New appointments to Crown Research Institute boards

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods has announced eight new appointments to the boards of five Crown Research Institutes (CRIs).

The percentage of women on these boards has increased from 35.4% to 44.7%.

The new board members are:

  • Rukumoana Schaafhausen as a Director of AgResearch (with Dr Paul Reynolds temporarily acting as the Chair)
  • Kate Thomson as a Director of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR)
  • Felicity Evans as a Director of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS)
  • Barry Harris as Chair, and Mary-Anne Macleod and Dr Tracey Batten as Directors, of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
  • Dr Parmjot Bains and Wendy Venter as Directors of the NZ Institute for Plant & Food Research.

New member bios


Deputy Chair, Dr Paul Reynolds will act as Chair until the appointment process for a new Chair is completed.

Mrs Rukumoana Schaafhausen has been appointed as a Director. She is Chair of Waikato-Tainui Te Kauhanganui Incorporated and a previous Director of Genesis Energy.

Institute of Environmental Science and Research  

Ms Kate Thomson has been appointed as a Director. She is the Chief Financial Officer of the Australian Road Research Board and a previous Chief Financial Officer of NIWA.

Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences  

Ms Felicity Evans has been appointed as a Director. She is General Manager, Human Resources, at the ANZ Bank, and serves on the Board of Global Women and is a past trustee of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research  

Mr Barry Harris has been appointed as the Chair. He is the Chair of the Waikato Institute of Technology and OSPRI,  a director of DairyNZ and a previous Deputy Chair of AgResearch.

Ms Mary-Anne Macleod and Dr Tracey Batten have been appointed as Directors.  Ms Macleod is the outgoing Chief Executive of Bay of Plenty Regional Council and was a senior manager at the Ministry for the Environment.  Dr Batten is a professional director who currently serves on the Boards of Medibank in Australia and Abano Health Care in New Zealand.

New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research

Dr Parmjot Bains and Ms Wendy Venter have been appointed as Directors.  Dr Bains is the Senior Director of Global Access for Pfizer Inc and a previous Advisor and Senior Fellow of The George Institute of Global Health.  Ms Venter is a previous Assistant Auditor-General and partner of EY.


Govt funding of $5.5m aims to get everyday Kiwis planting trees

The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) will provide a $6.6 million boost to a well-established Trust to get New Zealanders planting native trees nationwide.

The funding, over three years, will go to Project Crimson Trust’s Trees That Count campaign, which was launched in 2016 and connects tree planters with tree funders, Forestry Minister Shane Jones said.

“The Trust’s goal is to motivate New Zealanders to plant as many native trees as possible. This funding will allow Trees That Count to significantly scale up its efforts to mobilise more people to get out there and plant native trees to mitigate climate change, improve the environment and increase biodiversity.

“We want everyone – children, mums and dads, grandparents, teenagers, iwi and private businesses – to be part of the nationwide native tree planting movement as part of the One Billion Trees programme.

“The funding will deliver significant social and environmental benefits and I’m pleased the Government has been able to partner with Project Crimson and build on the fantastic work the Trust does.

“The funding will also be used to encourage businesses to fund trees which can be gifted and then planted by everyday Kiwis. Landowners will also be able to pledge land to ensure there are various ways of participating in this common goal.

“Trees That Count will support the development of educational resources, skills and employment for communities. Training is being developed with NorthTec, a local iwi and their plant nursery. Six regional advisors will be employed to train and connect land owners, tree funders and planting groups.”

This is about more than an investment in trees – it’s an investment in people, regional communities and the environment, Mr Jones said.

Source: Minister of Forestry

NZ Food Safety is launched as a new business unit within MPI

Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor, launching New Zealand Food Safety, said it will help raise the profile of food safety for all New Zealanders.

It is one of four new business units created within the Ministry for Primary Industries to create a stronger focus on keys areas of work, along with Biosecurity New Zealand, Fisheries New Zealand and Forestry New Zealand.

New Zealand Food Safety brings together about 390 people from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ food standard setting, verification and assurance teams into one strong and visible business unit.

Everyone had a vital role to play in food safety – from farmers and producers to hospitality workers, small business-owners and families at home, Mr O’Connor said.

“New Zealand Food Safety’s job is to ensure that everyone within the system has the skills, knowledge and experience to play their part”.

Mr O’Connor has asked New Zealand Food Safety to make compliance easier for businesses – particularly for small, regional or rural food businesses including providing guidance to market stallholders, rolling out templates to reduce costs and allowing those operating under several food safety laws to have one plan.

“Small businesses are vital to New Zealand’s economy. We need to be more focused on supporting and understanding them,” he said.

“Their nimbleness and creativity are key to helping our food producing sector stay ahead of consumer trends and reach higher up the value chain.”

Source: Minister of Agriculture

Commercial Mycoplasma bovis test for farmers to apply is being developed

A commercial diagnostic tool, which will allow farmers to do their own testing for the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is being developed by a partnership comprising commercial laboratories, industry representatives and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The tool will be released once sampling guidelines, a testing strategy, and possibly an accreditation programme have been developed – to ensure the test can be accurately applied and interpreted.

The ministry’s response director, Geoff Gwyn, said  the partnership had been working hard to provide practitioners and farmers with better diagnostic tests to assist in detecting the cattle disease on their farms since the discovery of Mycoplasma bovis in New Zealand last year.

“However, while testing options and solutions are becoming available, we have identified that interpreting a one-off test result, even at the herd level, in isolation to other factors, is challenging and carries an inherent risk for farmers when in isolation to other factors,” Mr Gwyn said.

“The tests currently available will lead to a significant number of farms being falsely identified as positive and farms that may be real positives being missed.

“That’s why we are developing robust processes, including a testing strategy and sampling guidelines, which may form part of an accreditation programme.”

The partnership behind the test programme includes representatives from NZ Veterinary Association, Beef and Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Dairy Companies Association of NZ, Federated Farmers, AsureQuality, MilkTest NZ, Livestock Improvement Corporation, New Zealand Veterinary Pathology, SVS Laboratories, and Gribbles Veterinary Pathology.

The veterinary association’s chief veterinary officer, Helen Beattie, said the partnership was focused on helping farmers who were dealing with the many uncertainties around the disease.

“All parties in this partnership are acutely aware of the need for a robust on-farm solution for farmers who are concerned about Mycoplasma bovis. All parties are working urgently on developing this tool, and all the elements needed to support it.”

Any accreditation programme will likely not only consider test result, but also factors such as herd management, animal health, and record keeping (including NAIT records) – all of which will be used to inform farmers of the likely risk of Mycoplasma bovis in their herd.

The ministry is continuing to test milk from every dairy farm in New Zealand – a comprehensive programme that is nearly complete and is being implemented alongside extensive surveillance work to trace every possible movement of animals from infected farms.

“We acknowledge that some farmers may be disappointed they don’t have access to a commercial diagnostic tool now to give them some certainty about whether their animals, or animals they may be purchasing, carry the infection. However, it’s critically important that we don’t rush this – we have to get it right,” said Mr Gwyn.

More information about Mycoplasma bovis can be found HERE. 

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

On your bike (or go by train) – how Professor Hendy is reducing his greenhouse gas emissions

Auckland University physics professor Shaun Hendy has told Radio New Zealand of his own contribution to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and he suggests other scientists could follow his example.

He has given up plane travel for a year as part of the measures he can take to combat climate change.

He told RNZ’s Easter Monday programme he assessed how he could reduce his personal carbon footprint and found cutting back on air travel was the biggest thing he – and many scientists – could do.

Some people would not trust what was being said about climate change if those involved were not taking steps themselves, he noted.

“Something like this might just sway people that are sitting in the middle.

“We are going to move towards a low-carbon economy and a lot of us are going to start have to start making lifestyle decision based on our carbon footprint.”

He said he hoped this might sway some people who were still unsure about the credibility of climate science.

“If enough of us do it, if enough of us start making these steps then collectively we can have a global impact.”

He said by not taking flights he would miss out on an invitation to speak to the UK government, but he managed to find a colleague in the US to go in his stead.

Professor Hendy is speaking in Dunedin today. He travelled down the country from Auckland by train.

The link to the whole interview with Shaun Hendy can be found HERE.

Source: Radio New Zealand


Science Media Centre posts expert comment on those pesky Asian stink bugs


Not in our orchards, if we remain vigilant…

As we have reported (here, here and here) several car shipments were turned away at the border last month because they were infested with Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs.

The bug has spread across the globe from its original home in East Asia and is one of border security’s most wanted.

The agricultural pest is not currently in the country, the Science Media Centre notes in a press release today. But the Ministry for Primary Industries has been asking the public to keep an eye out for the distinctive critter, which is much larger than our native stink bugs.

Biosecurity experts are worried about the impact it might have on both native plants and agricultural exports.

To help inform us about this invasive pest, the Science Media Centre sought answers to a raft of questions from biosecurity experts.

Continue reading

Biosecurity Minister is further questioned about stink bugs from Japan


Damien O’Connor … committed to keeping  out the brown marmorated stink bug.

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor was questioned in Parliament this week about assurances he had given  last week about stink bugs. He had said no vehicles were unloaded off ships carrying brown marmorated stink bugs from Japan recently.

But National’s Nathan Guy challenged him, saying around half the vehicles were unloaded from the Courageous Ace before loading was halted. Those cars, trucks, and buses sat on the wharf for several days before being reloaded back on to the vessel.

In reply, Mr O’Connor said he had been informed none had been unloaded.

“I will follow up on that.

“The important thing to know here — regardless of the actions that took place —is that we are absolutely committed to keeping out the brown marmorated stink bug, something that that member failed to do because he failed to resource the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and their biosecurity responsibilities properly.”

Mr Guy wasn’t finished and called for the Minister to explain how he could say the biosecurity net is working well when, in November last year, “15 live stink bugs — nine of them female — went on a 1,000-kilometre road trip to Christchurch having already passed MPI’s inspection in Auckland?”

Mr O’Connor conceded this had happened but said the biosecurity system taken over by the Labour-New Zealand First Government “had huge holes in it”.

As those holes have been discovered “we have moved immediately to shut them down”.

Very few of the 1,200 import health standards that the previous Minister was responsible for had been reviewed and upgraded.

“That’s why we are having to move through every part of the biosecurity system to give security to those New Zealand producers in the country—because we desperately need them.”

Next, Mr Guy noted the Minister had said “We cannot afford to let … in [stink bugs] and we will shut down the pathways [whenever] we find them.” He asked how this could be reconciled with large construction equipment being left on the wharf for days prior to it being eventually fumigated.

Mr O’Connor replied:

“Once again, I can’t explain the protocols and systems left to us by the previous Government. But I can tell you that we’re working through every one of those, and every member of the biosecurity system in this country knows that they’ve got a new Government with a new focus on biosecurity; they don’t have the same lazy old lax one that they had in the past.”

Finally, Mr Guy asked if the Minister has requested new urgent funding for extra resources in Japan after stating that his ministry does not have enough people offshore to inspect every vehicle; if not, why not?

Mr O’Connor replied “we don’t have enough people to inspect every single car being loaded on to a ship, but I can tell you that the protocols around that will be upgraded and offer us security that was never there under the hundreds of thousands of cars that that member let into this country.”