As part of its MeatTec educational program, VIV Asia 2013, being held in Bangkok, Thailand, looked at how the meat processing sector in Asia is developing and will continue to evolve. Like other markets, Asia is expected to see growing pressure on resources, including food, water and energy, and water is expected to be a particular problem in those countries with particularly hot and dry climates.
A variety of aspects of meat processing will have to become more efficient and more automated if the sector is to continue to prosper.
The rising middle class is an oft-quoted factor contributing to, and developing from, Asia's growing economies. While this is good for meat consumption, with it comes the problem that, with rising aspirations, ever-fewer people want to work in meat processing plants.
In some Asian markets it has already become difficult to recruit mid-level managers, while in others it is increasingly hard to recruit any staff at all. The answer to this is to create an environment that needs fewer staff, i.e., less human capital.
In Asia, many processing operations are still performed manually. This has worked well while labor has been cheap, but processors will have to look at automating those operations that are currently performed by hand if they are to overcome growing labor shortages.
The physical as well as the economic climate also presents its own challenges in hot and humid countries. Within the processing plant, not only temperature, but also humidity need to be kept under control. Clearly, this demands energy. In most plants, more energy is expended on controlling temperature and controlling humidity can result in particularly high energy bills.
However, a failure to control humidity can result in unpleasant and potentially dangerous conditions, as humidity can result in equipment maintenance issues, the growth of mold and bacteria, musty odors, slippery floors and even temporary plant closures. Delegates were shown a liquid chloride dessicant option for controlling humidity that not only results in energy savings of some 40 percent, but also helps to kill bacteria in the air.
Attendees at MeatTech were also given an overview of the various ways that the shelf-life of meat can be extended. Key in shelf-life extension is the addition of preservatives. Currently, Asian meat processors often rely on a chemical approach to meat preservation. However, as the market becomes increasingly sophisticated, there is expected to be greater use of natural preservatives.
Yet, a long shelf-life starts before the addition of preservatives, and delegates were shown various hygiene measures and procedures that can be put in place before workers even enter the plant and extends right through to the type of packaging used.
Labeling is another area that is undergoing change. For example, in the wake of a number of food scandals, China is trying to introduce a labeling policy that is stricter than that demanded by the EU. How well this will be enforced, however, remains to be seen.
Consumers in all markets want to know exactly what they are buying and where it has come from. QR codes are a way of delivering this information and these matrix codes can deliver significantly greater amounts of data than the old style bar codes and are much harder to corrupt. Delegates were also shown a label that changes color as the meat in a package reaches the end of it shelf-life. Although currently only being rolled out in Europe, this type of technology is expected to become more common place across continents.