Palm kernel imports picked up sharply last month, despite the efforts of Fonterra and Greenpeace to curtail its use.

Imports of the controversial livestock feed supplement, which is used extensively in the dairy industry, came to 222,413 tonnes last month, up from 138,763 tonnes in October and 178,381 tonnes in November last year, according to Statistics NZ data.

Fonterra in September launched a campaign to get farmers to pull back on using palm kernel because too much can alter the composition of milk. Greenpeace has for many years put pressure on Fonterra to stop using palm products, linked to deforestation and peat drainage.

The co-op said that it wanted to "future proof" its position as a trusted producer of pasture-based milk products. The co-op recommended a maximum of 3kg a day per cow.

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Palm kernel became popular in 2007 when a drought sent North Island farmers looking for new feed sources. Imports of palm kernel, a byproduct of the palm oil industry, went from 96,000 tonnes in 2003 to a record 2 million tonnes last year.

Since 2009, Fonterra has been a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, set up by the World Wildlife Fund to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products.

Fonterra says palm kernel its subsidiary RD1 sells is bought from INL, which imports it from a single source, Wilmar International.

Wilmar practices a "no burn" policy, respects designated conservation areas and employs wildlife protection experts. Wilmar has said it no longer develops plantations on peat-land.

Greenpeace NZ executive director Russel Norman was positive about Fonterra's approach.