A lot has been written about palm kernel based animal feed over the last week since we exposed Fonterra’s ties to rainforest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia.

I’ve just spent the last couple of hours reading most of the media clippings and it adds up to a lot of column centimetres. There were two main themes (basically for and against the use of palm kernel expeller (PKE) to feed dairy cows) which dominated the headlines.

Interestingly, farmers are represented on both sides, to the point that even different departments of Federated Farmers are divided on the issue which has expanded to include issues of biosecurity and health.

For most of the week Federated Farmers pushed the line the PKE was ‘just a by product’ and NZ farmers was doing South East Asian palm plantation owners a favour by using it to feed their stock when otherwise it would have “been burnt or left to rot on the ground.”

Nice try but who, apart from themselves, are they fooling here?

The Malaysian Palm Oil board states that palm kernel animal feed is an important product of the palm industry.

There is a growing market for palm kernel animal feed and New Zealand is now a major player importing a quarter of the world’s production. We paid $300 million dollars last year to palm companies - companies which are actively involved in the destruction of the remaining rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Over 1.5 million hectares of palm plantations planted on previously rainforested land in Malaysia and Indonesia would have been needed to meet the 2008 New Zealand imports of palm kernel animal feed.

The Farmers’ Weekly has done a great job of articulating the reasons why the by product argument is on shaky, deforested ground.

In today’s Weekly Punch Up column it states it is “quite clear the demand for palm kernel, driven by Fonterra’s push for intensive dairying, is boosting the price. This in turn assists palm companies’ profitability and leads them to destroy more rainforests for plantations. It’s simple demand and supply economics – yet Fonterra wants you to somehow believe we’re doing the world a service by taking a by product no on else wants.”

And just as the by product argument was starting to die down the Sunday Star Times revealed that a report by Agresearch, released all the way back in 2006, noted the possibility of toxins from PKE entering the food chain and ending up in our dairy products.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s very hard to be convinced that PKE h any redeeming features. Its continued use will certainly not be helping our international reputation as exporters of environmental friendly products.  One thing is for sure we will never see a slogan which says ‘PKE - clean, green and 100% Pure.’ If we’re not careful these positive marketing words will no longer apply to New Zealand either.