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Biotechnology Strategy discussion paper released

Biotechnology Strategy discussion paper released

A discussion paper released today by Research, Science and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson sets out the framework for a New Zealand Biotechnology Strategy.

“The Government is committed under its Growth and Innovation Framework to supporting biotechnology as a key growth sector," Mr Hodgson said. “New Zealand has a strong track record in adding value to natural products through biological innovation. We have world-class biological knowledge and skills to build on. A stronger biotechnology sector has the potential to accelerate growth in other sectors, including forestry, agriculture, food production and pharmaceuticals.

"This discussion paper offers a vision, goals and guiding principles for the development and use of biotechnology in New Zealand. With new biological knowledge and techniques the opportunities are multiplying rapidly. A sound strategy will help us use biotechnology responsibly in pursuit of those opportunities."

The discussion paper outlines the current state of biotechnology in New Zealand. It notes that although New Zealand has excellent research, with a growing range of applications, the sector is underdeveloped relative to its potential.

Three goals are proposed to support the vision for responsible development of biotechnology: build understanding and positive connections between the community and the biotechnology sector; manage the development and introduction of new biotechnologies with a regulatory system that optimises opportunities and innovation while safeguarding health and the environment; and grow New Zealand's biotechnology sector.

Specific targets and actions for growing the sector are being identified by the Biotechnology Taskforce, a group of ten top biotechnology entrepreneurs, academics and business leaders established in May this year. The discussion paper identifies challenges including retaining and developing talent, funding expensive R&D, commercialising research, supporting clusters, attracting overseas investment and increasing Maori participation.

Development of the Biotechnology Strategy, which was recommended by the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, is being led by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. The ministry will collect and analyse submissions in response to the discussion paper and the Government aims to have a final strategy in place by early 2003.

“All sectors of the community are invited to comment on the development and direction of this strategy," Mr Hodgson said. "Its quality will be directly affected by the quality of the response to this discussion paper, so I encourage everyone to have their say.”

Copies of the discussion document are available at http://www.morst.govt.nz or by phoning 0508 400 805. Submissions close on 30 November 2002 and can be made through the website.

Biotechnology Strategy: Questions and Answers

What is biotechnology?

Biotechnology is a broad term for technologies that use knowledge of living things. Traditional biotechnologies include fermentation and plant and animal breeding techniques. “Modern Biotechnology” is a term used to identify newer research-based techniques, such as DNA 'fingerprinting', molecular and cellular biochemistry and genetic modification. Other aspects of biotechnology include: vaccines and diagnostic tests for human, animal and plant diseases, new drug development, preservation of rare strains of animals and plants, and biological conversion of waste into energy.

Why is biotechnology important for New Zealand?

The New Zealand economy is biologically based. We have used our biological knowledge to add value to sheep, milk, kiwifruit, pine trees etc. Biotechnological advances now give New Zealand opportunities to build on these strengths and develop new products and techniques. New applications also have the potential open up new fields, using biological processes instead of machinery to enhance the environment and our quality of life. Examples include biological measures to improve water quality, reduce industrial waste, produce new medicines or control pests. Biotechnology is expanding worldwide and New Zealand must keep up with developmentsif it is to maintain a competitive edge.

Who’s involved in biotechnology in New Zealand?

New Zealand’s biotechnology knowledge comes from Universities, Crown Research Institutes and a few private institutes, including the research arms of businesses such as Fonterra. Biotechnology applications are used in agriculture, horticulture, the food and beverage industries, forestry, health, cosmetics, environmental management, conservation, manufacturing and law enforcement.

Why do we need a biotechnology strategy?

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification noted that the 21st century has been dubbed the “Biotech century” and recommended developing a biotechnology strategy for New Zealand to “ensure that New Zealand kept abreast of developments in biotechnology, …. while preserving essential social, cultural and environmental values.” The Growth and Innovation Framework (GIF) announced by the Government in February this year identified biotechnology as one of three sectors that have the potential to contribute significantly to New Zealand’s economic growth.

How will the strategy affect New Zealand’s ‘clean green’ image?

The strategy will foster the development of responsible, smart applications of biotechnology. There are opportunities to enhance New Zealand’s ‘clean green’ image through applications such as biosecurity and pest control, environment and waste management and the conservation of rare native plants and animals.

How will the biotechnology strategy affect the level of Government funding for biotechnology research?

The strategy will not set funding levels for research. It addresses broader issues such as links between the community and the biotechnology sector, the appropriateness of regulation and opportunities for growing the sector. Government funding for biotechnology will continue to reflect overall spending priorities. In the past two years it has increased along with total government funding for research.

Who is responsiblefor ensuring the strategy is implemented?

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology is leading the development of the Biotechnology Strategy. A range of agencies including the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Health, Industry New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment will be responsible for implementing the strategy, MoRST will continue to have a key role in co-ordinating and monitoring the results.

Why is a discussion paper needed?

The public and people involved in biotechnology deserve the opportunity to express their views on the future development of the sector. The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification focused on just one aspect of biotechnology. Consultation on the Biotechnology Strategy is taking a much wider view on how best to manage and develop biotechnology for the benefit of New Zealand.

Who was involved in writing the discussion paper?

The discussion paper was prepared with input from individual and workshop discussions with people from the community and the biotechnology industry. The development of the paper was overseen by officials from the Ministry of Health, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Economic Development, Industry New Zealand, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Te Puni Kokiri and Treasury.

What will the strategy deliver?

The strategy will identify goals and actions for growth in the biotechnology sector, underpinned by stronger links between the sector and the community and a regulatory system that encourages innovation while robustly safeguarding health and the environment. A strategic approach to the sector's development will increase New Zealand's ability to capitalise on the opportunities offered by advances in biotechnology.

How does the work of the Biotechnology Sector Taskforce relate to the Strategy?

The Biotechnology Sector Taskforce is looking at practical steps to support growth of the sector. The work of the Taskforce will be integrated into the final strategy.

How is this strategy different from the biotechnology strategies other countries are developing?

The biotechnology strategies of many countries, including Canada, Australia ad Singapore are strongly focused on growing their biotechnology sectors. They each place different emphasis on the factors needed to achieve growth. New Zealand wants sustainable growth in the sector. The New Zealand strategy stresses the importance of underpinning growth with strengthened links between the community and the biotechnology sector and an effective regulatory system.

Who should respond to the questions in the discussion paper?

Anyone interested in biotechnology in New Zealand can provide written feedback on the discussion paper online at www.morst.govt.nz or by posting the forms at the back of paper to: Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, P O Box 5336, Wellington.

Copies of the paper can be requested by phoning 0508 400 805.

What will happen to the submissions?

The submissions will be reviewed and analysed by the Biotechnology Policy Group at MoRST. A summary of the submissions will be available on www.morst.govt.nz and by hard copy on request.

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