Hughes: Vital NZ adds value to raw products

A Green Party MP says it is vital New Zealand is transformed into a country where value is added to products before they are exported.

Gareth Hughes was talking at the 50th celebration seminar for Massey University food technologists. About 150 food technologists, lecturers and professors gathered in an agricultural lecture theatre at the Palmerston North campus yesterday.

Hughes said all MPs, regardless of political party, wanted to see New Zealand earn more from its exports, but warned this could cost the environment if it was not done well.

Hughes said he grew up in Gisborne, getting seafood, such as crayfish, with his father and working in the meatworks.

"But the freezing works has closed. Instead there is a kilometre of logs - all exported as raw logs. There is no value-add, and it makes our exports open to vagaries of the commodity market."

He said New Zealand had sometimes embraced new technology, for example meat frozen for export, but this had stalled.

"New Zealand shouldn't export sunlight and water - that's what milk powder and logs are and it means a race to the bottom."

Race to the bottom is a phrase designed to highlight competition leading to lower wages, worse working conditions and fewer environmental protections.

New Zealand has 6.6 million dairy cows and Hughes wondered if the focus was where it should be.

"We're an island nation that has a damaged environment. There is no limit to the intellectual property and novel food we can create, but there is a limit to the number of cows we can put on the land."

He said New Zealand fed about 20 million people "but we can't feed some of our own kids - they go to school hungry and there is real poverty".

Hughes said consumers wanted to know where their food had come from and how it had been produced - and they could now check that information on their phones.

He said that, if fish were not caught ethically, for example, consumers and supermarkets could boycott that product.

New Zealand needed to be at the forefront of food technology innovation.

"We've got smartphones and coming are smart-fridges that tell you the use-by date, if something you put in the fridge is OK to eat and when something is getting low. New Zealand needs to be in that market."

Hughes said the average household threw out $458 of food a year.

He had dumpster-dived before, looking for unwanted food. "But I acknowledge that's not the answer. We need to develop value added and brands for New Zealand."

Manawatu Standard