Fonterra's Climate Crimes: A call to action

Feature story - November 17, 2009
Just before dawn this morning Greenpeace activists shut down a mine pit at the Southland ‘New Vale’ lignite coalmine. This was the third of a series of actions targeting Fonterra’s climate crimes. Support is now building for a public protest at the Fonterra Corporate HQ.

Greenpeace activists shut down a pit of a southern lignite coal mine used by Fonterra.

The dirty lignite coal is used by Fonterra to help fuel operations at its Edendale dairy factory in Southland. Like the two palm kernel shipments targeted by Greenpeace in September & October, our activists labeled the lignite mine a Fonterra Climate Crime  - this time with a giant 40 meter banner.

While our activists in Southland took this action today, there was a change of guard at Greenpeace. Our 'activist in chief' Gerd Leipold stepped aside to be replaced by Kumi Naido as International Executive Director.

As he took charge of the world's largest environmental campaigning organisation Kumi Naidoo had this to say:

Today we are at the cross roads. The future of our planet is at stake. The effects of climate change are being felt by millions of people across the world. We are at a time when civil society needs to be courageous and bold, peaceful and principled in coming together to ensure that we stop catastrophic climate change - the biggest challenge our planet has ever faced.

Despite our much vaunted clean green image New Zealand has more reason than most to step up to the plate and be bold. The Fred Pearce piece in the Guardian  last week gave us a taste how the world may react if we do not live up to our own rhetoric.

The latest UN statistics show our emissions of greenhouse gases are up by 22%, or an embarrassing 39% if we look at emissions from fuel burning alone.

Some countries with big emissions growth started from a low figure in 1990. Arguably, they were playing catchup but there is no such excuse for New Zealand. Our emissions started high and went higher.

New Zealand's emissions are 60% higher than those of Britain, per head of population. Among industrialised nations, ours are exceeded only by Canada, the US, Australia and Luxembourg. Pearce outlines a litany of climate crimes accusing us of greenwash and political spin.

Fonterra's climate crimes endanger New Zealand's clean green reputation and consequently our economy. We've long been proud of the leadership we showed by taking a nuclear free stance - let's now do it on climate change.

Three weeks out from the international climate talks in Copenhagen, Fonterra remains the biggest block to New Zealand doing the right thing on climate change. Prime Minster John Key must bring the dairy giant under control.

Today was the third action targeting Fonterra but we're not done yet. Next week on Tuesday the 24th we are calling on Aucklanders to join us for a public protest outside the Fonterra corporate Headquarters at 12:30pm 24th November @ 9 Princes Street Auckland (You can RSVP on Facebook)

In September Greenpeace exposed Fonterra's complicity in Indonesian rainforest destruction through palm kernel importation and took action first in Tauranga and then again in New Plymouth in October.


Palm based animal feed

Indonesia's forests are being destroyed faster than any other forest on earth. In total, Indonesia has already lost 72 per cent of its large intact ancient forests6. A major driver of this deforestation is the expansion of palm plantations. It is essential to stop deforestation as it contributes around 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. Recent estimates from the World Bank rank Indonesia as the third largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet after China and the United States.

Fonterra is now importing palm kernel animal feed to supplement grass which marks a change in dairying from pastoral to industrial. Palm kernel animal feed imports have increased 2,700 fold since 1999, with over one million tonnes imported into New Zealand in 2008 - this is almost a quarter of the world's palm kernel animal feed supply. Agriculture in New Zealand is responsible for 49 per cent of New Zealand's domestic greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions do not include indirect emissions from rainforest destruction in Indonesia to grow supplementary feed for Fonterra's dairy herds.

During 2008 the palm kernel animal feed which New Zealand imported had a carbon footprint of over 20 million tonnes. This is officially unaccounted for. It is more than the entire dairy sector's emissions from New Zealand. In 2008 Fonterra's joint venture subsidiary RD1 entered into a joint venture with one of the world's biggest rainforest destroyers for palm oil and kernel production, Wilmar International.

Clearing rainforests for palm, timber and pulp plantations is having a devastating impact on biodiversity and communities. It is the main cause of the decline of the orangutans and Sumatran tiger, of which less than 400 are estimated to be left in the wild. Indigenous peoples who rely on rainforests for their livelihood are also suffering. Under Parliamentary questioning Finance Minister Bill English (standing in for Prime Minister John Key) stated with regards to the impact of palm kernel animal feed on rainforest destruction, "Of course, it has some impact; the Government does not deny that."

Intensification and fertiliser use

Fonterra is the economic driving force behind dairy intensification which is changing how farmers are working with their pastures.

To meet Fonterra's demand for intensification fertiliser companies are replacing a traditional reliance on legumes (such as clovers) to provide the pasture's main source of nitrogen, with a reliance on fossil fuel manufactured chemical fertilisers such as 'urea'. Farmers are unwittingly creating a fertility time-bomb in their soils. The more fertiliser used, the more the natural sources of soil fertility are destroyed, and the more fertiliser needed each year just to maintain production levels for pasture growth. It's a treadmill which farmers are finding very hard to get off.

Chemical nitrogen fertiliser use in New Zealand has increased by over 1,200 per cent since 1989, mainly in the form of urea. Chemical fertiliser use is a large driver of emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide at causing climate change. Since 1990 nitrous oxide emissions in New Zealand have increased by 27 per cent and now account for 16 per cent of all New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions - that's more than all our road transport emissions.

Using the chemical fertiliser short cut to achieve short bursts of pasture growth is also allowing farmers to increase and maintain high stocking numbers per hectare which has a direct impact on soil structure through compaction. This produces much greater quantities of greenhouse gas emissions and also damages soil, animal and pasture growth and pollutes waterways and groundwater.


Fonterra is one of the biggest users of coal in the country, burning well over 400,000 tonnes a year at its dairy processing factories.

Most coal is burnt in the process to turn milk into milk powder to be sold on the international commodities market to companies like McDonalds and is added into processed foods.

Fonterra's use of fossil fuels such as coal at its dairy processing factories gives rise to 1.87 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year20. This is almost double the emissions from domestic air travel in New Zealand each year21.

There are alternatives. Biomass (wood) is being used by other New Zealand industries22, but Fonterra has failed to adopt this renewable energy alternative in favour of climate polluting coal.

Deforestation in New Zealand

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) says some 455,000 hectares of forestry land is at risk of being deforested and converted into pastoral use - the majority for dairying.

This is equivalent to 910,000 rugby fields and is over 25 per cent of the nation's pine plantation area. Converting forestry land for intensive dairy farming functions as a 'double whammy' on the climate. This is because plantation forests, that absorb carbon dioxide, are destroyed and replaced with intensive dairy farming which is one of the most greenhouse gas producing forms of land use.

The risk to New Zealand's clean and green reputation

Agriculture generates the bulk of our export earnings and has an international reputation not only for quality products, but also for being clean and green.

The 2008 State of the Environment report reveals that there is already a risk that New Zealand's 'clean and green' brand will lose value if we are not vigilant in dealing with the problems that could threaten the image.

The Ministry for the Environment suggests this clean green brand is worth $500 million per year to the dairy industry alone and worth billions of dollars a year to the nation24. Consumers in key overseas markets are becoming more concerned with where their food comes from and the environmental impact of its production. Agriculture in New Zealand must stay ahead of the game, and to do so, it must improve its environmental performance.

As intensification of New Zealand dairy continues, the carbon footprint advantage that New Zealand dairy produce has historically held over the world is being lost unnecessarily and to the detriment of future generations of New Zealand dairy farmers.

New Zealand has always prided itself on being ahead of the pack in this regard. But we're losing our edge. Reports indicate that by the early part of this decade, low emission farming in Europe was already almost equal to - and in some cases ahead of - New Zealand in terms of emissions performance.

More worryingly is that New Zealand's performance is becoming close to that of the UK26, a market highly sensitive to climate issues. UK supermarkets are beginning to implement "carbon lifecycle" labelling on products. Our clean, green branding is already being questioned internationally27. If we don't quickly take steps to reduce emissions, we could lose our advantage in these markets forever.

DOWNLOAD FACTSHEET: Fonterra and Climate Change with reference

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