The science fiction genre has long been predicting the technologies and foods of the future. In the 1970s and ‘80s, 2021 was a far-off world ripe for narratives. Lucky for us, few of the stories provided an accurate picture of our reality – we aren’t eating wafers of soybeans, lentils and plankton (or people) as envisioned in Soylent Green, and Blade Runner didn’t quite nail the famine that led to the 2019 diet of fish, seafood and insects. And, while still a few years away, I don’t believe that in 2029, we will be scrounging for rodents to eat à la The Terminator. Even still, we are living in the future and technology is changing every facet of the world – including our food. From farm to fork, technology is on the horizon to help us create a better, more interactive meat case for today’s consumers. Following are a few examples for you to consider.
Starting at the source, livestock producers are being asked to help with traceability efforts to improve transparency. A recent consumer survey showed that 73% of consumers worldwide indicate traceability of products is important to them – and nearly all of those said they would pay a premium for it.1 Today’s consumers are used to having a world of information at their fingertips and want the same kind of access to information about their food. For that reason, they gravitate toward brands that provide detailed product information.
For meat, one such technology is DNA TRACEBACK from IdentiGEN, which uses DNA to provide the world’s most precise traceability platform for beef, pork, poultry and seafood. This technology allows meat and seafood products to be reliably traced back through production to the farm, parent or individual animal from which they originated. This level of transparency will satisfy even the most skeptical of consumers.
Automation within the meat industry has been considered too difficult for many years due to the complexity of dissembling meat carcasses. However, when COVID-19 put a spotlight on processing facilities, automation became a hot topic for discussion. Today, artificial intelligence, robots and machine learning are at a point where a true conversation can be had about automated meatpacking.
Internationally, parts of meat processing have been automated for years. Hilton Food Group, for example, has been constructing and running automated facilities across Europe for 25 years. Beginning with primals, programmed robots trim and cut meat into finished, packaged products with minimal human contact.
“In addition to increased food safety, automation creates efficiencies that aren’t an option with traditional meatpacking,” explained Paul Armstrong, Business Development Director for Hilton Food Group. “By saving time in processing, the product is fresher when it arrives to the customer. Plus, we have the ability to quickly retool our operations for changing retailer and consumer needs.”