NZ potential world leaders in food-for-health

NZ potential world leaders in food-for-health

A US nutrition expert says New Zealand can be a world example in terms of using food for health because of our agriculture and science industries.  

Professor Bruce German, from the University of Davis, California, is in New Zealand to address the High-Value Nutrition Science Symposium - one of 11 National Science Challenges run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

"New Zealand has a reputation as an agricultural enterprise, but also urban and modern both scientifically and industrially," Prof German says.

However, Kiwis don't quite appreciate how rare and valuable those qualities are, he says.

"The world doesn't really know very well how best to nourish people, that's apparent by things like the rates of obesity and diabetes, allergy and the various health conditions that we know are related to diet."

Prof German recommends a farm-to-fork initiative and says New Zealand is already in a unique position to be able to deliver this because of our agricultural economy and industry, as well as a domestic industry sector for processing. He notes dairy as the best example of this.

This High-Value Nutrition project is an $84 million investment over the next 10 years to establish New Zealand as an international leader in food-for-health.

Its target is to increase our exports by $1 billion over the next decade.

In 2015, the challenge invested $10.9 million in its long-term research programmes, complemented by $7M worth of shorter-term research projects.

"New Zealand's High-Value Nutrition initiative is potentially a model of how the rest of the world can move forward," Prof German says.

Prof German says because of the "diabolical" nature of agriculture and food it's challenging to get the formula right and be cost effective and affordable.

"It has to be safe for the people who produce it and for the people who consume it and of course it has to be delicious."

There is now also a sustainable focus and Prof German says therein lies the challenge -- how do you get it all right?

Science research into health and foods will become more important because the 21st century is becoming the "biological century", whereas the 20th century was dominated by oil, he says.

New Zealand's focus on human biology will give it a competitive edge and is "very forward thinking", he says.

Prof German says an appealing aspect of the High-Value Nutrition project is its focus on human lifelong quality, in contrast to other countries where research efforts focus on diseases affecting the ageing population and drugs or medication.

"If it's successful [New Zealand] will set a model in place that the rest of the world can use," he says, "because the rest of the world really needs this".

"[The world] needs to get agriculture and move from making cheaper commodities that aren't very healthy to sustainable agriculture systems that are good for the consumer and good for the environment."