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.
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 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.
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.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and local unions that represent 10 chicken plants in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri teamed up with the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen to file a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. Back in 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture permitted line speed waivers when the National Chicken Council petitioned to accelerate speeds. Last week, the union sued the Agriculture Department, claiming its line speed policy not only puts workers at risk but also makes it harder to safely prevent the spread of COVID-19, as increased line speeds make social distancing among workers practically impossible. The lawsuit asserts that the USDA allowed 53 of 124 chicken processing plants to process as much as 175 birds per minute instead of limiting production to 140 birds, as detailed in the existing 2014 regulations.
Tyson Foods currently relies on about 122,000 employees to process 1 in every 5 pounds of chicken, beef, and pork produced in the United States. On average, large meatpacking plants owned by Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and Smithfield pack 3.2 workers per 1,000 square feet of manufacturing space, according to industry analysts Boston Consulting Group (BCG). That worker density has been increasing in recent years, according to BCG, and is now three times the national average for most manufacturers. While executives of Tyson and other top producers report that robots cannot disassemble animal carcasses with small differences in size and shape the way humans can, they are looking for solutions to worker concentration and safety issues that have troubled the industry since the pandemic began. In response, Tyson’s Manufacturing Automation Center offers a glimmer of hope. Tyson opened the center last summer and has invested nearly $500 million in technology and automation over the past three years. While fine cutting in meatpacking plants, such as trimming fat, must be done by human workers, Tyson’s automation team (which includes former auto industry designers) is helping to transition from human butchers to robotic ones for tasks such as sawing and deboning.