We can adapt,and we should keep doing so

International economist David McWilliams said about the Covid-19 pandemic: ‘‘What was radical before a crisis becomes mainstream — what was mainstream becomes redundant.’’

As New Zealand moves into Alert Level 1 we have a head-start to adapt and turn the radical into mainstream.

Let’s start with one interesting group of radicals, an area I believe is open for mainstream growth. Naturopaths and medical herbalists have long been seen as radical. This is despite records of plants being used as medicines dating back to 2600BC and the fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration states 10% of approved drugs are directly derived from plants and many drugs are synthetically produced analogues of plant-derived compound(s).

There are 250,000 to 500,000 plant species in the world and only about 6% of them have been screened for bioactivity. It seems obvious that we should be screening more plants, potentially for the pharmaceutical market but more importantly given our small R&D dollar, the preventive market — adding New Zealand-grown bioactives into food and drinks or making nutraceuticals.

Interestingly, non-alcoholic functional beverages are the fastest growing beverage sector — check out Arepa as a cool example.

Let’s stretch my thinking further and tie in one radical group, the naturopaths with another, the vegans. Vegans are generally not popular — apparently only drug addicts inspire the same degree of loathing, yet ‘‘a quarter of 25- to 34-year-old Americans say they are vegans or vegetarians’’ (John Parker, The Economist). Perhaps we need to get with the times and loosen up on the loathing.

If we go back to the statement ‘‘what was radical before a crisis becomes mainstream’’, it’s interesting to watch what is happening with New Zealand food products during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the rest of the world battles Covid-19, demand surges for products which represent health and wellness — kiwifruit and Manuka honey are riding a wave of demand, alongside nutraceuticals.

Is the demand surge a Covid-19 blip, will it disappear? I don’t believe so, I think we are in the midst of seeing radical become mainstream. Here’s how I believe we should be responding.

1: Invest in the plant-based revolution — it’s here to stay.

2: Take the revolution a step further, commodity grains and pulses are not for us unless we add value. Plant-based proteins and holistic preventive medicine products which fit the nutraceutical or the naturopath market should be explored.

3: Encourage our farmers to experiment with new plants and crops on portions of their land — remember plant-based products can come from trees and shrubs as well, so the best land is not always needed — could there be a special innovation fund for farmers to trial some ideas?

4: Pick some winners and invest in the development of the full value chain, we want to sell the end manufactured product, not just the raw ingredients — this may need international investors and government.

Are the meat eaters feeling uncomfortable? Before the medical professionals and livestock farmers start egging me — I don’t think this is an either/or situation. Many consumers have relationships with naturopaths and still access modern medicine — this is termed integrative medicine. Many consumers will buy plant-based health products and still have a glass of milk. David McWilliams states ‘‘the mainstream becomes redundant’’; hopefully, in the case of animal protein the redundant will be the indoor factory farmers, cramming livestock into stalls and pumping them full of antibodies. I’m okay with those practices becoming redundant.

Some international commentators say that New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 has enhanced our reputation around food systems and safety.

Let’s use that as an incredible launch pad and get more radical.

■Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio Ltd, a Dunedin based agri-technology company.

Comments

No bias here! Vegans aren't popular? Where did you get that from? My husband and I are vegan and have lived all over the world. The only place we couldn't get a decent vegan meal was here in New Zealand. What's worse is the repulsive vegan meals we've been forced to endure cost and arm and a leg. That said, food is really expensive here in New Zealand. A good portion of the population literally is living paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to feed their families. Your proposition is to get them to spend even more of their limited financial resources on vegan food and other natural foods where they get less. Nice idea, in theory, everybody wants to eat healthily but it is cost-prohibitive for people with limited financial resources. Your proposal isn't realistic! Meat-eaters couldn't care less what vegans eat. Most would eat vegan food if it didn't taste like shredded cardboard. Do you think most farmers are going to grown commodity grains? Experiment with them? They are breaking their backs to make ends meet and don't have time to experiment. What international commentators say that New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 has enhanced our reputation? Who? Good ideas but wrong time!

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