City eyeing food-safety research centre

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 08:19 11/07/2014

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A cutting-edge food safety and science centre could be coming to Palmerston North if a proposal put forward by some of the country's leading food experts convinces the Government.

Seven organisations have been shoulder-tapped by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment to put forward a tender to host a new food safety science and research centre, worth $5 million a year.

Invites have been extended to AgResearch, Plant & Food Research, Massey, Auckland and Otago universities, the Cawthron Institute and Institute of Environmental Science and Research - some of which have Palmerston North-based satellites.

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said a funding increase prompted a centre of such calibre to be considered, and setting it up would ensure New Zealand remained "an international leader in the food safety field".

It would be used for the work being done on the Government inquiry into the Fonterra botulism scare - as well as managing other potential food safety hazards, risks and research, she said.

Some of the organisations have confirmed they are working on a combined response to the Government's request.

It was helpful that four of the seven institutes were already working together as part of the Palmerston North-based Food HQ research collaboration - which is shaping up to be a world centre for food innovation.

Plant & Food Research was working with others in the consortium to find the best concept for the centre, chief executive Peter Landon-Lane said.

"The Food HQ partnership has been really helpful in the sense we have a good working relationship and would be easily able to click into gear for the centre and bring in other parties whose expertise would be really valuable," he said.

"The centre needs to draw on the right capabilities and skills across New Zealand . . . and there's no single organisation in New Zealand that holds all that expertise itself, so it's important to have a strong collaborative effort."

It was still early days on whether any of the centre's roles would be hosted in Palmerston North but it looked promising given the city's record with Food HQ, Landon-Lane said.

Massey spokesman James Gardiner said some of the organisations had longstanding relationships, which would be practical for the joint proposal.

"We would welcome the opportunity to contribute the expertise and knowledge we have built up over more than 80 years in what is recognised as one of the most important issues the world faces this century - food security and future food systems."

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The Science Board is expected to select in October the organisation that will host the centre, which is expected to be running by the end of the year.

- Manawatu Standard

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