National Science Challenge to Launch Research

Published: Tue 13 Oct 2015 11:58 AM
What if New Zealand developed the next generation of foods that will help consumers maintain their health and protect them against diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome or chronic allergies? What if we could answer some big science questions – use that knowledge to develop foods with proven health benefits and boost our economy at the same time?
That’s the aim of the National Science Challenge High-Value Nutrition and today marks a significant step towards this ambitious goal – launching its research with a $10.9million investment in scientifically validating foods-for-health. The challenge is to drive innovation in nutrition research, food science and health – repositioning New Zealand as a world leader in the lucrative food-for-health market and boost our exports by $1billion by 2025.
The three priority areas being funded are:
• Metabolic Health – The team led from Auckland University will work at developing foods that help with metabolic control, reducing the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
• Immunity – The team led out of The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research will initially look at ways nutrition can improve immune defences against infections and pollution.
• Gastrointestinal Health – The team led out of AgResearch will investigate the causes of gut irritability and discomfort to identify ways to achieve healthy gut function to improve optimal daily health.
Complementing this research will be underlying projects in Consumer Insight (Plant & Food Research) and Food Science (Massey University). The investment totals $10.9million and will further grow to $13.9million in 2016.
“This economic development initiative is innovative, bringing together the best scientists with a wide range of expertise to target the needs of consumers” says High-Value-Nutrition Science Director Professor David Cameron-Smith. ”The best scientific brains in the country will be working closely with the innovators and exporters from New Zealand food and beverage companies to ensure our findings can translate into greater value for our exports. By scientifically validating a health benefit, the premium and value to the consumer becomes an important point of difference. Food for health is the new global trend.”
“These research projects are focused on world-wide health concerns that are increasing especially in Asia” says Professor David Cameron-Smith. “Asia is a region which is becoming wealthier, but not healthier. A change to a western lifestyle and diet is causing a significant increase in heart disease, diabetes, obesity, allergies and intolerances.”
“And the high population density and pollution causes respiratory illness and immunity problems. We are focusing on these health issues because New Zealand already has established a reputation for the quality of its foods and beverages in Asia. This science challenge is to grow the export of foods and beverages that develop health benefits.”
High-Value Nutrition Board Chairman, Bob Major says the research announced today is the first step in repositioning NZ Inc. as a world leader in food-for-health.
“The recent volatility of commodity prices has once again underlined the importance of adding value to our food exports, and the investments announced today by High-Value Nutrition are an important contribution to that strategy” he said.
“To cash-in on the global trend of food-for-health we need scientific validation especially with regulations around health claims tightening internationally.”
Comvita CEO and High-Value Nutrition Industry Advisor Brett Hewlett says New Zealand needs to play it smart and play the niche marketing game of food-for-health and the research will assist harnessing export opportunities in Asia.
“What the New Zealand industry needs to realise is that we are a food bowl but we are in highly competitive markets globally and we need to constantly search for a competitive edge. High-Value Nutrition research will allow us to position New Zealand products in the premium food-for-health space rather than commodities offered by other countries.”
“The speed of change in Asia is frightening and there is a megatrend for consumers to be especially concerned about their food, where it comes from, and can they trust it. They are looking to a country like New Zealand and saying here is a trusted source - there is a great opportunity to capitalise on that – deliver safe quality products that deliver health benefits with robust science backing it up.”
High-Value Nutrition Board member Paul Morgan says he is encouraging Māori businesses to engage with the Challenge – and they have a competitive advantage because of the cultural parallels with Asia.
“It’s a very exciting journey into Asia and we have a very similar culture – we are very family oriented and that gives us a head start.”
“I am encouraging Māori businesses and entrepreneurs to get on the waka for this challenge, or you will find yourself ten years behind. They need to find a way to engage and use their own cultural knowledge to create products that they can make a health claim on and take them to market with their unique story.”
The research contracts have been awarded across several Crown Research Institutes, universities and independent research organisations – bringing together the best of New Zealand’s capability and a strong science focus.
High-Value Nutrition has allocated $3.6million to AgResearch to research the relationship between nutrition and gastrointestinal health. The principal investigator is Dr Nicole Roy collaborating with colleagues at the University of Otago, the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and Plant & Food Research.
High-Value Nutrition has allocated $3.5million to the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research to research the relationship between nutrition and immune defences. The principal investigator is Dr Elizabeth Forbes-Blom. She will be assisted by colleagues at AgResearch, Plant & Food Research and the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand.
High-Value Nutrition has allocated $2.9million to the University of Auckland to research the relationship between nutrition for metabolic health. Professor Sally Poppitt is the principal investigator working with scientists from the University of Otago, AgResearch and Plant & Food Research.
High-Value Nutrition has allocated $600,000 to Massey University for a preliminary project to establish current knowledge on the food science of health foods as a lead into a larger $1.5m programme to support the design and development of food and beverages that maintain their health benefits through to the point of consumption. The principal investigator is Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, with colleagues from the University of Otago, Lincoln University and AgResearch.
High-Value Nutrition has allocated an initial $300,000 to Plant & Food Research to establish a collective NZ Inc. programme on consumer insights in relation to food-for-health in our key markets with a focus on Asia. The principal investigator is Dr Roger Harker with collaborators from the University of Auckland, the University of Otago and Price Waterhouse Cooper. This will lead into the design of a wider $1.5m study to identify the key drivers of consumer behaviour in relation to food purchases and health and wellbeing.

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