Preventing the kind of image damage caused to New Zealand by Fonterra's botulism scare will be one of the priorities in setting up a new food safety science and research centre - if it is approved by the Government.

Massey University is hoping to gain approval from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment this month to proceed with establishing the centre.

Creating the new centre was a key recommendation from the Government's inquiry into Fonterra's infant formula contamination scare in 2013.

Massey won the bid to host it last year in a partnership arrangement with AgResearch, the Cawthron Institute, Environmental Science and Research, Plant and Food Research, and the Universities of Auckland and Otago.


Massey food safety Professor Nigel French said it was not a foregone conclusion that the centre would go ahead but if it did he hoped to have it operating as soon as possible.

"Last year we were given the go-ahead to develop the plan. That has now been put to the government's science panel."

The decision was expected this month.

French said the centre would look at ways to improve diagnostic testing of food and how best to communicate with consumers if there was a food safety issue.

The centre would work with New Zealand's food industry to help prevent health risks to local and overseas consumers.

"What we are trying to do is develop an environment where we can produce outcomes that benefit all sectors, be they dairy, meat or seafood," French said.

He said the research could involve getting a better understanding of how consumers in New Zealand's main trading partners thought, as well as local perceptions.

Chinese consumers are likely to be at the forefront as well as those from other countries with which New Zealand has free trade agreements.


French said better insights would hopefully prevent incidents or improve New Zealand businesses' ability to handle them.

Massey would look to organisations in Australia, Europe and North America that provided similar research services.

"There are very good models we could work from and collaborate with," he said.

A budget of $5 million a year has been set down for the next five years to fund the centre.

French said the intention was that the funding would also be matched by industry.

"That is in the original plan and is part of the discussion going on at the moment."

If approval was given, French said, the next steps would be to appoint a development board and advisory panel, then to start work on the research projects proposed.