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Agriculture's strength is its scientific basis

23 June 2008 Media Statement

Agriculture's strength is its scientific basis

The strength of agriculture in New Zealand was its underpinning by science, Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton said today.

He said he was extremely disappointed by reports that visiting British fertility expert Robert Lord Winston had criticized New Zealand's agricultural focus, and encouraged a switch to science instead.

Jim Anderton said it was not an either-or situation.

"Agriculture and science are not mutually exclusive - rather, our agriculture and other primary industry sectors do so well because of their reliance on science.

"In the 19th century, for example, New Zealand developed a new export industry by applying refrigeration technology in order to ship frozen meat to the other side of the world. Last century, science enabled us to shift our exports to chilled meat. Horticulture in New Zealand has a history of developing new varieties and species as commercial crops, and earlier this month, I launched a potentially lucrative new mushroom commercial crop where science developed a new method for seeding pine forests."

Jim Anderton said that a focus on agriculture did not mean a low-value economy either.

"This is particularly true for New Zealand, where we aim for the top end of the market with our focus on producing high-quality, high-value food.

"Our natural advantages - our temperate climate and grass-based systems - mean that our products have better environmental standing than many of our competitors. This is a selling point in the world's more lucrative markets.

"And at a time of food shortages around the world, that competitive advantage is going to become even more important.

"We are lucky to be in a country that produces far more food than we need. About 80 per cent of all the food we grow is exported. This puts us in an excellent position for the future."

Jim Anderton said New Zealand did export its scientific knowledge, particularly that in agriculture.

"The sale of services, licensing of intellectual property, and development of joint ventures in other countries are all things that New Zealand companies and individuals are doing that ensure New Zealand will maintain its global leadership in agriculture."

Jim Anderton said Lord Winston seemed to acknowledge that the advances in agricultural science had wider application - for example, animal breeding science had led to corresponding advances in human fertility research.

"This Government does not see science or agriculture as closed silos that cannot work together; quite the opposite, in fact. This is demonstrated by the recent allocation of $700 million to the New Zealand Fast Forward fund for food and pastoral agriculture innovation."

He said that was the biggest single boost to innovation in the history of New Zealand.

"I expect to be able to announce establishment details of the fund within the next couple of weeks."

Jim Anderton said that just because agriculture was two-thirds of all merchandise goods exports did not mean it was the only industry Government was focussing on.

"When I was Regional, Industry, and Economic Development Minister, I worked with a large number of industries to boost their export potential. That work is still ongoing. There is no desire to have all our eggs in one basket, but it is unrealistic not to accept that our primary industries are important and that they are likely to remain important to our economic future."


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