Future poultry technologies: What’s hot and what’s not

The divergence between what people say is important and how they behave, has never been greater. The contradictions can be seen also in consumers’ view poultry products, today the most consumed animal proteins on the planet.

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The divergence between what people say is important and how they behave, has never been greater. Consumption is more global than ever before, but consumers more divided. Companies talk a good game on sustainability but use technology that on closer examination isn’t that sustainable. A pandemic has disrupted everything and yet voters expect the world to return quickly to the way it was before. The contradictions can be seen also in consumers’ view poultry products, today the most consumed animal proteins on the planet. 

Cultivated meats to become the next number one protein? 

Literally promising to save the planet, generating more column inches and hype than any other food technology, yet having delivered remarkably little so far, cultivated meats lead the pack for internal contradictions. 

The idea looks great: produce ‘meat’ at factory scale without the involvement of animals! What could go wrong? 

Joe Fasser’s recent review details the inconvenient truth. Supplying just 10% of the world’s meat production will require 4,000 factories, at a cost of almost $500 million each, or $2 trillion. Cell-based systems are very sensitive, need to avoid bacterial contamination, toxins and viruses. They require tight controls, including the use of antibiotics, biosecurity with piped in oxygen, and Class 6 clean rooms. Any infection can take down the entire production system. 

Costs of production will be astronomical: the average quarter pounder burger is projected to cost $100 in a restaurant. Another report suggests 100 to 10,000 times the cost of producing poultry meat. 

Today’s cell cultivation systems are disproportionately reliant on fetal bovine serum, harvested at slaughterhouses from calf fetuses. This is not likely to sound attractive to either vegetarians or consumers who want slaughter-free meat. Throw in the use of growth hormones, expensive amino-acids and antibiotics and “cellular” or “lab grown” meats are beyond the pale for the consumer segments they expect to attract.

Verdict: Not a threat to poultry in 2022 (or maybe even before 2032!) 

Will the Metaverse come for the poultry chain?

XR, VR, MR, AR: how well do you know your acronyms? How about connecting it all with AI and blockchain? 

Dramatic announcements by Microsoft, Google, Nvidia and Apple about investments in extended reality (XR) companies have been overshadowed by the renaming of Facebook as “Meta,” with a vision that the online world will embrace XR with both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) delivered to customers through smart goggles and headsets. 

Extended reality (XR) offers the ability to enhance what our eyes see, allowing interpretation of what is going on around us with augmented reality (AR), or creating a virtual world (VR) or a combination described as middle reality (MR). 

Food businesses are already using XR to train employees, as a teaching tool to speed up repairs or other occasional requirements, improve consumer experiences pre-purchase and provide greater transparency for consumers of the origins or contents of food. QR codes on packaging combined with a smart phones or similar device make all these experiences available today, but special devices will make it richer and more real. 

Verdict: Potential for training poultry specialists, slaughterhouses in 2022, but more disruption to come.

Food production sustainability under pressure

Humorists maintain that if both sides in a negotiation leave the room unhappy then probably progress is being made, but the scale of collective coordinated change attempted at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference was at a level never previously achieved. 

Even so agriculture will be forced to change in 2022, and under more pressure than other industries because ‘it is an easier decision to make.’ 

Harder decisions for consumers to embrace or vote for include reduced transportation (airplanes, cars), heating and air conditioning, having smaller families, limiting the construction of buildings (i.e., cement) and fewer imported consumer goods. While any of these may have a bigger impact on climate change than agriculture, they are unpopular with consumers, so agriculture becomes the whipping boy.

Poultry producers face difficult choices, but technology is an ally. Intensive scale agriculture is inherently more efficient, with lower food costs and a lower environmental footprint. Small farms are seen by many as a more attractive face of farming, but from a welfare and environmental perspective larger scale production is better.

Poultry businesses that want to remain relevant in 2022 must embrace the language and metrics provided by the UN SDG framework, and openly publish their sustainability reports. Today these are viewed as a threat, but perhaps one day energy generated from byproducts and waste may allow the poultry industry make lemonade from lemons. 

Verdict: Hot in 2022.

Precision farming focuses on real world solutions

Poultry producers have been rightly excited for the digital dawn to come, but so far most of what they have seen is expensive and not really fit for purpose: technological solutions seeking real world problems. Finally, that appears to be changing. 

More startups are focused on existing problems, including robots in chicken processing plants or in the poultry houses to tend birds and sensors to measure environmental changes or bird performance. As innovators focus on practical applications, with more quantifiable results and more realistic price tags, poultry producers will be ready to reinvent the process. 

Verdict: Hot in 2022, and hotter beyond.

How will China impact poultry prices?

2022 will be a challenging year for the Chinese economy, affecting both poultry imports and poultry feed ingredients (corn, soybeans, DDGs). 

Many underestimate the impact that China has on world agricultural prices. For example, a statement from a top Chinese public health leader that drinking milk can help ward off COVID-19 resulted in an increase in consumption. 

Chinese purchases often seem to be carefully coordinated, not surprising given that China has both a centralized economy and the world’s largest importer. So far, China has weathered COVID better than any other economy, and global online home purchasing seems to have driven Chinese tech exports. 

Verdict: Hot, still the main story for agricultures commodity prices. 

Will COVID be with us forever? 

Despite obsessive coverage in the media, the future is not much clearer now than it was a year ago. Are we on a conveyor belt of viral mutations, with the planet lurching from one vaccination cycle to another? 

COVID has changed a lot of things, and nobody knows which changes will stick and which will usher in new ways of living. On the plus side, airplanes and hotels have never been cleaner! The pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated a breathtaking capacity to develop, produce and launch new vaccines in record times. 

Other changes are more ambiguous. Early disruptions in supply chains led to panicky calls to ‘bring everything home,’ but more recently it is becoming clear that many supply chains are more robust than it seemed initially. Remote working is another change likely to stick.

Either way, COVID’s effect on the world of food is clear: it accelerates the growing move towards automation and away from a heavy reliance on human labor. It fuels a greater commitment to biosecurity and blockchain mediated traceability. And finally, it opens the possibility that the same vaccine development technology that has led to the COVID vaccines will be able to find solutions to some of the world’s thorniest animal diseases.

Verdict: Hot, but cooling unexpectedly in the second half of 2022. 

Attend the 2022 Poultry Tech Summit

Join an exclusive international gathering of industry-changing innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, technology experts, investors and leading poultry producers at the 2022 edition of Poultry Tech Summit on October 30 - November 1 in Atlanta, Georgia. Attendees can expect the same groundbreaking innovation and insightful presentations that made the previous events well-attended with deep dialogue on new prospective solutions and developing technologies.

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