China: the new land of “scientific” opportunities?

From 16.-20. April 2018, Science and Higher Education Minister Iselin Nybø, led probably the largest ever Norwegian official delegation to China, with focus on Science and Education. More than 200 researchers, rectors of Norwegian universities and Institute directors participated in this 5 days tour to Beijing and Shanghai. The Norwegian Veterinary Institute was part of this visit, and before summarizing the visit, it is perhaps important to quickly recapitulate…. Why China? Why now?

By: Carlos das Neves, Head of Section for Food Safety and Emerging Health Threats. 

Strategy for collaboration with China.

The visit was divided into 2 big topics: science and education. We started in Beijing with a full day dedicated to science, where Norwegian and Chinese partners held several parallel seminars on topics ranging from engineering to renewable energies, from clean smart cities to One Health!

The Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI) in close collaboration with The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and NIBIO from Norway plus the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences organized one of these seminars entitled: “Food security, One Health & Climate smart agriculture”.

With an audience of more than 50 people, I would say it was a huge success, and our Chinese colleagues were extremely happy with the topics addressed and the chance to talk about these with us. For NVI, Gaute Lenvik introduced our institute and how ONE HEALTH is a strategic axis of our work, while Merete Hofshagen presented a few examples of ONE HEALTH emerging threats that are common to Norway and China and where cooperation may help both countries to tackle better these challenges. NIPH also covered ONE HEALTH on the human perspective and both NIBIO and NMBU focused on sustainable agricultural development and food production. From China, we heard among others the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention talk about emerging threats such as Avian Influenza, and the Harbin Veterinary Institute about their preparedness for dangerous animal diseases outbreaks.

Meeting with the Harbin Veterinary Institute

Parallel to this seminar, NVI held a meeting with the Harbin Veterinary Institute (the largest veterinary institute in China) to discuss future collaborations, and where Gaute Lenvik formalized an official invitation to the Harbin Veterinary Institute leadership to visit Norway still this year. Gaute and Merete returned to Norway after this seminar while I remained with the delegation and continued to Shanghai to represent NVI there too.

After this first 1,5 day devoted to science the program continued towards education with several seminars highlighting development of joint curricula, exchange of students and professors, and mechanisms for increased financial support to educational joint programs.

In Shanghai, science returned to the main table and we focused on the oceans and on polar research through several seminars. NVI tool part on the “More Food from the Ocean from Sustainable Aquaculture” seminar, where I on behalf of Atle Lillehaug delivered a short presentation on fish health, and on how health must be a key part of any plan aiming at sustainable development of aquaculture in China or anywhere else. There was a strong engagement from Chinese partners, who were very interested on how to tackle emerging diseases in aquaculture. Chinese also presented their ongoing pilot project of salmon production in open waters, and confirmed that this may open a door for new health threats that one should better avoid than remediate! Finally, they extended NVI an invitation to visit this salmon pilot project.  To conclude the delegation focused on the Polar Regions and a seminar organized by the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Chinese Polar Institute covered many topics related to regulation of arctic resources, climate challenges as well as human, fauna and global health.

Globally, I would say this trip allowed us to have a much broader picture of the Chinese scientific portfolio and allowed us to make new contacts with potential partners for future R&I projects. This visit was also “prime-time” for Norwegian institutions such as NVI, NIPH or NIBIO to put their ONE HEALTH commitment to the test. Working as a “ONE HEALTH NORWAY TEAM” we delivered a strong united message that ranged from crop to human health covering animals, fishes, food etc…

What about the money?

Of course, many will say that good intentions and nice talks are not enough, and if scientific collaboration is to proceed one needs funding mechanism in place! Here too Norway and China are moving quickly. After the signature of a MoU last years between the Ministries of Science and Higher Education of Norway and China, both countries worked quickly to produce their first joint bilateral call for scientific projects. This first call, which submission deadline just passed this last Wednesday 25th April, focused on two main topics: Integrated multi-stressor impacts on ecosystems and Sustainable agriculture (this last one including food security and sustainable agriculture, plant health and plant protection, animal health and sustainable exploitation of plant genetic and other natural resources, food safety and public health, including antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and pesticide residues in food and feed). Here too, I am happy to report that NVI worked quick and efficiently and is coordinating three project applications and participating in one more:

I would like to finish with leaving a big word of thanks to these project leaders and a few others at NVI who have worked around the clock in these last two weeks to ensure that these projects were successfully submitted. It was not easy, even more because of the language barrier, but the projects are in and now it is time to hope that all of these projects once financed (why not be optimistic?) may be the first steps in the cooperation between NVI and the “science giant” that is China.

Carlos Goncalo Das Neves

Seksjonsleder / Seniorforsker
Mobilnr: +47 96231702

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