VDL Farms, in northwest Tasmania, confirmed to The Australian it had been using palm kernel expeller, or PKE — a meal made from the nut of palm fruit after oil extraction — since late 2015.
Chief executive David Beca stressed that the product — which is linked to deforestation in Southeast Asia, including of orangutan habitats, as well as to biosecurity breaches and altered fat levels in milk — had certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
“(It is) the highest ethical and environmental standard accepted in Europe,” Mr Beca said.
“PKE is a feed source of high protein and energy, which is safe to feed to milking cows, dry stock and young calves.”
Groups such as Greenpeace say the certification does not prevent the conversion of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest and peatlands to palm plantation, and that some certified companies — including the one supplying VDL — continue to be linked to product from deforested areas.
There are also biosecurity concerns, with reports in New Zealand, where PKE is widely used by the dairy industry, of exotic-animal body parts being discovered in PKE shipments. In 2013, an 18cm lower leg of a wild goat or deer was found at a Bay of Plenty farm, in a PKE shipment from Malaysia, creating concerns about foot and mouth disease.
Late last year, milk giant Fonterra responded to evidence of PKE changing the fat content of milk, to the point where it stymied butter production, by directing NZ dairy farmers to limit its use to 3kg per lactating cow a day.
Mr Beca said VDL’s use of PKE had never exceeded this limit but would be reviewed. “A decision on the future use of PKE will be included in a planned full review next month of all farm feed supplements for the coming winter and spring periods,” he said.
NZ-based Greenpeace senior campaign adviser Grant Rosoman, recently returned from researching PKE in Indonesia, said the roundtable certification was no guarantee against deforestation. “The standard doesn’t prevent a certified company from converting forest (to palm plantation),” he said.
“It does have standards on high conservation values in theory, but in practice we found a lot of those areas were being converted as well, including orangutan habitat being cleared in Sumatra and Kalimantan.”
He said certified companies with ongoing links to deforestation included Wilmar International Ltd, whose joint venture with distribution company Gavilon Group supplies VDL.