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Science and innovation needed to address food crisis

Science and innovation needed to address food crisis

Science and technology are crucial in meeting the 70 per cent increase in food production demanded by the world’s growing population, internationally respected Massey University food scientist Distinguished Professor Paul Moughan says, ahead of a forum to debate the issues this week.

Professor Moughan, who recently returned from being part of an international think tank on world food security, will lead discussions at the New New Zealand Forums in Wellington on Wednesday.

He will be joined by Massey University food scientist Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, Pro Vice-Chancellor College of Health Professor Paul McDonald and Head of Agribusiness and Property for Westpac Mark Steed as part of a forum panel gathering at a time of volatility in world food prices and uncertainty in the agricultural research sector.

Wednesday’s forum follows an earlier event in Auckland last week, where Professor Moughan outlined how New Zealand’s competitive advantage still lies in its intellectual capital.

“There is enough cultivatable land available now to meet these demands if we close yield gaps, shift our food usage, reduce waste and use water wisely.

“Absolutely central to this is the need for science, technology, intellect and knowledge to allow all these things to be done, and be done in a fully sustainable way. It can be done and it will only be done with the power of science.

“More and more the world is going to want to see food product claims backed by hard scientific evidence. This, alongside innovative development of products and specialised ingredients, will give New Zealand a competitive advantage.”

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Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh stated that, to be competitive on the world stage, New Zealand must double its research and development investment in agrifood.

“R and D is the driver of this innovation. We have strong and comprehensive research networks around the country but our research intensity – the R and D dollar expenditure as a per cent of revenue - is low relative to other countries such as Ireland and Denmark, and large multi-national companies such as Nestle.

“Our science is very strong but there is a general perception that we don’t get much value out of R and D. We need to realise the full innovation impact of all our investments. To do this we need to prioritise and align our research to the needs of industry and consumers.”

Professor McDonald outlined the need for more nutritional food in the future, citing the example of China where 200 million people suffer from chronic illnesses, 40 per cent of which could be prevented with changes in diet.

“It is an imperative for us to meet both the current and future demands not only in terms of quantity of food but also quality.”

Mr Steed saw the role of banks as managing the volatility and to support their customers through the highs and lows of the economic cycle .

ENDS

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