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Kiwi academics unite over high-value nutrition ‘challenge’

By RJ Whitehead , 08-Apr-2014

Five Kiwi institutions have joined forces in a NZ$80m joint project to address one of the New Zealand government’s 10 big science challenges.

Massey University has team up with the University of Auckland, the University of Otago, AgResearch and Plant & Food Research to lead what is known as the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge over the next decade.

Food and beverages are important contributors to the growth of New Zealand exports. This challenge will focus on how New Zealand can add value through science to our primary produce,” said Steven Joyce, the country’s science and innovation minister, at the project’s launch.

Over the past six months researchers from a range of institutions and across disciplines have been developing challenge proposals.

Developing new foods

Massey vice-chancellor, Steve Maharey, said producing enough nutritious food for the world's growing population was top of the list of global challenges.

"Our scientists are working hard to develop healthier foods that are affordable, accessible and taste good. One billion people are malnourished. According to the United Nations, we need to produce 70% more food over the next two decades,” Maharey said.

The project aims to develop new foods and beverages that improve health at different stages of people’s lives, from maternal through to the elderly. 

"It will be… finding new ways of developing nutritious food that promotes health and at the same time benefits the New Zealand economy." 

It will also look into how foods improve suppleness, flexibility and recovery from injury, and if health-giving foods lift immunity levels and increase tolerance to allergies.

Economic value

The ultimate goal of the research is to increase the value of New Zealand raw materials and food exports by validating health claims for food and beverage products, leading to higher premiums for NZ products in the global marketplace.

Massey College of Health research director, Professor Marlena Kruger, will be part of the science leadership team for the challenge. 

For 12 years, we have provided bio-marker-driven science which has enabled Fonterra to build its Anlene bone-health brand past the half billion dollar mark," Kruger said. 

"I am particularly looking forward to our clinical trial and bio-marker work being joined with growing activities across the country. In this new research, we’ll be focusing on muscles, joints and bones as we look at mobility health.”

The institutions aim to establish a centre for research that they say will be “an authoritative voice around food-for-health in New Zealand and across the globe”.

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