Environmental campaigning often requires patience. As Gandhi used to say "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.
This week our hard work (and patience) paid off. But it’s not so much us who won, as our farms and rainforests and climate.
Landcorp has announced it will no longer use palm kernel expeller (PKE) on its farms and will focus on grass-feeding its animals.
PKE is a by-product of the palm oil industry, which is the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Indonesia. When Landcorp (New Zealand’s biggest farmer) makes this call, it’s a big deal, both for the rainforests and the iconic creatures who live in them, but also for the way we farm (more on that in a moment).
New Zealand is currently the largest importer of PKE in the world, using about a quarter of the global supply each year as supplementary feed for livestock. On some farms, it’s believed to make up nearly 50 percent of cows’ diets. It’s a crucial cog in the industrial dairy machine.
Seven years ago we kicked off a campaign to stop its use. We did this because we believe in sustainable agriculture and because we definitely don’t believe in rainforest clearance for palm plantations, especially when this is pushing the orang-utan and Sumatran tiger towards extinction.
The campaign has taken us from the last remaining Southeast Asian rainforests to the anchor chains of cargo ships; from Tauranga Port to Taranaki, from Fonterra’s HQ to the thick smoke of Indonesian forest fires.
In August 2009 a team from Greenpeace New Zealand went undercover in Indonesia, exposing the link between dairy giant Fonterra and rainforest destruction, dead orangutans and soaring global greenhouse gas emissions.
(Greenpeace NZ’s Suzette Jackson went undercover into Indonesia palm plantations)
Later that same year Greenpeace halted a shipment of palm kernel earmarked for Fonterra farms and entering Tauranga port. Fourteen activists boarded the ship, some staying in place for 14 hours.
A protest was held simultaneously at the Port, with huge local support.
Also that year, we travelled to New Plymouth, painting "Fonterra Climate Crime" on a PKE shipment in the Port of Taranaki.
In 2010, we made a spoof video that thoroughly ruffled Fonterra’s feathers - starring former Shortland Street actress Bonnie Soper. Fonterra struggled to respond.
In the following years, we’ve kept the pressure up. At the same time, the intensive dairy model in New Zealand began to wear thin. Polluted rivers, rising agricultural emissions, drought-stricken farms and farmers indebted up to their eyeballs all pointed to a failed experiment.
If New Zealand wants to be farming well and profitably into the future, things have to change, and that includes dropping the use of supplementary feed born from burnt rainforests.
Landcorp acknowledged as much this week. “Landcorp wants our partners and customers to know they can trust that we farm sustainably and care for the environment,” said chief executive Steven Carden.
Others in the industry were there already. Cult dairy brand Lewis Road has always been a PKE free zone - they say so loud and clear on the back of their milk bottles. Lewis Road is calling for a total PKE ban in New Zealand.
The Landcorp decision is a big win, but we’re not there yet. Fonterra needs to follow suit. They’ve made noises about switching to only “responsible” palm kernel, but over time they should stop its use altogether, particularly if New Zealand is to live up to claims that our dairying is pasture-based. If Landcorp can do it so can they, even if their ban is phased in over time.
If Landcorp deserves congratulations so do you, our supporters. Over the last seven years, you’ve turned out to public protests; signed petitions and given generously. We wouldn’t have made it this far without you. Thank you.