The Importance Of Food Safety For New Zealand’s Economy

Food safety

The New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre has commissioned the Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit (AERU) at Lincoln University to make an independent estimate of the value of the Centre to New Zealand.

Their conservative estimate is $164 million a year, a considerable return on the government investment of up to $2.5 million and a matching amount from the food industries that benefit from the research (see appendix summarising the data).

Director of the Centre, Dr Libby Harrison, said that the New Zealand economy depends heavily on its reputation for safe, high-quality food. Therefore the economy could not afford any mistakes regarding food safety.

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

Leader of the AERU study, agricultural economist Professor Caroline Saunders added that it was 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,” said Saunders.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a massive concern that food processing facilities would be shut down overnight or that products would be shut out of overseas markets.

The Centre quickly reviewed global literature as it evolved and assured 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 has saved them time and give managers and board members confidence in the research.

Michael Brooks, Executive Director of the Poultry Industry Association, agreed that the association and its members had had a tremendous amount of 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,” said Brooks.

The Centre’s annual symposium is on Monday, 3 July, at the University of Otago, Dunedin.

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.