore it is less efficient than the carnivore on that diet and is able to persist also on diets the carnivore is unable to persist on for it is a requirement of being a carnivore that this ability is lacking. In this way the two groups are mutually exclusive and as a result my logic is correct and you fail level one biology. Happy days/daze.

  27. Much as I sympathise with kiore1’s and Phil’s vegetarian/vegan stance, I note that an omnivore eats meat and non-meat products. In theory A carnivore sticks to meat products alone. So it follows that ‘carnivore’ is a subset of ‘omnivore’.

    Sapient, I am not convinced that ‘being green’ can encompass the limited human carrying capacity that you maintan. Couldn’t it have more to do with how we relate to the planet? Should we see ourselves as exploiting nature as far as possible and only preserve the non-human facets insofar as their perceived value to human (anthropocentric value system)? A problem with our current anthropocentric value system is that it is very reliant on the state of our epistemology: For instance how do we know whether or not something now apparently useless to humankind will not someday be shown to be invaluable for our very existence?

    Or should we not expand our value system, become more holistic and admit to the inherent value of non-human things? (In much the same way as Kant considered humans as an end in themselves). So we would be doing our utmost to live in harmony with the rest of the planet by following a ‘minimum impact’ existence. It likely follows that human meat consumption would be extremely low, if not zero. Of course it would also follow that there would be far less farmed animals – so that sheep, cow etcetera populations would soon fall dramatically. A major difficulty with this approach would be to resolve the tension between a ‘minimum impact on nature’ and ‘human progress’.

    The important point of difference is that rather than perpetuating the belief that humans can do anything they like with non-humans, isn’t it more ‘green’ to suggest that we should start by regarding nature as having a value apart from its perceived use to us? Does there have to be a valuer for something to be of value?

  28. kiore1 wonders:

    … if all these imports have been properly factored in when calculating food miles.


    Shunda challenges Phil to write a prerequisite for being ‘green’, not realising that he himself challenges Greens to define themselves ad nauseum
    and fails to put up a worthy ‘list’ that we might critique.
    As to ‘fertilizers’ Shunda – the amounts of oil/gas based fertilizers applied to pasture for the purpose of forcing grass growth in NZ is a genuine problem for a raft of reasons. To say ‘ vegetables are grown that way too’, is a bit dizzy. The fertilizers that kiore1 referes to are feeding pasture grasses. There are not many vegetarians grazing on rye grasses (that I know of).

  29. “But personal attacks aside, another import that carnivores rely upon in huge amounts is fertiliser. ”

    Really? and how would one apply phosphate to fertilise animals then?
    Guess what Kiore, fertiliser is used for plants not animals, and yes animals eat plants AND SO DO VEGETARIANS!!!
    If anyone is failing “school level logic” I don’t think it is Sapient! 🙂

  30. “(especially if you profess to be ‘green/environmentalist’..”

    Phil perhaps you could write a prerequisite list for being “green” I don’t imagine many people would comply.

  31. Personal attacks and nitpicking are quite pathetic, and I could easily respond in kind, by pointing out that Carnivore = eat meat; omnivore = eat meat and other things. So Omnivore is a subset of carnivore. So Sapient fails school level logic.

    But personal attacks aside, another import that carnivores rely upon in huge amounts is fertiliser. Now that Nauru has been stripped bare, in the process destroying its fishery, this is now imported from disputed territory in the Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Morocco for its phosphate deposits. I wonder if all these imports have been properly factored in when calculating food miles.

  32. ..He says carnivore, should be omnivore..
    ..It would appear he failed first form science..
    ..wouldint be the only thing..
    ..sad, just sad..

    Meat eating only conflicts with being green when you seek to maintain a population level past the meat-eating carrying-capacity.
    It is the rabid/hysteric vegan whom claims to be green, whom damages the vegan and green causes through his arguements, that is in denial.

  33. i’m not the ‘mad cow’..

    you carnivores are the ‘mad cows’..

    as well as being in a total state of denial..

    (especially if you profess to be ‘green/environmentalist’.. any way..


  34. Phil has finally come out and admitted he is little more than a cattle beast. Admitedly, I was leaning more towards him being a ram whom secretly wanted to be ewe, but a cattle beast will do nicely.
    A cattle beast with a soy-isoflavone-induced degenerative brain disease; mad cow?

  35. OK… did a pull on the threads. That’s clean. I am suspecting something in the comments feed.

    Greenfly and I have both noticed some “comments” which were basically content-free but which had links associated to various sales organizations. We didn’t go further than that, as it wasn’t bothering us a lot.

    T-bird just said that the comments was not valid feed.


  36. Hmm, although there are probably a few kilos of expeller for each litre of palm oil. I’m not intimately familiar with the process, obviously! 🙂

    Anything that adds to the profits of the rainforest choppers is going to encourage more rainforest chopping, surely.

  37. From Russel’s figures, the palm oil is worth over $1.50 per litre and therefore more than $1.50 per kilogram. The palm kernel expeller is worth only $0.317 per kilogram. This suggests that the palm kernel expeller is a minor byproduct, and it would not be worth planting palm plantations just to sell the palm kernel expeller. Therefore I don’t think New Zealand’s imports are doing much damage, but the other concerns are certainly real.


  38. I’d say so, altho note that we imported 1/4 of the world’s palm kernel expeller rather than palm oil in 2008.
    Also, Russel’s statement notes that:
    “Palm oil imports [into NZ] in 2008 were 22 million litres (valued at $35 million); whereas palm kernel imports [into NZ] were 1 billion kilograms (valued at $317 million).”

  39. What’s with all the spam tags is the RSS preview version of this post?

    I get: “price accutane viagra cheapest price low cost singulair drug amoxil online purchase lowest price for lipitor …” etc. at the beginning of the post, each with a link to a site called remodellingmyspace?


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