When award winning New Zealand pinot noir starts flowing freely at 2.30 in the afternoon you know it’s going to be a special day. The joint NZ-Australia wine tasting event this afternoon drew a good crowd of pleasure seekers (and rightly so) but it was also a good warm up for what was to come. The late afternoon breakout session on Biotech Approaches to Building Sustainable Industries presented a panel with a strong New Zealand slant, Chaired by Chris Boalch of Investment NZ.
Dr Boalch opened with the question of how we translate the sustainability buzzword into the real world. He used examples of NZ companies who are walking the talk: Livestock Improvement Corporation with it’s work in effecient feed conversion, PGG Wrightson with its sustainable pasture grasses, AgResearch and their work to reduce ruminent methane emissions, Scion’s biomaterial engineering, Keratec and it’s innovative work with natural materials. And don’t overlook NZ’s integrated healthcare programme, including Lifevent Medical, Pacific Edge Biotechnology, and Nexus6.
Paul Kinnon of ZyGEM, an international company started in New Zealand, reminded us that the planet is our life support system, and we ignore it at our peril. Global spending on healthcare and general advertising far exceeds any resources put into environmental sustainability. With biotech’s broad reach, touching everyone and every country in some way, Paul asked us to be a responsible industry.
Finally, Bruce Campbell of HortResearch, NZ’s world leading fruit science company, shared his thoughts on biotech’s role in a sustainable food supply. We may have heard this before, but it’s hard to ignore the perfect storm building around food security, with a rising global population, greater demand from emerging economies, and in some cases public policy and biofuels muddying the mix.
What to do? Agricultural productivity is not keeping pace with growing demand and predictions that by 2050 we’ll have around 9 billion people to feed. Water supply is going to be one of the greatest challenges, Bruce said, with climate change effecting the amount of arable land available for food production.
HortResearch is actively working to meet some of these challenges, with smart breeding for food and health – including a new generation of plant based foods with high health impacts and new cultivars that can rapidly adapt to climate change as well as resist key pests and diseases naturally for reduced enviromental impact.
The question remains: Is technology up to the challenge?