Food as Medicine is on-trend, but what about medicine in our food?

Food as Medicine is on-trend, but what about medicine in our food?

A World of Change

The world of food is changing rapidly due to changing consumer preferences, which, as highlighted in S2G’s white paper, have only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are spending more time than ever shopping for groceries and cooking food at home, and more than half (54%) of all consumers say the healthfulness of their food choices matters more now than it did in 2010.1 What we eat plays a role in our health, the health of our communities, and the health of our planet. The COVID pandemic has shown that our choices as consumers even drive outcome. We do our best to make informed choices when buying or eating food, and knowing what is in our food empowers us to make informed, safe choices. We have observed how the industry has attempted to respond to these changing consumer preferences, such as creating more better-for-you products and increasing product and supply chain transparency with additional label claims or traceability technologies.


At S2G, we invest in trailblazing entrepreneurs and companies that are hungry to tackle the problems affecting our food system. One of the many areas we continue to see disruption in is the protein space. For example, in the alternative protein space, plant-based meat / protein, cultivated meat, alternative dairy, and functional fermented proteins are just a few areas experiencing rapid growth and that S2G has backed entrepreneurs in. But even the traditional animal protein space has continued to rapidly evolve.


One way consumers are driving change in the traditional animal agriculture space is by choosing animal products that make “antibiotic-free”, “hormone-free”, or “steroid-free” label claims. Approximately 80% of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used in meat and poultry production, and 72% of consumers state that they are extremely or very concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed, including the potential to create “superbugs” that are immune or resistant to antibiotics.2,3 While over 90% of consumers are aware of the terms hormone- and antibiotic-free, only half say they actually understand what those terms mean.4

The Reality of Today's Testing

It is likely that much fewer consumers actually understand what testing (or lack thereof) is done to verify any of these “antibiotic-free”, “hormone-free” or other adulterant-free label claims. What may surprise consumers is that all of these label claims are based on producer assertions and are fundamentally not backed by testing. In the US, of the nine billion chickens processed in 2019, ~700 were tested by the USDA for drug residues (including antibiotics and growth hormones) -- that is a testing rate of 0.000008%. To provide a sense of just how small that number is, that testing rate is the equivalent of comparing the size of a basketball to the size of the moon! The numbers are not much better for beef cattle or swine, with ~700 tests for over 32 million beef cattle and ~700 tests for over 120 million swine.5 These label claims align with the ideology to provide consumers greater transparency into what is in their food and to provide better-for-you animal products, but testing technology has historically not been there to test enough animals with the needed precision to provide surety to consumers that these claims are creditable.


Similar to what has been seen with COVID-19 testing in the healthcare system, current testing technologies in animal agriculture have been too slow and too expensive to fit into the modern livestock system that feeds billions. Sufficient testing is key to not only validating label claims, but to identifying and reducing the undesirable impacts of antibiotic use in animal agriculture. Chefs and restaurateurs will demand testing to understand the food that they are serving, and large supermarket chains and quick serve restaurants will need testing to manage their supply chain risks and demonstrate their commitment to safe food. At S2G, we see this as an enormous opportunity. We believe that rapid testing is inevitable, and we have backed an innovative technology company that we believe is paving the way for affordable, rapid, and reliable testing: Food In-Depth (FoodID).


Consumers want to know the food they're eating is good food. Brands, retailers, and restaurants want to know the food they're providing is good food. The USDA wants to be able to verify that food is safe and properly labelled. With FoodID, we now have the technology to address all of these concerns."

- Chuck Templeton, Managing Director S2G Ventures



Making Rapid Testing Feasible

Founded and led by ranchers, scientists, and technologists, FoodID provides testing solutions that work with the modern livestock system. Already testing beef, pork, and chicken in facilities across the US and Canada, FoodID is testing for >95% of the most common drugs and antibiotics administered in feed and water. FoodID’s tests provide near real-time results, can run at plant line speeds, are sensitive enough to detect low levels of substances, are very affordable, and are intuitive and easy to use (consumer friendly). For the first time, FoodID’s verification label provides an assurance to consumers that there is a testing program backing up the claims on the packaging, and consumers have the ability to follow a link on the label to view testing reports that are published and publicly available.


At S2G, we invest in the future, in innovation that is solving complex issues to make our food system better. We believe that in the future testing will become the norm, and not just for antibiotics, beta agonists and hormones. We see many other future applications, such as heavy metals in fish and other proteins.


Now that testing is working at the speed and scale of the modern livestock system, players throughout the food supply chain will be pressured to adopt testing to validate label claims and manage supply chain risks. Until now, you didn’t know what is in your food because it was too hard to know. Now, with FoodID, you can know and you should know.


Trust But Verify

People are demanding greater transparency, better-for-you foods, and a greater connection with their food. Consumers want to trust and know that the food they are eating is what they are told it is. 75% of consumers are more likely to switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information, beyond what’s provided on the physical label, creating an enormous market opportunity for producers, brands, retailers, and investors.6 Testing will be the key to help rebuild trust in a system that has been put into question. The FoodID verification label will be the assurance to consumers that the chicken they are buying in the supermarket or the burger they order in a restaurant has been tested, that the claim is not just a “promise”,  and is backed by real testing.


Sources:

  1. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/06/10/2046323/0/en/COVID-19-Pandemic-Transforms-the-Way-We-Shop-Eat-and-Think-About-Food-According-to-IFIC-s-2020-Food-Health-Survey.html

  2. https://www.consumerreports.org/media-room/press-releases/2012/06/consumer-reports-poll-majority-of-americans-want-meat-raised-without-antibiotics-sold-at-local-supermarkets/

  3. https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/press_release/the-overuse-of-antibiotics-in-food-animals-threatens-public-health-2/

  4. https://www.wsj.com/articles/meat-companies-go-antibiotics-free-as-more-consumers-demand-it-1415071802

  5. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/0705db59-14eb-4fe6-8dd6-fe3d33d9790c/sampling-program-plan-fy2019.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

  6. https://www.fmi.org/newsroom/news-archive/view/2018/09/18/food-retail-study-determines-transparency-yields-greater-brand-loyalty


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Robinson

Associate

Michael Robinson is a former investment banker gone venture capitalist, working at S2G Ventures as an Associate to help make a better food system. Outside of work, Michael is a lifetime hockey fanatic and has officiated for USA Hockey for over a decade. Michael received his BS and MBA from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

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