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Big global issues on the agenda for NZ event

Media Release 19th June, 2012

Big global issues on the agenda for NZ event

The breadth and depth of New Zealand’s approach to sustainability and its ability to collaborate are reflected in the programme announced for the world’s top agricultural biotechnology conference taking place in Rotorua in September.

Hosted by NZBIO, the New Zealand biotechnology industry association, ABIC (Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference ) 2012, will attract industry leaders, researchers and scientists, investors and policy makers from around the world. The Ministry of Science and Innovation is a key sponsor of the event.

Dr Roger Hellens, Science Group Leader at Plant & Food Research, chairs the group which has drawn up the five-day ABIC programme. He says it is tailored to New Zealand’s unique strengths.

“To date, a lot of the justification for doing biotechnology has been about its economic benefits while social and environmental benefits were a secondary consideration. But that is changing as concern grows about issues like water scarcity and our environmental footprint.

“New Zealand is known for understanding sustainability in the full sense of the word – we value its economic, environmental and social components - and we have designed a programme that examines issues like bio energy, food security and sustainable production of healthy food from all three perspectives.”

The Chief Executive of NZBIO, Dr Suzanne Bertrand says New Zealand’s experience in partnerships and collaboration delivers another advantage for delegates attending ABIC 2012.

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“There is good dialogue in New Zealand between the research community, business and policy makers. NZBIO already acts as a conduit for those conversations here – ABIC is a chance to do it on a bigger scale.”

She says New Zealand’s history as a food producer will also add value to ABIC.

“The world is facing major challenges in the production and delivery of food, the ability to feed growing populations and the quality of what people are eating. New Zealand has an outstanding track record in coming up with creative and sustainable solutions in this area.”

Some of the world’s most influential leaders in agbiotech will speak at the conference, including Dr Clive James, founder of ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications), a not-for-profit organisation set up to transfer crop biotechnology applications to farmers in developing countries.

Dr Roger Beachy, a former Chief Scientist in the US Department of Agriculture, Laureate of the Wolf Prize in Agriculture, and known world-wide for his ground breaking development of virus-resistant plants, is also attending.

A key issue for him is encouraging development of technologies that will significantly reduce, and eventually eliminate, the need to spray food crops with agrichemicals.

“I am amongst the large group of scientists that wants to see agrichemicals fade out of the picture in 20 years. ABIC is a place to talk about how we get there.

“We also need to ensure development of biotechnologies to enhance the safety and nutritional value of food as well as the quantities that are produced.”

Dr Beachy says: “We know that many fruits and vegetables have high levels of vitamins and other positive nutritional properties and contribute to improved human health and prevention of disease. Once we have better information about how the nutrients in foods enhance health, scientists will have a better roadmap to lead molecular breeding efforts to produce seeds that will deliver food with maximum health benefits.”

Dr Beachy says ABIC has a unique place on the international calendar, bringing cutting edge research together with organisations and businesses that can translate the science into products while also providing a forum to discuss regulatory issues around crops developed through biotechnology.

Another speaker at the event, Dr T.J. Higgins, an Honorary Fellow at CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Australia’s national science agency, says ABIC is a proven forum for connecting innovations to downstream applications.

His focus is developing countries where agriculture has the potential to reduce poverty and improve education. “Getting people fed is the first step to getting them educated,” he says.

“We are in a golden age for advances in plant and animal genetics. Some of these are trickling down to poorer economies but more slowly than I would like. My goal is to see expressions like ‘Starved for Science’ (which has been used to describe the continent of Africa) disappear from the language.”

ABIC 2012 takes place from 2 – 6 September and its theme is Adapting to a Changing World.

To view the programme for ABIC 2012, visit: www.abic2012.com/index.cfm/programme

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