Long-term strategy needed for NZ’s food sector

New Zealand’s food and primary industries need to capitalise on our rising international reputation with a long-term food strategy that supports sustainability and can adapt to new technologies and consumer demands, say experts.

The future of food and the primary sector: The journey to sustainability, written by Dr Anne Bardsley, Bridget Coates, Dr Stephen Goldson, Sir Peter Gluckman and Professor Matthias Kaiser says the growing food sector is critical to our economic and environmental future.

“We have a chance to leverage our status and position as a leading producer of elite primary products into developing a national brand that reflects our unique values and culture, our strength as a people, and our deep respect and affection for the environment,” the report says.

The paper was produced by Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures – a think tank and research centre at the University of Auckland – through a series of conversations with some of the most senior and experienced food industry leaders, scientists and stakeholders.

The report raises issues confronting the future of New Zealand’s agricultural and food production system, which includes agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture and fisheries, ranging from production through to distribution, marketing, selling, consumption and disposal.

Koi Tū deputy director Anne Bardsley says discussion about sustainable, safe-food systems is taking greater prominence around the world as a result of increasing awareness of environmental impacts and climate change. Consumer demand for high quality is food growing, as is interest in food’s provenance and attributes such as safety, nutritional value, animal welfare, carbon footprint and environmental protection.

The future of the food sector is a “values-based industry”, and many farmers and producers are already shifting to position themselves for a future, based on the values of sustainability, resilience and kaitiakitanga (guardianship).

“What food will New Zealand will produce in 30 years time? The common assertion that our food production is a mature industry is wrong. There are major opportunities to advance the sector, but a more strategic approach to research and development is needed,” says Dr Bardsley.

Director of Koi Tū and report co-author Sir Peter Gluckman says New Zealand needs to make decisions about which technologies it should exploit, as sensors, big data and artificial intelligence, and advances in life sciences such as gene editing, will dramatically change agriculture and food production systems. Non-animal-based foods, replacing meat and milk using advanced technologies, are also rapidly emerging.

Sir Peter says New Zealand could become a “global thought leader” in sustainability across the entire food system by taking a proactive approach emphasising the qualities of sustainable, low-carbon dairy production, agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and aquaculture.

He believes it is critical Government agencies take a coordinated partnership approach with scientists, producers and manufacturers to support and encourage the food and production industries’ journey towards a resilient future.

The report recommendations for a food strategy include:

  • Agreement on goals for sustainable and renewable pastoral farming, horticulture, fisheries and aquaculture
  • Developing a clear narrative around New Zealand’s sustainable food production
  • Investment in accurate environmental data that will provide validation for the claims being made to global consumers
  • Integrated investment in the long-term and strategic research necessary to support an increasingly technologically-based sector facing rapid change as a result of climate change, environmental footprints, and different markets and consumer expectations
  • Current regulatory barriers to exploring the potential of advanced life science technologies to assist our food system need to be periodically reassessed, given the rapid advances in knowledge related to their use
  • Investment in supporting producers to ensure food safety and provenance traceability
  • Investment in broadband connectivity within the rural sector
  • Increased efforts to protect our free-trade relationships and market access
  • Attention to workforce requirements in the primary sector, including psychosocial needs of rural communities, upskilling of displaced workers, and training for future high-tech production methods
  • Clear and unequivocal endorsement to the nation of the central role of the primary industries and growers in wealth creation and jobs for New Zealand
  • Development of a national marine strategy that allows for innovative, sustainable aquaculture development and investment while supporting the preservation of marine ecosystems and biosecurity.

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