Parallel to growing affluence and greater disposable incomes, meat consumption in Asia is on the rise. This is seen especially in China and other developing countries, where meat is available only to those who can afford it. According to the FAO Statistical Yearbook 2013: World food and agriculture, meat consumption has been growing around three percent per annum in Asia’s developing nations.
While the burgeoning demand for meat is good news for the meat industry, it does not bode as well for the world’s resources. The amount of resources required to keep pace with this demand has implications on issues like food security, greenhouse gas emissions and global warming (eg: diverting grains for animal feed, deforestation and overgrazing). Meat production has become an issue of sustainability.
There is an urgent need to minimise the effects of meat production, yet consumer demand is far from abating. Perhaps then, the solution lies in reducing wastage—at both industry and consumer level—so that there is a lessened need to farm more animals.
Transforming Waste To Food
For meat processors, wastage is reduced when yield is optimised during processing. One opportunity is the recovery of residual meat that would otherwise be wasted.
“After the deboning process, a lot of meat is still left on the bones: in beef up to one percent, in pork up to four percent and in poultry, up to 30 percent of the carcass weight. From an economical point of view, recovery of this meat is very important since this results in a perfect raw material for the production of various kinds of meat products,” said Gerhard van der Kolk, area sales manager of South East Asia for meat harvesting, Marel.
As such, processors use advanced meat recovery (AMR) systems that utilise either low or high pressure systems to obtain residual meat. “The low pressure systems produce a coarsely structured ‘minced’ meat type at a reasonable yield, while high pressure systems produce meat with an ‘emulsified’ structure (MSM meat) at maximum yield,” he explained.
In the high pressure technique, meat is obtained by pushing bones with meat against a fine filter, resulting in a paste like product termed as mechanically separated meat (MSM) that can only be used in cooked products (eg: sausages, luncheon meat).
Meanwhile, the low pressure technique is used to obtain desinewed minced meat (DMM) from pork or beef bones that is used in items like meatballs, and desinewed minced poultry (DMP) in end products like nuggets. The process involves removing edible meat with gentle pressure, without crushing the bone or disrupting the meat fibres.
According to Mr van der Kolk, “This has big impact on the meat structure, quality, usability and legal status.” Apart from improved shelf life and a limited temperature increase, he added that this meat can be labelled as ‘meat’ in most market areas. As compared to MSM, it has no disrupted meat cells and contains a lower percentage of calcium and iron.
Extending One’s Fill
Fillers are typically used by the meat processing industry to bulk up a product and reduce its cost without changing much of its organoleptic properties. MSM and DMM/DMP are two examples that are favoured for being a source of animal protein.
In some cases, fillers are utilised not just for cost reductions, but also for improving product properties like texture, as well as health properties. For instance, a report by the FAO has revealed that consumers who are used to extended products actually prefer slight to medium extended meat products over full meat ones. Consumer acceptability tests in those markets have shown that burgers with 7.5 percent textured vegetable protein (TVP) were rated equal to full meat burgers.
In addition, the use of plant-based fillers and extenders has been gaining traction in certain sectors, by catering to the growing health consciousness of consumers. The likes of wheat, rice, chicory, lentils and soy protein may be added into meat products for added dietary fibre, or to reduce and replace fat.
Simon Whitehead, Australia
Steven Jackson, Portland, US
An example is Meatless, a meat analogue product made from rice, lupine or wheat, and used in items like minced meat, sausages, burgers and nuggets to reduce fat and increase sustainability without compromising on taste and texture. It can replace up to 60 percent of the meat in a product, substantially reducing its environmental impact.
For instance, minced beef with 20 percent of the meat analogue saw reductions in fossil energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and land use by 14 percent, 19 percent and 20 percent respectively, as compared to regular minced beef.
Other meat fillers include inner pea fibre and citrus by-products like lemon albedo and orange fibre powder. The former improves tenderness and cooking yield without affecting juiciness and flavour when used in volumes of 10-14 percent, while the latter has also led to favourable results in cooked and dry-cured sausages.
Despite the conventional notion that fillers are used for adding bulk and reducing costs, they can clearly value-add a product by improving its sustainability, nutrition, texture, and even possibly reducing chronic diseases. The potential for this segment can be realised through labelling and greater transparency—fulfilling demands by consumers who want to know what they are purchasing, while increasing awareness of the benefits it might accord.
Packaged For Less Waste
“Packaging has an important role to play in the meat industry—specifically its ability to protect food and extend shelf-life. We need to think about food waste as well as packaging waste; people throw out several tonnes of food per household per year when it goes off and packaging can help to reduce that waste,” said Wayne Jin, product manager & technical expert, Bemis China.
According to a WRAP report titled Packaging design to reduce household meat waste, greenhouse gas emissions associated with avoidable food and drink waste in the UK account for approximately 20 million tonnes of CO2e per year. The research revealed that in the UK, 2.9 million tonnes of food is thrown away because consumers were unable to consume or freeze fresh meat before its ‘use by’ date. Packaging can circumvent this phenomenon.
Robert Couse-Baker, Sacramento, US
Important for extending shelf life, packaging design encourages the freezing of opened meat packages while boosting the appearance of meat at the same time. This led Bemis to develop the FreshCase packaging, a vacuum package for red meat that retains the meat’s colour by incorporating an additive into the contact layer of the barrier package, while also extending shelf life to 10 times longer than store-wrapped meat.
“Using material science, we can also create special properties within the film that can consume the oxygen and keep meat fresh, and maintain its appearance over a long display period as well,” explained Mr Jin. This provides consumers with more time and inclination to use the product, resulting in reduced wastage.
Tests have shown film technologies to have better performance, and according to him, “popular packaging materials used in this region are starting to lean towards multilayer coextruded film technologies,” which are less thick, but offers high barrier protection, high puncture strength and good performance after sterilisation—characteristics that ensure longer shelf life and sterility.
With the advent of smaller families, busier lifestyles and the quest for convenience, portioning is another packaging tool that can be utilised to reduce waste. For instance, a meat package that is divided into two with a sealing bridge enables the consumer to use one portion without unsealing the other, thereby maintaining the freshness of the unused part. It also facilitates storage and freezing behaviour that extends product life.
In order to address the growing global concerns on the impact of meat production, all players in the meat industry have to work in tandem and towards the goal of producing sustainable meat. Change has to start from within the industry, be it engaging in environmentally friendly farming practices, using machinery to optimise the yield of residual meat, developing new products with sustainable fillers, or utilising packaging to enhance shelf life.
These measures, when properly implemented and communicated to consumers, will result in food wastage reduction and removes the need to ramp up production just so demand can be met.