In a deal that publicly began months ago, it’s now official: Bayer is buying Monsanto for a whopping $66 billion ($128 per share). The all-cash transaction is expected to generate synergies of nearly $1.5 billion in three years, according to Bayer. The combined companies will have an annual pro-forma R&D budget of about €2.5 billion.
“We are fully committed to helping solve one of the biggest challenges of society – and that is how to feed a massively growing world population in an environmentally sustainable manner,” said Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer AG in a video statement. “What we do is good for consumers. We help to produce sufficient, safe, healthy and affordable food. It is also good for our growers. Because they have better choices to increase yields in a sustainable way.”
Hugh Grant, chairman and CEO of Monsanto stated, “we are entering a new era in Agriculture – one in which growers are demanding new solutions and technologies to be more profitable and to be even more sustainable. The vision for this combination was born out of that desire to help farmers grow more with less. Together with Bayer, we are going to be able to offer growers even better solutions, faster.”
The worldwide food supply will be under intense strain, as the population is anticipated to grow to nearly 10.5 billion by 2100. A new position paper released by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) stresses the need to address five key challenges confronting the food and agricultural industry:
Food nutrition and security
Health and safe food
WUR is maintaining the position that the Common Agricultural Policy, an initiative of the European Union, should be revised to emphasize an urgency for sustainability rather than agricultural productivity goals. It identifies the following innovations, which would also lead to a more integrated agricultural and food policy, to address the above challenges:
Digitization and big data
Energy and bio-based transitions
“We need a policy that addresses the consumer concerns on the food chain and admits that the actors in the food chain are much bigger than in the past, including most farms,” said Krijn Poppe, Research Manager & Senior Economist at Wageningen Economic Research in a press release.” ‘One size fits all’ will not do in a more complex Europe; to keep it simple and affordable we need a combination of several targeted instruments.”
WUR also proposes five new pillars for a successful Common Agriculture & Food Policy:
Income support and risk management to guarantee food security
Public issues and eco-system services
Rural development to support innovation and quality of rural life
Consumer food policy and consumers themselves, retail and food industry in effort to push a healthier diet and healthier climate
Water consumption is a significant concern in the agricultural industry. As farmers face the challenges of long-lasting droughts and high prices for water use, finding ways to conserve water without threatening crops is a high priority.
Mist Labs has developed a technology platform called AgPulse that allows farmers to track their plants and irrigation systems. The technology consists of a set of wireless devices that can be deployed throughout the farm (or more than one location). It tracks data such as irrigation flow information, how much water is going into plants, and how much sun is hitting the plants. The information is fed through a web dashboard in real time, and allows the tracking of historical information for analysis of trends.
Matt Kresse, CEO of Mist Labs, sat down with Food Safety Tech to discuss the AgPulse platform, which also recently won the Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award.
Food Safety Tech: You mentioned that Mist Labs is targeting selling to farmers mainly in the California area. Are you targeting farms of a specific size?
Matt Kresse: Our target initially is large farms, which happened to be first folks with whom we were connected. It might have something to do with the fact that very large farms often have researchers as part of their staff who are most familiar with how to make use of the new data sources that we’re providing. They have also challenges, such as high-level managers who are overseeing many farms, sometimes multiple farms not even in California but worldwide. We’re addressing [a problem they face]—they’re giving prescriptions for how much watering their fields should be getting in the weeks and months ahead. And then there are actual field workers who are doing the surprisingly manual process of opening and closing valves by hand for irrigating blocks on their field, and they’re recording everything on pieces of paper and reporting back. We’re finding that when they do small scale measurements using [instruments] similar to a flow meter and moisture sensors, there’s a large amount of discrepancies between how much they’re prescribing to put on the field and h w much they’re actually putting on the field—it’s anywhere from a 10%–50% discrepancy. That’s’ a problem and can lead to water waste and negative crop outcomes. Particularly with types of crops like fruit and nut crops, if you over-water, it can ruin a crop due to altering the flavor in an unideal way.
Food Safety Tech: Using AgPulse, what’s the technology differentiator versus other current methods?
Kresse: There are not a lot of competitors doing specifically what we’re doing. At best, farms will have a flow meter solution installed on the water main—a large water pipe about 3–4 inches—and that provides water for a very large area or the entire farm. But that doesn’t give you a good sense for how much the individual rows/plants are getting—and that’s what’s really important for the farmer. Our first device can be installed directly in the row, so it connects with the micro-irrigation tubing (it’s very compact). There are other flow meters sized so they can connect with a half-inch or three-quarter inch drip tube, but ours is a really low-profile design so that it can be easily connected with tubing. It avoids a problem when [farmers are] trying to bulk their flow meters in individual rows, [which can cause them to] get wrapped up with the harvesting machinery, and get ripped out, ruining the devices at the end of every year.
The other thing that no one else is doing: The device has a solar panel to track the solar energy that’s hitting the plant. The growers are placing the device under the canopies of the plant. We’re doing mostly trees and vines. Farmers are very interested in tracking the canopies of the plant over course of the season. This will impact how much they choose to water, when to fertilize, and when to harvest. Messing this up can really impact quality of crop.
Our device is permanently underneath the canopy and sees how much sun information is captured in real time. As the canopy expands and the sun moves over the field over the course of the day, we can track that sun-to-shade ratio. The shade ratio will get bigger as the canopy expands. It gives a nice metric to compare March to July, for example. This is a brand new [feature], and something growers are as excited about as we are—having the real-time flow information.
“The device combines providing data on irrigation and tracking the plant growth. It’s not just a flow meter.” –Matt Kresse, CEO, Mist Labs
Food Safety Tech: How does the use of this technology simplify the entire process for growers?
Kresse: Growers we deal with are sophisticated and are trying to apply deficit irrigation strategies: You water more during an early part of the season and then later in the season, so you cut water at a specific time—it’s what they call applying water stress. That [process] pulls in nutrients from the canopy to the fruit and improves the quality of the fruit by a lot. But doing this requires a precise understanding of how much water is in the plant and being applied to the plant, and how much water stress it’s under. Right now, it’s a manual process, both the watering and the reporting of the watering, so any discrepancies impacts their ability to apply deficit irrigation strategies successfully.
We’re shining a light on this whole process and making it very simple, and reporting out is completely automated for them, so this will greatly simplify the ability to successfully implement deficit irrigation and it’s also in a scalable fashion. If they want to do in another field, it’s just a matter of installing a couple more devices, and the installation process takes minutes.
We can also alert the farmer to leakages or blockages, because we’re tracking the watering over long periods of time. When there’s a sudden increase in the flow rate (or a decrease) that means something most likely happened to the watering structure itself. Leaks can often affect more than 1000 acres—a leak in the corner of your farm could go unnoticed for a while, which might ruin that portion of the crop and is wasting a lot water. [Combine] that with tracking the actual health of the watering structure and the ability to employ deficit irrigation across the entire farm, and we’re comfortable saying that farmers can see about a 20% water savings and improvement of crop yields by around 10%.
With water consumption increasing on every continent, the agricultural industry has an important issue in front of them: Will there continue to be enough water of suitable quality for agricultural production for the foreseeable future? Daniel Snow, director of the Nebraska Water Sciences Laboratory at University of Nebraska, posed this question at the IAFP annual meeting earlier this month.
Worldwide, it is estimated that the availability of freshwater (annual per capita) is just 1700 m3. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, when this figure drops below 1000 m3 it puts pressure on not only on the economy but also on human health.
The amount of freshwater available for food production is limited (less than 3% of the world’s water is fresh). Further complicating the matter is the fact that this water comes from many different sources, and emerging contaminants are potentially everywhere. “We don’t really understand the effect [of these contaminants] on the environment or on human health,” said Snow. “We know the compounds occur in the water and likely occur in the food supply, but we don’t really understand the implications.”
According to Snow, there is very little regulation around water used for irrigation. Top concerns surrounding emerging contaminants include:
Water reuse. Recycled wastewater contains traces of the following contaminants, which accumulate over time:
Xenobiotics (organic compounds)
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria/germs. Up to 90% of some of the antibiotics excreted are not metabolized by animals and humans
Endocrine disrupters (steroids—natural and artificial in running water)
Pharmaceuticals (both human and veterinary)
Arsenic (namely related to rice production). The element is not only found in soil in Asia but also in soil in certain parts of the United States
Co-occurrence of nitrate and uranium in ground water. There is growing evidence that uranium is being mobilized in water and one study has shown that uranium is readily taken up in food crops
It’s not all doom and gloom, said Snow. The upside to the issue: “We know enough now that we can start to understand the system and hopefully control the contaminants when producing food,” he said. The larger concern is determining which emerging contaminants pose the most significant problem.
The labor union International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been holding nationwide protests at Chipotle locations this month, taking issue with one of the restaurant chain’s suppliers. The supplier at the focus of the demonstrations is California-based produce company Taylor Farms, which supplies tomatoes and peppers to Chipotle, according to Teamsters.
“Over the past five years, Taylor Farms has had more than 20 food recalls for problems such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli. In November 2015, Taylor Farms products containing celery and sold at Costco and other retail outlets were recalled for possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination,” according to a Teamster news release. “At Taylor Farms’ plant in Tracy, Calif., the company has also committed safety and health violations and violations of laws that protect workers’ rights. Recently, the company settled extensive labor rights violations that involved payments of $267,000 to illegally terminated workers and a required posting in which the company promises to never again violate a long list of employee rights.”
The Teamsters protested at 12 Chipotle locations across the country, following 30 previous protests at Chipotle over the past several months.
Teamster Vice President Rome Aloise points the finger at Chipotle for allowing Taylor Farms to “have a total disregard for consumers’ and workers’ health and safety, as well as workers’ rights,” he said. “Chipotle claims to serve ‘Food With Integrity’, but where’s the integrity when it turns a blind eye to its supplier’s behavior? Chipotle must not cut and run – which would hurt Taylor Farms workers – it must carry out its social responsibility and demand Taylor Farms treat workers fairly and with respect.”
Taylor Farms has not released a statement addressing the protests.
Today the USDA announced that is providing $6 million in funding for research surrounding antimicrobial resistance. Available via the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, funded applications must tackle one or more areas:
Development of new systems approaches to investigate the ecology of microbial resistance microbes and gene reservoirs in the environment in animals, crops, food products or farm-raised aquaculture products
Development, evaluation and implementation of effective and sustainable resources and strategies. This approach includes alternative practices, techniques, technologies or tools that mitigate emergence, spread or persistence of antimicrobial resistant pathogens
Identify critical control points for mitigating antimicrobial resistance in pre- and post-harvest food production
Design training, education, and outreach resources (including web-based) that are adaptable by users across the food chain (from policy makers to producers and processors to retailers and consumers)
Design and conduct studies that evaluate the impact and efficacy of proposed research, education and extension/outreach interventions on antimicrobial resistance across the food chain
Across the board, increased employee awareness and training has become a big issue in food safety. The foodborne illness outbreaks that hit Chipotle Mexican Grill has put retail and restaurant establishments on high alert, yet this is just another example of the reactive culture in which we operate, according to Matt Schiering, vice president and general manager at Sani Professional.
Food Safety Tech recently hit the road with Schiering and John Caton, regional sales manager at Sani Professional, to experience first hand how one company is communicating its message to customers. Breaking with tradition has been an important part of promoting cleaner technology: The use of the rag and bucket as a means to clean both the front of the house (tables, chairs, counters, etc.) as well as the back of restaurants and retail establishments, while still fairly common, has outlived its effectiveness, and frankly, says Schiering, “screams unclean”. Caton and Schiering continued the conversation with their customers about how using disposable wipes for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection helps prevent the spread of contamination, along with the cost savings associated with using such products. The company takes a multi-prong approach to promoting awareness among its current and potential clients, from deploying a sales force that directly interacts with quality assurance and food safety professionals in establishments to offering how advances in sustainable technology can help them stay ahead of the curve to driving consumer advocacy.
Food Safety Tech: How is Sani Professional raising the level awareness of the disadvantages of the traditional cleaning method (the rag and bucket method) in the retail environment?
Matt Schiering: There are a few ways to raise the level of awareness. The first and foremost is “feet on the street”. We’ve deliberately moved toward a direct-to-customer sales force, which gives us the opportunity to interface directly with QA, food safety and operations to show them a simpler, more efficient, more effective, and guest appealing way versus the traditional rag and bucket. The first win is one for the user (the employees of a given establishment), because associates have shown us time and time again that they do not like the mixing and measuring, and the errors that are often associated with that process. They don’t like the dirty rag itself—having to fish it out of the bowl and then present it or be seen with it in the front of the establishment. It’s a win for the operator (the manager), because with our system, there’s no longer any heightened heart rate when the health inspector shows up. One of the most common violations is the water in the buckets being out of spec or the rags themselves not being inside the bucket per regulation. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a win for the guest. Think about your own restaurant experiences. Guests don’t want to see or be confronted with a greyish brown rag [that is used to] wipe a table, then wipe a seat, then wipe an adjacent table. It just screams unclean.
As we talk about the evolution in perception, away from traditional methods, we believe that speaking directly to the consumer has to play a role. There has to be a degree of consumer-driven advocacy for a better way. – Matt Schiering
FST: Regarding employee training, how should retailers be more proactive in ensuring their employees are engaging in proper food safety practices and aren’t spreading foodborne illnesses?
Schiering: It varies by chain. Unfortunately, we live in a reactive culture—and that goes well beyond the restaurant industry.
Oftentimes a problem precedes a protocol or other means of addressing said problem. Chipotle is one example: They’ve taken an exhaustive look at restructuring their food safety protocols as a result of a myriad of foodborne illness-related issues that they suffered in the preceding months. The [retailers] who are doing it best are the ones who build it into their establishment in the first place where it’s not predicated by some sort of problem. That involves training materials, in-service lessons, and online training (i.e., ServSafe certifications). Waffle House, for example, has Waffle House University where food safety is a key component to that system.
We envision ourselves as part of that process. We take a microcosm—the notion of proper food handling, prevention of cross contamination related foodborne illness—and provide an innovative and easy-to-use solution, and all the training and collateral materials associated with the solution that explain the proper use. We also provide test kits so that if the health inspector wants an in-the-moment proof that our product is doing what the label says it does, [the retailer] can provide that at a moments notice. It becomes more of a service proposition than simply a product-driven solution.
FST: Where do you see sustainable products fitting into the space?
Schiering: This also boils down to education, because the perception of disposables is that they’re wasteful, when in fact they needn’t be any more costly than existing solutions.
If you’re using a linen service, there’s a cost associated with renting towels, but there’s a higher cost associated with wasting towels. So if a towel ends up in a gym bag or in the trash because of overuse and/or abuse, there’s a significant upcharge for not returning that towel to the rental agency. That’s what we call the hidden cost or the dirty little secret of rag and bucket sanitizing. When you factor that in, and everyone [retailers] experiences that type of loss, and you look at the fact that sanitizing wipes kill pathogens trapped in the wipe as well as whatever it is coming into contact with at the surface, thereby enabling it to be used on multiple surfaces without causing cross contamination—the cost aligns very closely. And of course it’s a more value-added guest experience than a dirty rag being used from table to table, which is not preventing cross contamination.
Speaking to the environmental piece: At the moment, we’re actually fairly well ahead of the industry. It varies chain to chain—some chains are doing a better job than others, because it’s part of their corporate culture. But by providing solutions that are leveraging either recyclable substrates or compostable substrates, we provide greater opportunity to reduce the environmental impact often associated with disposable products. If a retailer is working with a waste management partner that can handle industrial compostable products or non-solid state recyclables, we have solutions that are appropriate for those operations, so that we’re not just adding to landfills but rather essentially recycling and/or regenerating the products that are being used, and at no greater cost.
Most retailers haven’t gotten there yet. It speaks directly to corporate culture and corporate mission of the end user. We deliberately target customers who are a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to “green technology or “green behavior”. And so when the rest of the industry catches up, we’re more than ready to serve them with products that meet those needs.
FST: Where do consumers fit into the picture, especially has industry moves away from traditional methods in food safety?
Schiering: About a decade ago, consumers started demanding that retailers like Walmart, Target, and local grocers provide a means of sanitizing shopping carts when they walk into their local retail establishments. There were myriad news reports about the germs and potential for contamination and illness arising from the often used and rarely cleaned implements—these vehicles for placing your groceries. We answered the call a decade ago, and at one time it was a significant piece of our business. It continues to be a marketplace we serve, albeit a much commoditized one. But the rise in that solution would not have taken place if not for consumers advocating for a better way.
We’re starting to create a presence on Facebook and other social media outlets to remind consumers that it’s up to them in many cases to ask for, if not demand a more effective, more pleasing way of ensuring their safety in dining establishments. Unfortunately, incidents like what we saw at the large Mexican food service retailer do ultimately play a part in that consumer advocacy, albeit a negative one, because we are a reactive society. But by presenting a positive message and sharing alternatives in the absence of citing examples or shaming retailers through the problem, we believe that will be one of the keys to changing perceptions at the retail level.
The USDA has ramped up efforts to provide farmers and local producers with more money with the goal of expanding market opportunities at the local and regional level. Between 2009 and 2014, the department invested more than $800 million in more than 29,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure tasks, and last year alone boosted local food growth by nearly $11.7 billion, according to a recently released USDA Fact Sheet.
The investments target helping farmers and ranchers gain access to new and local markets, improving infrastructure to connect producers with new markets, and improving access to local food. Highlights of the USDA’s initiatives between 2009 and 2015 include:
Millennials are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. What do they care about when it comes to food, and what does this mean for food manufacturers?
We’ve all heard the latest trends regarding that hard-to-reach audience we’ve dubbed the Millennials (those born roughly between the years 1980 and the early 2000s). And with so many how-to articles out there, it’s hard to really understand who these folks are and what they want. Here are just a few fun facts about this generation: 50 percent consider themselves politically unaffiliated, they have the highest average number of Facebook friends, 55 percent have posted a selfie or two to social media sites, and there are roughly 80 million of them. This makes Millennials the biggest generation thus far. And one thing is for certain, based on research, they are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. So what do Millennials care about when it comes to food?
Millennials care about quality and sustainability
According to a 2014 study by the International Food Council (IFC), Millennials have the highest level of awareness out of any age group when it comes to food sustainability, and they are willing to pay more for it. And when it comes to quality vs. price, Millennials are more apt to be loyal to a brand deemed to have quality products as opposed to a brand that has a better price point.
Take McDonald’s for example. In August of 2013, the fast-food chain reported a 13 percent decline in consumption for people between the ages of 19-21 since 2011. And while Millennials are still dinning out, they are opting for franchises like Chipotle and Five Guys. Why? These chains pride themselves on using local producers and sustainable food items, which makes paying that extra $2.00 for guacamole not so bad to this generation.
Additionally, Millennials are more apt to choose products that are socially responsible and produce lower carbon footprints. For example, Millennials are now paying attention to how much energy, water and effort it takes to grow, manufacture and transport food, including the packaging process. And as this environmentally friendly generation matures and moves into prime spending age, manufacturers will need to evolve the packaging of food products to ensure they are created with eco-friendly and recyclable materials if they wish to appeal to these folks.
Millennials care about their health
This generation, as research states, is more aware of their health than any other generation thus far, especially when it comes to what goes into their bodies. Locally grown, cage-free, all-natural, organic—these are all terms Millennials tend to gravitate towards when making food choices. As a result, organic coffee shops are popping up everywhere, farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage, and even private label brands are seeing increases in sales, with Millennials opting for those over national brands due to the perception that these labels are more innovative.
Millennials are also reading labels and are more aware of what the items on the labels mean—they understand the ingredients and what goes into their food more so than their parents and grandparents. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in natural and organic claims as we navigate through the grocery aisles.
What this means for food manufacturers
Food manufacturers have an interesting challenge ahead, but also a great opportunity. The ones that will ultimately gain popularity among Millennials will be those that are willing to innovate while staying authentic. Millennials not only value the transparency of brands, they are also aware of shortcomings when it comes to unsubstantiated claims. Food manufacturers must now walk the line between making all-natural and sustainable product claims, and being 100 percent truthful in their statements. When it comes down to it, Millennials will do the research, read the labels and uncover the truth.
So how do you appeal to Millennials, while also mitigating the risks when it comes to labeling your product natural, organic or GMO-free? To answer tough questions like this, TraceGains got the inside scoop from Attorney Antonio Gallegos, who advises on compliance with regulations administered by the FDA, FTC, USDA and similar state-level agencies, and co-produced a guidance report. Use this free Natural Labeling Guidance Report to help you make informed decisions in the future for your products. Do you have additional tips for reaching Millennials? Leave a comment below and let us know!
“Food waste, if it were a country, would be the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide and methane, behind the U.S. and China,” says Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s. How can innovation in food safety technology and systems help reduce food waste?
Nearly half of all food produced throughout the world is lost to waste every year. Such an enormous amount of waste should motivate food companies to look for innovative ways to reduce waste and become more sustainable.
Food waste is an issue that encompasses the entire food industry, occurring at all stages of food production including harvesting, processing, retail, and consumption. Therefore food safety and quality professionals, because of their connection to the entire food production process, have an opportunity to mitigate waste by introducing a number of sustainable and innovative practices for utilizing otherwise unused food.
Discarded byproducts and material lost throughout the food production process should be viewed as opportunities worth exploiting for every company. Extracting value from normally wasted material allows businesses to increase efficiency dramatically. Incorporating sustainable practices like food waste reduction can present very marketable opportunities to increase margins.
Former president of Trader Joe’s and keynote speaker at the 2014 IFT Conference in New Orleans, Doug Rauch, is a prominent advocate for addressing food waste on a national scale. During his keynote address, he spoke of the immediate need for food waste reduction: “Food waste, if it were a country, would be the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide and methane, behind the U.S. and China.”
As the global population continues to rise, and developing countries emulate developed countries’ unsustainable production practices, Rauch believes we will begin to see a change of pace. “The next food revolution is going to be about what we’re not eating; it’s going to be about the food we throw away.”
One in six people in the United States are food insecure and obesity has reached record numbers across the country, with some states reaching over 40 percent. In his keynote speech, Rauch cites these figures, correlating poor nutrition to lower socioeconomic status. Rauch launched the Urban Food Initiative to combat poor nutrition with solving the food waste crisis in mind. His idea involves getting expired (or soon to be expired) food to fight poor nutrition in low-income neighborhoods at fast food prices.
Quality and safety play an integral role in the use of food that would normally be discarded. Brian Turner, Senior Manager of Food Safety Information Services at Sodexo, is on the advisory board for the Food Recovery Network, which is an organization that works with college campuses in reducing food waste and hunger. While these programs are very innovative on paper, Turner emphasizes the “concern for procedures and protocol to minimize quality and food safety issues.”
This highlights an opportunity for food safety professionals to help innovate along the way in the processes of reducing waste and hunger, while implementing key quality and safety practices. Organizations and initiatives like these are helping to emphasize the importance of mitigating waste, while addressing other key social and economic problems. In addressing food waste alone, sustainable practices throughout the value chain can be versatile to extend across markets.
Robert Evans, of the Diana Food Division, was a speaker on a food waste panel at the 2014 IFT conference who discussed extracting value from byproducts. Evans believes that “extracting byproducts in the natural food ingredients industry can provide functional solutions around the world and minimize upstream losses to food waste.”
Through involving the entire value chain, from sustainable agricultural practices and raw material sourcing to safe extraction methods, Evans believes that we can bring functional molecules to the market and reduce carbon footprints. Larger food companies are beginning to take action in the reduction of food waste, but innovation needs to occur at a system level across the supply chain to curb wasteful and unsustainable practices. Extracting value from byproducts along with smart sourcing are just some of the sustainable practices being introduced. Food safety and quality oversight at every step along the way is crucial to reducing food waste by ensuring that otherwise wasted products are held to the same quality standards as other ingredients. With that being said, we will continue to see innovation in food safety technology and systems play a dominant role in reducing food waste and utilizing byproducts.