Oily palms and trees

Green­peace says Fon­terra’s mas­sive im­por­ta­tion of palm ker­nel as sup­ple­men­tary cat­tle feed fi­nances the felling of In­done­sian rain­for­est and ac­cel­er­ates cli­mate change. Fon­terra doesn’t want to talk about it, but says its palm ker­nel sup­plies are sus­taina

Element - - Environment - By Andy Ken­wor­thy

The UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion es­ti­mates that In­done­sia lost 9.36 mil­lion hectares of for­est be­tween 2000 and 2005, an area the size of Por­tu­gal. The United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram ac­knowl­edges that in Malaysia and In­done­sia the main driver of this de­struc­tion is the con­ver­sion of for­est into palm oil plan­ta­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the en­vi­ron­men­tal group WWF, be­tween 1997 and 2001, In­done­sian palm oil pro­duc­tion in­creased from 6.6 mil­lion to 9.5 mil­lion tonnes and, in 2000, the planted area had reached more than three mil­lion hectares. Palm oil is a ma­jor source of in­come there, where GDP per capita is just US$3000 a year.

Reg­i­mented lines of palm oil trees can never re­place the rain­for­est’s in­cred­i­ble bio­di­ver­sity – its as­ton­ish­ing col­lec­tions of plants and an­i­mals. In In­done­sia, this in­cludes the endangered orang-utan and Su­ma­tran rhino; and amaz­ing new species that are still be­ing dis­cov­ered.

The loss of the world’s rain­forests is also ac­cel­er­at­ing cli­mate change. Var­i­ous es­ti­mates state that be­tween one quar­ter and one fifth of the world’s green­house gas emis­sions are caused by global de­for­esta­tion. And it’s a dou­ble whammy. With the re­moval of so much abun­dant plant life, we are los­ing one of the Earth’s most ef­fec­tive ways of reg­u­lat­ing the chief green­house gas, car­bon diox­ide. Big global cor­po­ra­tions like Unilever, Kraft and Nestlé have re­sponded to these con­cerns by sus­pend­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar palm oil con­tracts with com­pa­nies where their sup­ply of palm prod­ucts has been linked to de­for­esta­tion.

But ac­cord­ing to Green­peace 1.4 mil­lion tonnes of palm ker­nel ex­peller (PKE), the ker­nel that is left over after it has been crushed to har­vest the oil, were im­ported to New Zealand last year. This rep­re­sented a $230 mil­lion in­vest­ment, and a rise from just 1554 tonnes in ten years. Much of this was im­ported and sold by RD1, which is now a wholly owned sub­sidiary of Fon­terra. Green­peace says this makes New Zealand the world’s big­gest con­sumer of PKE, hoover­ing up about a quar­ter of what’s avail­able, with Fon­terra the ma­jor player.

Fon­terra and the gov­ern­ment have re­peat­edly dis­missed this is­sue by say­ing PKE is a “waste prod­uct”. Green­peace ar­gues that when you spend hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars on some­thing it ceases to be a waste prod­uct, and be­comes a very lu­cra­tive one. The group be­lieves in­creas­ing the prof­itabil­ity of palm oil plan­ta­tions in­cen­tivises and fi­nances the clear­ing of rain­for­est to cre­ate more of them. So, in re­cent years they have lobbied, cre­ated on­line ads, so­cial networked, oc­cu­pied palm ker­nel ship­ments and raided Fon­terra of­fices to dis­rupt this trade and raise aware­ness.

In a writ­ten state­ment, Fon­terra has ac­cepted that in some cases de­for­esta­tion has been driven by the es­tab­lish­ment of palm oil plan­ta­tions, and says it shares con­cerns about the de­struc­tion of rain­forests in South East Asia. How­ever, it ar­gues that its sup­ply of PKE is sustainable and that it does not sup­port de­for­esta­tion, di­rectly or in­di­rectly.

The com­pany has stated that all the PKE sold at RD1 is im­ported from a sin­gle source, Wil­mar In­ter­na­tional, a com­pany that prac­tices a ‘no burn’ pol­icy, does not develop land des­ig­nated to have high con­ser­va­tion value and em­ploys wildlife pro­tec­tion ex­perts.

Wil­mar In­ter­na­tional is also a mem­ber of the Round­table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion aimed at de­vel­op­ing and im­ple­ment­ing global stan­dards for sustainable palm oil. Sev­eral of the com­pany’s plan­ta­tions are cer­ti­fied as sustainable by RSPO, and it is cur­rently work­ing on get­ting the rest of them cer­ti­fied by 2014.

But Nathan Ar­gent, Green­peace NZ cli­mate cam­paigner, says: “The RSPO has re­ceived sig­nif­i­cant crit­i­cism for hav­ing stan­dards that are not only too weak to be­gin with, but are ha­bit­u­ally ig­nored by its mem­bers, who con­tinue to de­stroy rain­forests and peat­lands for palm oil.”

Specif­i­cally, Green­peace says Wil­mar In­ter­na­tional buys more than half its palm prod­ucts from third par­ties who may well not be cer­ti­fied at all. The wa­ter is mud­died fur­ther by the fact that WWF, an­other en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion, help set up the RSPO, was a found­ing mem­ber, and has re­mained one of its most vo­cal sup­port­ers.

Car­rie Svin­gen, WWF In­ter­na­tional’s Palm Oil spokesper­son, says that while the RSPO is the only cred­i­ble scheme out there demon­strat­ing that palm oil can be pro­duced without un­ac­cept­able for­est loss or so­cial im­pacts, it is still very new and de­vel­op­ing all the time. She is also adamant that the fact that Fon­terra’s sup­pli­ers are in the RSPO does not nec­es­sar­ily give its PKE im­por­ta­tion a clean, green bill of health.

“To demon­strate re­spon­si­ble sourc­ing Fon­terra or any other com­pany should buy only cer­ti­fied PKE,” she says. “Be­ing a mem­ber of the RSPO them­selves or buy­ing from other RSPO mem­bers is not enough. More than one mil­lion tonnes of cer­ti­fied palm ker­nels are avail­able an­nu­ally so there should be am­ple op­por­tu­nity to source them.”

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