New Zealand Government Backs Bid to Make Food From Microalgae

The Government of New Zealand is backing investigations into a potential new food industry for the country based on protein-rich, carbon-absorbing native microalgae.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister Rachel Brooking recently announced funding to help scientists and businesses look at which of hundreds of strains of microalgae might be suitable for including in foods like protein bars and shakes.

The New Zealand Government is providing NZ$750,000 through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund toward a NZ$1.5 million project with the Cawthron Institute, marine engineering company Kernohan Engineering, and biotechnology nutrition start-up NewFish.

The money will be used to explore Cawthron’s collection of nearly 600 strains of microalgae, as well as collect new samples from rivers, lakes, and the sea. NewFish will work with Kernohan Engineering to take the best microalgae strains and grow them at a commercial scale.

Since it was established by the Government in late 2018, the SFFF has invested almost NZ$560 million in 263 projects.

“We’re strengthening the economy by investing in the basics for growth – skills, better infrastructure and science and technology,” Brooking said.

“Things are already improving for our seafood sector after a couple of hard years, with export revenue up about 8% this year, to NZ$2.1 billion.”

“But we need to keep building for tomorrow. If we’re going to have more jobs and earn more money while protecting the environment, we’ve got to find ways of doing things differently.

That’s why the prospect of developing microalgae as a food source is exciting,” Brooking added.

“It is a low-carbon protein that can be grown sustainably in bioreactors on land. It doesn’t compete with other types of farming for arable land and grows really fast, some of them doubling in size every day.”

“Microalgae have caught the attention of scientists around the world for their extraordinary properties and potential to create an abundant, high-quality natural protein source, using only a fraction of the water, land and time of other types of farming.”

“And on top of all that, the process of growing them captures carbon out of the air and stores it – the very thing we need to do to keep climate change under control and meet our emissions-reduction commitments,” Brooking said.

Global food demand is expected to increase by 60% by 2050, and food security is threatened by issues like climate change, geopolitics, and pests and diseases.