The curtain was drawn on the 37th annual Natural Products Expo West in early March. The world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event played host to more than 80,000 attendees, including a new generation of innovators who help shape the future of health. Food industry insider Organic Authority named plant-based products the most prevalent, with some of the star brands such as Beyond Meat, Califia Farms, Daiya and Miyoko’s Kitchen exhibiting at the fair. “The biggest trend on the show floor was the explosion of plant-based foods and their link to reduced impact on the climate, improved human health, and animal health,” Organic Authority writer Jill Ettinger said.
Another telling sign that the plant-based sphere is booming with opportunities is when the adversaries ramp up their game by launching plant-based alternatives. The say “if you can’t beam them, join them” may ring particularly true for Elmhurst whose predecessor Elmhurst Dairy closed down last year because of the falling demand for dairy. At this year’s Expo West, they launched a line of nut-based milk alternatives, saying “Elmhurst has made a major shift to lead the plant-based revolution.” On the other hand, Applegate, a Hormel meat company, acknowledged the changes in consumer pattern, explaining that Applegate might begin positioning itself as a food company that seeks protein both from animals and plants. Applegate is not the only meat producer that has seen the need to diversify its product repertoire. Tyson Foods’ CEO Tom Hayes earlier also admitted in an interview that protein consumption and demand are growing globally. He added, “Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction.” Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat producers, seems to be fully aware of the changing consumer demand for healthier and cleaner products. Last October, it took a 5% stake in Beyond Meat. In addition, it has launched a venture capital fund worth US$150 million to invest in meat alternative startups. It will also remove antibiotics from the majority of its products by the fall of 2017.
With the latest global scandal revolving around Brazilian meat producers, Tyson’s pledge to go antibiotic-free is in fact a strategically smart move. Antibiotic abuse is a growing public health concern. In the US alone, approximately 80% of the antibiotics sold are used in meat and poultry production to promote growth as well as prevent and treat diseases. In fact, in the past decade, there has been mounting pressure on the meat industry to terminate the use of antibiotics. Fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Subway have pledged not to use meat raised with antibiotics. However, sales figures reveal the truth. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sales of medically important antibiotics to raise livestock have grown 26% from 2009 to 2015. Back in January 2017, FDA banned the use of antibiotics to assist farm animals to gain weight and antibiotics should be administered for the treatment of diseases only under veterinary supervision. The measure, nevertheless, is deemed too weak to tackle antibiotic overuse in livestock.
Imprudent antibiotic use poses a serious health risk as antibiotic-resistant superbugs may develop. “As resistance to antibiotics booms, diseases like urinary tract infections are becoming untreatable. Consequently, some previously treatable diseases might become fatal”. According to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance commissioned by the UK government, drug-resistant infections kill an estimated 700,000 people worldwide each year. If nothing is done to curb the trend, it is projected to increase to 10 million by 2050. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that at least 2 million people get sick from drug-resistant bacteria each year and approximately 23,000 die annually. We certainly cannot turn a blind eye to these staggering numbers.