Bain: Time to go gangbusters on value-added food

 As a small country, New Zealand can’t do everything, let alone do everything well. It’s time to zero in on a few key sectors and throw our weight behind them, says MSI chief executive Murray Bain.

Bain told the 2012 NZBIO conference countries such as Singapore had focused on identifying key opportunities and building key industries to great success.

“Successful small countries are prepared to be focused,” he said. “It is a deliberate choice at the highest level.”

While New Zealand hasn’t been receptive to the idea, he cited our food industry as one ripe for the pickings.

“We could focus on an area sometimes described as food for health – address modern global issues like keeping an ageing population healthy, the diabetes epidemic,” he said.

“It seems logical given global demands and our strengths in food production and animal/human health research… that we ought to be able to do more.”

Bain said bioscience generated well-paid jobs, added high value, and importantly attracted smart people to the country.

“We need this sector as much as ever to move us away from dependence on commodities and create more wealth for everyone.”

While in the early 70s our income and Denmark’s were tracking along fairly evenly, a 30 percent gap has opened up since, he said.

One reason for that is Denmark’s success in biosciences, in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and adding value to commodities like food.

“The Danes have managed to change the makeup of their economy in a way that we have not.”

There’s no single panacea; this requires a broad approach. Some the government can lead, others require more input from industry. And collaboration is key to reaching vital mass, according to Bain.

IRL’s Professor Shaun Hendy’s map of New Zealand’s innovation network shows links between 450 inventors, but only 14 companies. We’ve got a long way to go before we catch up to the likes of Finland.

“Connectedness is a critical ingredient we still need to work on.”

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