Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Food safety centre a $164m benefit to economy

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Independent estimate made of centre’s worth to ag and export industries.
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The New Zealand Food Safety Science & Research Centre brings an estimated  $164 million to the country’s economy each year, a new study has found.

The Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit (AERU) at Lincoln University was commissioned to make an independent estimate of the value of the centre to NZ.  The conservative estimate is $164m a year, a significant return on the government investment of up to $2.5m and a matching amount from the food industries that stand to benefit from the research.

The director of the centre, Dr Libby Harrison, said the NZ economy depends so heavily on its reputation for safe, high quality food “that we simply cannot afford any mistakes when it comes to food safety”.  

“Foodborne disease outbreaks can cost millions, and [cause] long-term damage to a company or food sector’s reputation, which can also hurt the New Zealand brand more generally.”

The leader of the AERU study, agricultural economist Professor Caroline Saunders, said it is not easy to put a dollar value on what is effectively an insurance policy against what may or may not have happened without the centre’s science and research support. 

“We made our assessment as quantitative as possible, using case studies from the dairy, horticulture and poultry industries.”
At the beginning of the covid pandemic, there was huge concern that food processing facilities would be shut down overnight, or that NZ products would be shut out of overseas markets.

The centre quickly reviewed global literature as it evolved, and was able to assure the industry that food and food packaging would not be a source of infection. Industry members interviewed by AERU extolled the value of the centre as a fast and efficient way of getting access to the best scientists, and expertise in identifying, framing and managing research projects.

It saved them time, and gave managers and board members confidence in the research. 

Poultry Industry Association executive director Michael Brooks said the industry received “tremendous” support from the centre in dealing with an outbreak of salmonella enteritidis, and ongoing management of campylobacter, which besets the industry worldwide. 

“The centre’s ability to use new whole genome sequencing techniques to trace pathogens is critical,” Brooks said.

The centre is holding its annual symposium in Dunedin this week.  Food safety managers, government regulators, Māori community representatives and scientists will hear about the latest technologies for identifying and managing pathogen risks, and imminent challenges the food industry faces, such as new pathogens arriving as the climate warms, and potential chemical hazards.

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