AI in Food Tech: The Rise of Alternative Proteins

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<span style="font-weight: 400">Recent trends indicate that, due to rising concerns around </span><b>health and sustainability</b><span style="font-weight: 400">, </span><b>alternative proteins</b><span style="font-weight: 400"> and innovations such as </span><b>plant-based meat alternatives</b><span style="font-weight: 400"> and cultured </span><b>lab-grown meat</b><span style="font-weight: 400"> are set to become the </span><b>future of food</b><span style="font-weight: 400"> production.</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">In 2020, </span><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/alternative-proteins-will-transform-food-mitigate-climate-change-and-drive-profits/#:~:text=The%20benefits%20of%20alternative%20proteins,consequences%20of%20intensive%20animal%20farming." target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">574 million metric ton</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400">s of animal-based protein (meat, fish, dairy, and eggs) was consumed across the globe. That’s equivalent to almost 75 kilograms (170 lbs) per person. And while that amount continues to grow, so too do concerns about the effect such a diet is having on people’s health, the conditions in which these animals are kept and harvested, and the environmental cost of raising these animals. </span> <blockquote>Can AI be used to track climate change? Appsilon uses <a href="https://appsilon.com/monitoring-ecosystems-with-computer-vision/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">computer vision to monitor shifts in ecosystems</a>.</blockquote> <span style="font-weight: 400">Meat production is responsible for </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-021-00358-x.epdf?sharing_token=uJKQOPdza_oOUuJfdd73vNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0P5hJzOufiwVEu0osAOLG2L7YmizCBD0QPnXzpZvdgVd21n-7QUfEf8uD-CKplQ9ExzxDMLCmm-q527Wp8JIzM_Egm9B2aZIBUMO-vI9_80d1Y0jEMYHXFqa8GpUwxXkeJwiYfoJl3arDj3njdrwz0pFQy2ZBalLcHviN0deS-DDXb3y_kJq1iZeS-CsxtN7yuxBC9fRzqyhzJLSyI00OevNnW8ciVtNNPfbpJIoNB2UxsfyVVMDmXIhP3mN67KHJp6xh86A23CsNx6-e-OVXmM&amp;tracking_referrer=www.theguardian.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">57 percent</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> of all carbon emissions generated by food production. In fact, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), </span><a href="https://www.fao.org/3/i3437e/i3437e.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">more than 14 percent</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> of all emissions are a by-product of meat and dairy farming. The situation is so bad, that </span><a href="https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.aba7357" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">scientists argue</span></a> that <span style="font-weight: 400">even if fossil fuel emissions were halted, current trends in global food production mean it would be impossible to limit the increase in global warming to 1.5°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement.</span> <ul><li><a href="#growing">Growing Appetite</a></li><li><a href="#ideal">Finding the Ideal Protein Alternative</a></li><li><a href="#augmenting">Augmenting Agriculture</a></li><li><a href="#future">The Future of Farming</a></li></ul> <hr /> <h2 id="growing">Growing Appetite</h2> <span style="font-weight: 400">Given the heightened awareness and increasing government action on reducing emissions, it’s perhaps unsurprising that serious consideration is being given to plant-, microorganism-, and animal cell-based alternatives to meat and dairy. </span> <img class="wp-image-14195" src="https://webflow-prod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/6525256482c9e9a06c7a9d3c%2F65b01ddbc094bb3c4e870ba4_chuttersnap-plants-in-beakers-scaled.webp" alt="plants in beakers" width="800" height="534" /> Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@chuttersnap?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">CHUTTERSNAP</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/lab-meat?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a> <span style="font-weight: 400">Indeed, the </span><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/alternative-proteins-will-transform-food-mitigate-climate-change-and-drive-profits/#:~:text=The%20benefits%20of%20alternative%20proteins,consequences%20of%20intensive%20animal%20farming." target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">World Economic Forum</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> predicts that such alternatives will account for between 11 and 22 percent of the protein consumed globally in 2035. </span> <blockquote>Do you prefer R for data science? See <a href="https://appsilon.com/fast-ai-in-r/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">how to build a computer vision model in an R environment</a>.</blockquote> <span style="font-weight: 400">It suggests that a shift to plant-based meat and e</span><span style="font-weight: 400">ggs alone could reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of Japan’s annual GHG emissions.</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">Notably, a global transition from meat-based to alternative forms of protein has the potential to deliver between 10 and 14 gigatons of CO2-eq, or </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0591-9" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">14 and 20 percent</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> of the emissions mitigation needed to meet the 1.5°C target by 2050.</span> <h3>Room to grow</h3> <span style="font-weight: 400">The appetite for alternative proteins is undoubtedly growing. </span> <a href="https://nsfinternational.widen.net/s/fss72qqxsv/ct_food_trends_insight_ereport" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">88% of food industry practitioners</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> said that they expect demand for plant-based products to increase and, although vegans only account for </span><a href="https://www.redefinemeat.com/blog/vegan-statistics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">one percent</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> of the world’s population, a meat-free lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">A 2021 </span><a href="https://insight.rakuten.com/infographic-plant-based-food-alternatives-future-or-present/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">global survey</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> found that four in five consumers had tried plant-based milk, while more than two in five had tried a vegan meat alternative. Even fast-food restaurants now sell plant-based meat alternatives such as the McPlant or Impossible Whopper. In fact, microorganism-based alternatives have been around for years, with meat grown from animal cells available in restaurants in Israel and Singapore, for example.  </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">It appears, then, that alternative proteins are set to transform food production and consumption. The benefits are clear: they allow food producers to satisfy the need of consumers for protein, without worrying about the ethics and environmental consequences of livestock farming. </span> <h2 id="ideal">Finding the Ideal Protein Alternative</h2> <span style="font-weight: 400">In a 2021 report, ’</span><a href="https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/agriculture/our-insights/cultivated-meat-out-of-the-lab-into-the-frying-pan" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">Cultivated meat: Out of the lab, into the frying pan</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400">’</span><span style="font-weight: 400">, McKinsey argues that, if consumers buy into cultivated meat – where cells derived from animal tissue are grown in a laboratory environment until they look and, importantly, taste like meat – the market could reach $25 billion by 2030, achieving parity with conventional meat. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">It’s here that technologies such as AI and machine learning can be hugely beneficial.</span> <h3>The future of meat production is AI</h3> <span style="font-weight: 400">Cambridge University off-shoot spinout </span><a href="https://www.animalalternativetechnologies.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">Animal Alternative Technologies</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> is an example of a company looking to make cultivated meat indistinguishable from that derived from an animal. Its work is based on the acknowledgment that recreating meat in a lab in the same way it grows in nature is not an easy process.</span> To this end, the company’s innovative technology monitors cells in real-time, using AI algorithms to guide their growth, supplemented by monitoring various parameters such as pH and temperature to optimize the whole process. <span style="font-weight: 400">Using the insight derived from this data, the company is able to proactively differentiate pieces of tissue, replicating the texture and taste of different cuts of meat. Its ultimate aim is to build a database for cultured meat, from which AI agents can replicate lamb, pork, beef, or more.</span> <h3>AI in food sciences example</h3> <span style="font-weight: 400">Elsewhere, </span><a href="https://www.firmenich.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">Firmenich</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400">, the world’s largest privately-owned fragrance and taste manufacturer, uses AI algorithms to “generate … a wide range of flavor combinations [for meat and dairy alternatives].”</span> <blockquote>Improve your <a href="https://appsilon.com/ml-data-labeling-cleaning-machine-learning-labels/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">image labeling with machine learning and streamlit</a>.</blockquote> <span style="font-weight: 400">The goal for food manufacturers is to reproduce a meat alternative’s flavor profiles – its texture, taste, and aroma - to ensure consumers aren’t put off by any difference to the original meat. Traditionally, this process can be hugely repetitive, with thousands of formulas eventually narrowed down to the most similar profile. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">AI and machine learning, however, can streamline operations, helping to predict which products will resonate most with consumers and, by cutting down the number of formulas that must be screened, helping manufacturers develop formulations more quickly and at a lower cost. </span> <h2 id="augmenting">Augmenting Agriculture</h2> <span style="font-weight: 400">Not all protein alternatives will be cultivated in a lab, of course. As we’ve seen, plant-based meat substitutes are becoming increasingly popular. A recent report by the </span><a href="https://gfieurope.org/blog/plant-based-meat-sales-up-19-to-record-e2-3-billion-in-western-europe-report-shows/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span style="font-weight: 400">Good Food Institute</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400"> shows retail sales for plant-based meat alternatives across Europe rose by 19 percent in 2021, and are continuing to grow. Robust agricultural practices are, therefore, vital to maintaining this growth.</span> <a href="http://appsilon.com/data-for-good/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-14181" src="https://webflow-prod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/6525256482c9e9a06c7a9d3c%2F65b01ddca516965e74b62986_appsilon-cv-and-ml-in-agtech.webp" alt="ai in agriculture and foodtech using computer vision and machine learning" width="1024" height="768" /></a> <h3>AI in agriculture</h3> <span style="font-weight: 400">But, while farming may be one of the world’s oldest professions, there are many ways in which emerging technologies can augment its output. Large-scale industrial farmers are exploring automation and autonomy, for example, with many employing AI, machine learning, and computer vision applications for a range of tasks including evaluating field conditions, identifying crop disease, and predicting yields.</span> <h3>Computer vision in agriculture</h3> <span style="font-weight: 400">Computer vision applications, for instance, allow farmers to gather vast amounts of valuable data, previously unavailable to them and use it to inform their decision-making. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">They can save a considerable amount of time and reduce time-to-market, too, by helping farmers sort produce by factors such as weight, color, size, and ripeness, as well as identifying any defects in their produce. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">And, as the technology continues to evolve, improvements in computer vision applications and their supporting data will enable the deployment of autonomous machinery in the field.</span> <h2 id="future">The Future of Farming - Alternative Proteins</h2> <span style="font-weight: 400">Whether plant-based or cultivated in a laboratory, alternative proteins look likely to be the future of food production. By using advanced technologies like AI, machine learning, and computer vision to improve efficiencies, and help ensure the closest possible resemblance between meat substitutes and the real thing, manufacturers will soon be creating a wealth of tasty, healthy, and nutritious food, all with minimal impact on the environment. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">Protein isn’t going anywhere. But it’s time to change the way it’s produced.</span> <blockquote>Use fast.ai and Shiny to create a quick and effective <a href="https://appsilon.com/satellite-image-analysis-with-fast-ai-for-disaster-recovery/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">app for satellite image analyses</a>.</blockquote> Want to see how AI, computer vision, and machine learning models can help your business? <a href="https://appsilon.com/ai-research/#contact" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Contact the Appsilon AI &amp; Research team</a> to learn more about computer vision and machine learning solutions.

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