30/04/2008 (Hawkeys Bay) - A thousand-fold rise in imports of a rainforest-destroying feed to prop up New Zealand's burgeoning dairy industry has huge implications for the country's clean and green brand, the Green Party says.
"Consumers in this country and overseas have an advertising image of cows grazing on pure New Zealand grass, but industrial dairying is gradually turning farms into feedlots," says Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman.
"While we understand the summer drought has made feed scarce in some parts of the country, we urge farmers and the Government to look at alternatives to palm kernel because of its role in destroying rainforests, further endangering rare wildlife such as the orang-utan and accelerating climate change."
Palm kernel imported as supplementary feed has soared from 408 tonnes in 1999 to 455,000 tonnes in 2007 (1). Already in the first three months of this year we have imported 185,000 tonnes of palm kernel meal and a recent Rural News article (2) said some traders estimated 700,000 tonnes would be landed in New Zealand this year.
"Increases in consumption of palm kernel mixtures or 'cakes' by New Zealand agriculture over the last seven years, excluding this year, 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 (3)," Dr Norman says.
"This is equivalent to clear-felling rainforest four times the size of Te Urewera National Park.
"Palm kernel is the most important by-product from the production of palm oil. Palm oil plantation owners are recording big increases in demand for palm kernel which is driving the profitability of the palm oil plantation industry (4).
"The palm oil industry is knocking down rainforests and burning peat across Indonesia and Malaysia to expand production to meet the increased demand. This is resulting in the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases and the destruction of the habitat of endangered animals such as the orang-utan (5)."
Deforestation contributes about 20 percent of global carbon emissions; a figure widely accepted and commonly used at United Nations climate change conferences. Most of this country's palm kernel imports come from Indonesia, with the remainder from Malaysia. Both countries are currently experiencing large-scale clearance of rainforest for palm oil plantations.
"Climate change will lead to more adverse weather events such as the recent drought," Dr Norman says. "So it would be perverse if our response to that drought was to turn to feed supplements that, by releasing the carbon stored in rainforests and peat, resulted in worse climate change.
"The industry and government need to reassess the role of palm kernel cakes in responding to the drought and the intensification of agriculture. Our primary sector is rapidly becoming dependent on a resource that the United Nations and even the New Zealand Government have identified as one of the drivers of climate change - the palm oil industry."