Improving productivity is the primary way in which companies – particularly in the developed world – are able to improve profits. And when compared with the rest of agriculture, the poultry sector is undoubtedly best at chasing these gains.
Most large firms producing chicken already have automation in place, be it in the hatchery, on the farm or at the processing plant. Minimal staff are employed at each stage of the process, big numbers ensure economies of scale. Furthermore, many businesses are vertically integrated, owning production from farm to fork.
However, all of this innovation could be undermined if tech startup Memphis Meats has its way. In March it synthesised the first portions of chicken and duck in a laboratory, grown from stem cells procured without harming a single bird. Those stem cells grow in to chicken when fed a ‘nutrient soup’ derived from foetal bovine serum – but the company is working on a meat-free alternative.
While it sounds gory, and there is some work to do in commercialising the concept, those who tried the two dishes served up using synthetic meat reported little discernible difference in taste or texture. What’s more, the company claims that the production process could eventually require a tenth of the land and water, and half the energy, of conventional poultry farming.
It serves as a reminder that technology is disrupting every type of conventional business – those without a close eye on new developments risk falling behind.