Fonterra implicated in rainforest destruction - again

Feature story - September 21, 2010
For the last five days a small Greenpeace team including New Zealander Suzette Jackson has been dodging security patrols, battling the heat and surviving harsh traveling conditions to reach a remote region of Indonesia to document a climate crime which is being supported by New Zealand’s largest company, Fonterra.

While documenting the clearance of rainforests in the area they were arrested by Indonesian police and taken into custody. Much of their footage was confiscated and they were questioned for several hours before being released.

Suzette reports on what they witnessed before being arrested...

The damage we're being confronted by is on a heartbreakingly massive scale. We're in East Kalimantan, in a region that used to be covered by rainforest. To say the land has been logged is an understatement. It looks more like the scene out of an apocalypse movie.

This is the ugly new frontier in East Kalimantan. This site is typical of the currently unsustainable practices of the palm products industry. It's pushing further and deeper into this country to meet the insatiable needs of companies like Fonterra, which alone buys almost one quarter of the world's annual palm kernel expeller (or PKE - in New Zealand this is commonly just referred to as palm kernel) trade. 'Our' dairy company is likely to spend $230 million on PKE this year alone.

Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world, and as a result, is the third largest greenhouse gas polluter of any nation on the planet.

The area we are in is being cleared by the palm products arm of Sinar Mas - an Indonesian conglomerate which deals in timber, pulp and paper, and palm products. Sinar Mas has a long record of rainforest destruction and conflict with local land owners.

If this sounds familiar you're right. Last year I was involved in a similar expedition, to Sumatra, in Indonesia, to witness first hand the destruction caused by the palm products industry. On that trip we were accompanied by Kim Knight, a reporter from the Sunday Star Times. Her subsequent expose later won a Qantas media award.

That story featured the image of a solitary excavator digging a canal to drain peatlands, on which a rainforest had recently stood. The area had been home to Sumatran tigers and orangutans, not to mention numerous small communities. The starkness of this image, showing man's ability to lay waste to the environment, was both powerful, and incredibly sad. Max Purnell, an independent stock farmer from Thames who was also travelling with us, was brought to tears by this sight, and many others like it.

Like many of you, we were shocked and outraged that New Zealand was supporting an environmental crime of such enormity.

Just over a year after Fonterra's activities were first reported on, the dairy giant is now importing palm kernel in greater quantities than ever - it is likely that more than one million tonnes of palm kernel will be imported for Fonterra's farms this year. That is nearly a quarter of the global palm kernel trade!

Knowing this, and seeing what's happening in East Kalimantan over the last few days, I feel angry.

Fonterra is risking New Zealand's clean green reputation for short term gain by being associated with some of the world's most notorious rainforest destroyers and climate criminals. And the damage continues at home. Fonterra's system of industrial dairying has been operating in New Zealand for only nine years, but in that time it has done enormous damage to New Zealand's land, and environment.  

The Fonterra Industrial Dairy Climate Crime

To make matters worse, Fonterra's industrial model is forcing farmers to increase stock numbers and production. This causes a raft of problems, including increased effluent levels, more incidences of waterways contamination, and feed shortages. Because of Fonterra's approach to business, New Zealand is now a long way from being self sufficient in terms of being able to provide dairy cow feed, particularly as events like last summer's drought in Northland are expected to become more commonplace. The irony of Fonterra claiming palm kernel feed (grown where rainforest used to stand) is needed to keep its herd alive through drought is obviously lost on the company - though the assertion is false, as there are plenty of other supplementary feeds options in New Zealand, like maize silage, that are readily available at times such as that.

Fonterra's actions are and will only create problems for Indonesia, New Zealand and the world, through the company's short sighted drive to increase profits. The dairy giant's actions are akin to someone stealing from their kids to pay off their gambling debts … it is a classic lose-lose scenario, the future of which is doomed.

Fonterra misleadingly describes palm kernel as a by-product. However, palm kernel feed is a cornerstone of the palm products business, and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Fonterra also claims that its partner in Indonesia, Wilmar International, only uses sustainably-sourced palm kernel expeller. But the facts tell another story. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) - a voluntary certification scheme set up in 2002 to develop ways to secure palm oil from sustainable sources - says only six per cent of the world's palm products are sustainably produced. And Fonterra farms buy almost one quarter of the world's palm kernel trade. Furthermore, Fonterra's rural products division, RD1, is in a joint venture with Wilmar International, which is known to buy over half its palm products from third party palm companies such as Sinar Mas, a company whose handiwork can be seen all around us.   

After a concerted global campaign on the palm products industry by Greenpeace and our supporters A number of international corporations, including Nestlé, Kraft, and Unilever have recently dropped contracts with Sinar Mas due to its environmentally destructive practices, and Burger King has committed to removing Sinar Mas products from its supply chain

Fonterra is becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage as companies like these respond to public concerns over the worst environmental impacts of the palm products industry.

Fonterra trades on New Zealand's clean green reputation. It's vital for New Zealand's future that it changes away from its industrial dairying.

Fonterra must stop importing palm kernel from destroyed rainforests.
Greenpeace is calling on both the Government and Fonterra to put a stop to the importation of palm kernel animal feeds - immediately.

TAKE ACTION: Send a mesage to Fonterra


2009 - Fonterra implicated in rainforest destruction