On Saturday five Greenpeace activists took action on a shipment of palm kernel entering the Port of New Plymouth bound for Fonterra farms. The five of them were able to stay aboard the ship, locked in the crane cabs and on the anchor chain for 12 hours. Their action brought this important issue back into the public spotlight and highlighted once again the sheer magnitude of Fonterra’s climate crimes and the Government’s complicity.

The ship they boarded was carrying 10,000 tonnes of palm kernel animal feed and that’s only a fraction of the unsustainable palm kernel imported into NZ every year from devastated rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia and Malaysia.

For New Zealand to be bankrolling the palm industry to the tune of $250,000,000 per year is wrong on so many levels.

Coverage of the action drew the same tired old excuses from Government, Fonterra and Federated Farmers. I’ll outline some of the arguments and counter arguments below but the really interesting outcome was that the Government, in its haste to defend Fonterra, now finds itself in a rather embarrassing and contradictory position.

David Carter was eager to jump to its defence and state that palm kernel was not linked to deforestation. But if he had run that by his colleague Bill English, who has already acknowledged in Parliament to the contrary, he may have chosen his words more wisely. The Minister for Agriculture was also keen to declare that palm kernel was the saviour of farming in New Zealand.

But should New Zealand’s farming success really be tied to an unsustainable trade linked to deforestation, climate change and human rights abuse? Are these really the values that we want Fonterra to represent to the consumers of the world?

Failure by Fonterra to take responsibility for their actions and persistent denial of the truth is wearing very thin.

Bringing an end to the currently unsustainable and destructive palm trade is a vital step in preserving our planet’s biodiversity and tackling climate change and Fonterra’s actions bring shame on New Zealand. The Government’s failure to act is simply an abdication of their responsibility as stewards of our economy and defenders of our clean, green reputation.

The lies and the excuses:

“PKE is a byproduct or a waste product”

o Only Fonterra and Federated Farmers call palm kernel a waste product. The palm industry itself says that palm kernel is one of the three main products being produced by the industry. Greenpeace, unlike Fonterra, has a full office and team in Indonesia that are experts on the deforestation caused by the palm industry – Fonterra paying quarter of a billion NZ dollars to unsustainable palm companies increases profitability and therefore furthers rainforest destruction. Fonterra is lying about PKE in order to protect its profit.

“PKE only a small percentage of the total feed consumed by NZ’s dairy herds”

Small percentage of the whole or not, last year NZ imported a record 1.4 million tonnes – second only to the entire European Union countries combined – which was worth over a quarter of a billion dollars. This was a third of the total worldwide production and is bankrolling those companies linked to deforestation.

 “If we didn’t buy it, it’d all go to waste”

This is a truly pathetic excuse. If we didn’t buy it, the palm oil industry would be less viable and easier to stop but even so, we could have used the same argument to continue with New Zealand’s whaling industry. If we don’t do it the Japanese fleet will do it. That just doesn’t stack up.

Or to paraphrse the Taranaki Daily News editorial – it’s like saying that it’s OK to kick someone when they’re down as long as it wasn’t you that knocked them over.

“Palm kernel doesn’t contribute to rainforest destruction”

Palm kernel is part of a currently unsustainable palm industry, to claim otherwise is absurd. We have the images and the video of vast tracts of land being deforested and peatlands destroyed for palm plantations. Fonterra has admitted to using unsustainable palm kernel and the palm industry’s own figures show that only 6% of global palm kernel production is sustainable – the rest comes from deforested land.

“The cattle would starve and suffer without Palm Kernel”

In fact, palm kernel is only used because it is so cheap. Grain farmers in NZ who can supply alternative feed have been unable to compete with the cheap alternative and many have gone out of business.