Image Source: AP Photo/Stephen Groves
Slaughterhouses around the country have been participating in a pilot program allowing them to process up to 1,450 hogs per hour, a significant increase over the previous maximum line speed of 1,106 hogs. The National Pork Producers Council and North American Meat Institute have been lobbying to make the faster line speeds permanent, but the USDA recently rejected their requests due to worker safety concerns. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union International, which represents 33,000 workers, welcomed the decision as well as the USDA's commitment to strengthening worker safety protections. As processors revert to previous maximum line speeds as of June 30, consumer prices may be affected. If processors decide to supply less pork to the market, wholesale and retail prices for ham, pork chops and bacon may go up.
Image Source: Aleph Farms
Israeli startup Aleph Farms aims to shift the global paradigm of meat production and consumption. The company's pioneering bioprinting technology cultivates living bovine cells in a lab to replicate the shape and texture of beef steak. Aleph’s chief executive Didier Toubia says the process is similar to the vascularization that occurs naturally as cattle grow and develop muscle. Toubia claims that Aleph's ribeye tastes, chews, and cooks much like a conventional steak. The company also says that it can tailor steaks to consumer preferences, increasing or decreasing factors like tenderness and leanness. Aleph's first products will reach the US market in the second half of 2022. However, the US Food and Drug Administration has yet to grant regulatory approval for the sale of cultivated meat.
Image Source: Courtesy The Spoon
San Francisco tech startup Air Protein has raised $32 million to create alternative meats for direct-to-consumer sales. The company feeds elements found in the air, such as carbon dioxide, to genetically modified microbes in a fermentation tank. The resulting protein is texturized and flavored to resemble various meats. Other than air, the technology requires very few resources, allowing "air protein" to be produced virtually anywhere in the world. Focus groups have yet to weigh in on the taste.
Image Source: Lindt Und Spruengli / Keystone / Alexandra Wey
Lindt Home of Chocolate just opened in Zurich, Switzerland. The interactive research facility and confectionery museum guides guests through seven "chocolate worlds" that exhibit the process of cocoa bean cultivation and production. Guests can make their own confections in a chocolate-making class, and the museum’s centerpiece is the world's largest chocolate fountain standing 30 feet tall.
The U.S. Department of Labor has fined Smithfield Foods Inc. regarding a COVID-19 outbreak that infected almost 1,300 meatpacking employees and killed four. The fines allege that the company failed to properly protect its employees from the virus. Smithfield said it would contest the citation, a proposed $13,494 fine, which is the maximum amount allowed by law, according to the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “OSHA has been asleep at the switch throughout this pandemic and this is just the latest example of the agency failing to do their job and take responsibility for worker safety,” said Marc Perrone, president of The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant at which the outbreak occurred is one of the pork industry’s largest, with about 3,700 employees. Another large meatpacker, JBS, was also fined for failure to properly protect workers at its plant in Greeley, Colorado, where 290 employees have tested positive and six have died. Between the two meatpackers, the total fines are $29,000, so little that critics fear it will do little to incentivize the nation’s meatpackers to protect workers from additional outbreaks and deaths.
A group of mechanical engineers at the National University of Singapore has developed a new substance that helps to prolong the life of perishable food products. The aerogel, a type of ultralight and porous solid, is made from recycled pineapple leaves blended with water, aged, frozen, freeze-dried, then treated with activated carbon powder. The carbon powder allows the aerogel to absorb ethylene gas, which is what accelerates ripening in fruits and vegetables. As a result, the aerogel helps to prolongs the life of perishable food products and may help to reduce food waste. “In our lab experiments, eco-aerogels modified with activated carbon can delay the rotting process by at least 14 days,” said Professor Phan-Thien, a lead researcher on the team. The scientists have filed a patent for the new aerogel, noting that the material could offer an inexpensive solution for food preservation and even waste water treatment. “These eco-aerogels made from pineapple leaf fibers are very versatile,” said research Professor Duong Hai-Min. “This is a big step towards sustainable agriculture and waste management.”
The Arkansas-based meatpacking company Tyson processes about 20% of all beef, pork and chicken in the United States, and some of its plants have become coronavirus hotspots. In response, the company announced that it is opening medical clinics near seven of its plants, including in Storm Lake, Iowa, and Holcomb, Kansas. The clinics are scheduled to open early next year. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 24,000 of Tyson’s 120,000 U.S. employees, commended the move. Mark Lauritsen, head of the Union’s food processing and meatpacking division, stated that other meat processors such as JBS and Cargill have already started using clinics at some of their large plants because workers must stand close to each other. In the U.S., at least 17,700 meat plant workers have been infected or exposed to the coronavirus and 115 have died, according to the Union. The families of three Tyson workers in Iowa who died from COVID-19 earlier this summer sued Tyson, claiming they knowingly endangered employees at the start of the pandemic. Until the medical clinics are operational, Tyson has hired nurses to conduct coronavirus tests every week. Company officials estimate that less than 1% of its workforce is currently dealing with active cases.