What about the Bioscience R&D then?

Disclosure statement: George worked with Statistics New Zealand on the former Bioscience Survey and, even if he was one of only three people who read it, as StatsNZ pointed out in binning it, he misses it. He is still prone to a getting a little of the glint of the ancient Mariner in his eye when discussing the growth of the industry in New Zealand. He is, however, no longer bearded and has promised to keep it brief.

OK, this is the end of it. After this I won’t bother you with the results of the 2014 StatsNZ R&D Survey again. In 2014 19% of all R&D expenditure in New Zealand was on Bioscience. That’s a total of $486m being spent by 11% of the organisations that undertake research including most of the Government research organisations and most of the higher education institutes.

And that makes a lot of sense because most of what New Zealand does, and more particularly exports, involves growing things, which needs bioscience, and processing them, more bioscience, and we should be doing even more to add value to them, which is even more bioscience. I always look at these numbers because (see disclosure statement above) it’s about the only way to see how activity in the Biotech/Bioscience sector is going. I was making a chart to put in the Biotech 101 lectures on Society, Ethics and Regulation I do for Dave Ackerley’s course at Vic, mostly to show I don’t just trot out the same slides year after year, and probably started to think about the data a little too hard.

The total spend and the percentage accounted for by Bioscience R&D hasn’t really changed since 2012 – the dollars have dropped a bit because, as I have said, government has dropped its spend a bit – but nothing significant. There have, however, been some interesting changes amongst different sectors.

One of the biggest rises comes from the Petroleum, Coal, Chemical, and Associated Product Manufacturing sector, up $7m. This also the sector that spends the highest proportion of its money on bioscience R&D at 46%. This is good news because it’s an area of adding value to raw materials. I tell my students, according to the OECD Bioeconomy 2030 Report – which I like – that White Biotech is going to overtake Red Biotech as a contributor to the world economy so it was also nice to see New Zealand ramping up its R&D in the sector.

The biggest rise of all comes from the Wholesale Trade sector with a $15m increase. This puzzled me at first but, of course, I think a large exporting company that begins with F and a range of its competitors get classified as wholesale traders so the increase there is also good news. I hope so anyway. New Zealand preserving its margins in what it does best.

The worrying one is a fall in dollar terms and percentage of bioscience for R&D by the Primary sector. This has to be a concern. We need research in this area. It’s now official, New Zealand just lost its first 232 jobs to climate change despite the hedging from Sanfords about whether it’s a deeper pattern or not. It will only get worse and ffortunately the Cawthron have just started being able to breed mussels. Somebody needs to be doing the research to make the rest of the species 70% of our current exports rely on more heat and extreme-weather tolerant. Or find new ones. And quickly.

Oh, but wait, we are not allowed to do that research because of the heavy hand of HSNO and our reluctance to change it driven by non-science issues raised by lobby groups, who may be more interested in scrabbling for media attention than usefully addressing national or even global concerns.

So let’s hope the Petroleum, coal, chemical and associated manufacturing sector works out for us because we are going to need it. There won’t be much to trade wholesale if it doesn’t.

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