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Anderton: Massey Food Technology Pilot Plant

8 July 2008 Speech


Opening of the Massey University Food Technology Pilot Plant
Palmerston North

When it comes to New Zealand food I am reminded of an old story about a couple of American tourists who arrived here and went out looking to try some genuine New Zealand food.

They passed a takeaway bar selling 'kiwi burgers', and thought…well we better have one of those. Imagine their disappointment when the burger arrived and there wasn't an ounce of kiwi in it.

When we talk about food technology, we might begin by looking at where our food technology started.

One of the staff in my office is a noted New Zealand author who writes about New Zealand history.

He also happens to be something of a gourmet, with a wide and varied interest in cooking.

So it came as no surprise a few years ago when he produced a book about the history of New Zealand cuisine. It tells a fascinating story.

When the first immigrants arrived here from Britain, they left behind a country that was -literally - starved of protein.

And they found fields where grass would grow as they had never known it, and where sheep and cattle would grow big and fat so easily, meat, cheese, butter and milk was abundantly available.

The diet of those early New Zealanders might not have been particularly adventurous by our standards today.

But it was certainly rich, and generous.

If you think of the traditional Sunday roast, you get a glimpse of the cuisine that spanned to lamingtons, and afghan biscuits. The pinnacle of technological innovation was the development of the pavlova.

It was a diet many of us grew up on, and our belts are testimony to its abundance and its nutritional value.

Yet in only a short few decades we have revolutionised our cuisine.

It was only in the nineties that most of our cafes swung from selling so-called 'catering strength' instant coffee to competing with each other for the title of world's best espresso or latte.

You can get a good coffee on just about any main street in New Zealand these days, and an even more profound change has taken place in our export production.

For example, today we sell milk powder, but it is now a high value ingredient embodying innovative research and technology.

These innovations have been based on heavy investment in research and technology, which over time has become more and more market driven.

Where once our export produce was dominated by frozen carcasses wrapped in muslin, or mountains of butter and milk powder, today you can walk into a London wine bar and order a Gimbletts Gravel syrah, or Marlborough sauvignon blanc. Our sheep meat exports are more likely to be a lean cutlet served with a side order of New Zealand olives.

We have always been dependent on our exports of food, and we remain just as dependent today - even though back in the eighties they started an economic experiment that declared our agriculture to be a sunset industry.
There are plenty of people around this year who want to go back to the failed policies of the past.

But the truth is, our agricultural industry remains the backbone of our economy. It has actually grown its productivity faster than the average of the rest of the economy, because of our technology.

Its success is based on innovation.

New ideas, openness to the ideas of others, and commitment to kiwi excellence has both transformed our own cuisine and transformed our primary sector.

If we want to continue to have a successful, growing economy, then we need our primary industries to be successful.

We need innovation to improve every step of the production process, from what we grow and how we grow it, to the downstream food industries - and other industries - that are built on our production.

We need innovation not only to make new products and to make our processes more efficient and productive.

We also need innovation to meet the challenges our producers face. The challenges include some of New Zealand's biggest environmental and economic challenges.

Our agriculture faces some enormous challenges in managing land sustainably, managing the quality and availability of our water and in the way we manage our greenhouse gas emissions.

Consumers are becoming more demanding in the way we meet these challenges.

If we are going to respond to market demand (and also do the right thing in all these areas), then we need to push forward our food research and technology.

Food innovation needs facilities. Research and education particularly needs new facilities and they are embodied in this new pilot plant.

Massey's investment clearly builds on its and Palmerston North's existing research and education capabilities (such as the Riddet Centre of Research Excellence.

It shows Massey's commitment to food research and education demonstrated by this pilot plant.

I'm pleased to tell you that both the government and industry are also making a commitment. In fact we are making some dramatic commitments.

Last week I hosted a function at Parliament where I signed an agreement with some of our most important food producers and primary sector businesses.
They were agreeing to put in a share of funding to match the government's contribution of $700 million into New Zealand Fast Forward - a fund that I asked for to transform science and innovation in our pastoral and food industries.

It is the largest single investment in science, research and innovation in our history.

It's a unique partnership aimed at ensuring we remain both competitive and sustainable across the whole value chain - that is, from "farm to fork" and "water to waiter".

Fast Forward helps position New Zealand as a world class economy, known for our excellence in a sector where we enjoy a competitive advantage.

Increasing science funding will increase innovation and increase productivity. It will make our economy more sustainable and help us to develop new, high-value products that appeal to global consumers.

This is about much more than farms. World class agricultural science and innovation will make our economy stronger so we can take better care of New Zealanders.

So I want to praise this new pilot plant, because it clearly aligns with the education and research intents behind New Zealand Fast Forward.

Innovation depends on people. So training is the very first step we have to get right. And this pilot centre will contribute to that.

I think we are seeing here a symbol of our commitment to innovation in our most important economic sectors.

So I wish you every success.

And I have much pleasure in opening this facility.

ENDS

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