By Ann Liu, Director of TEEYA Communications
“It’s going to be a joint venture, so both sides benefit. I am sure we are on the right track by doing that. This congress did that, showing us that both industries are open to information sharing and working together.” –DINZ science and policy manager Catharine Sayer
A group of New Zealand deer farmers and scientists attended the 4th International Symposium on Antler Science and Product Technology (ASPT4) in Shuangyang, China, on 15th -17th August. The symposium was jointly hosted by the Institute of Special Animal and Plant Sciences of CAAS (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences) and Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ). Attendees enjoyed a two-day programme of plenary papers covering three major categories: antler science, velvet product technology, and velvet products and marketing.
Deer Velvet Research in China
Many research papers from these sessions presented intriguing new discoveries, including the potential to arrest memory impairment, and the antioxidant and anti-tumour effects velvet antlers can have at a basic cell level. Other presentations highlighted many other applications still under investigation.
DINZ producer manager Tony Pears said, “The work of Dr Li Chunyi and his talented colleagues, and emerging Masters and PhD students from this leading research centre (Institute of Special Animal and Plant Sciences), provided great confidence to the industry. Internationally, the most energetic focus on deer velvet research now seems confined to China, Korea and New Zealand via DINZ and VARNZ.”
Bringing Research to Market
Most of the New Zealand delegation found the research papers very interesting, even though at times the science was a little hard to understand. While delegates could understand the efforts scientists were focussing on within the velvet industry, it was not always apparent how these research outcomes might be commercialised.
However, conference attendee Andrew Fraser from Mt Cecil Trophy Deer Ltd. in Waimate says opportunities to commercialise research results in China would offer real opportunities to grow New Zealand deer velvet supply to China.
“For me, it’s good to see all the research that has been done for the industry. I suppose my concern is that we now have to look at the science and how to commercialise it, instead of leaving it on the shelf to get dusty. Certainly it shows the amazing potential of the deer products out there in China. If the local (Chinese) Sika farmers can’t supply the products, it is probably an opportunity for New Zealand,” he said.
Blessing with Patience
China is still mainly a traditional market for consuming deer velvet slices and a few years behind South Korea in its industry evolution. The latter has been moving from producing mostly traditional products to supplements in convenient formats such as capsules.
However, the huge focus of deer velvet research in China will no doubt flow through to deer product innovation and the Chinese market has the potential to be huge. DINZ has now turned its attention to China, where its major goal is to develop a market for velvet-based Healthy Functional Foods (HFF).
Seamus Harris, DINZ’s China region representative, says the latest Chinese regulations make it clear New Zealand velvet is a legitimate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) ingredient that can be used in TCM and HFF in China.
Previously, the legal status of New Zealand velvet in medicines and functional foods was unclear, which meant Chinese pharmaceutical and HFF companies had been reluctant to invest in food products containing New Zealand velvet. The regulatory barriers have been largely resolved during the past year and a positive outcome is expected in the future.
Peter Swann from Glennfiddich Deer Farm in Ashburton is optimistic about the industry’s future after his second visit to China.
“The Chinese market is big. The biggest problem is if we move away from traditional slices into powder velvet, it is very hard to distinguish when it is in powder form. The hardest thing is once we start going to the extracts, which will eventually happen in China, then I think the flow (of our supply to China) will be better. At that point, we will develop specific products for specific problems, such as health issues,” he said.
Speaking at the end of the China trip, DINZ science and policy manager Catharine Sayer was impressed at the diversity of retail products from both deer velvet and the entire deer carcass that Chinese companies were producing. Chinese processing facilities appeared to be extremely well equipped and have significant capacity. New Zealand companies should be aware that their Chinese counterparts have growing awareness of the possibilities for deer products so the scene is set for both the New Zealand velvet industry and the Chinese deer industry to reap the benefits of product and market diversification.
“It’s going to be a joint venture, so both sides benefit. I am sure we are on the right track by doing that. This congress did that, showing us that both industries are open to information sharing and working together,” said Catharine Sayer.
Memories of China
Many of the New Zealand delegates, especially those visiting China for the first time, returned home with memories that will last a lifetime. Ian Bristow, owner of Pinewood Deer Farm in Kaipara, said, “I now understand the Chinese market and China itself far better than I ever did. My first visit to China has been pretty amazing. The people here are friendly, even when we couldn’t speak the same language, they were friendly towards me and my wife Diane, which we really appreciated. We didn’t know how we would get on with the language barrier, but a smile or a laugh is a pretty good way to communicate.”