“Food companies have been great over the last decades,” Lempert said during a presentation Dec. 14 on his 2017 Trends Forecast. “Food companies have been reducing waste, eliminating certain ingredients. They have made lots of improvements to food safety and a lot of that has been because they have been listening to the consumer.”
Regulations pushed forward by the current Administration, FDA, USDA and other key government agencies also played a pivotal role in many of these positive changes.
But, Lempert asked, “the question in the new Administration is whether or not and how we can continue this effort.”
Lempert explained: “When we look at the public positions of the President Elect, he wants to deregulate the FDA … he is anti-mandatory biotech labeling, pro agriculture technology, pro farmer deregulation, climate change he is all over the map … against TPP China export subsidies, government regulation on farming and ranching, environmental regulations he wants much reduced and it doesn’t look like he is reinstating country of origin labeling.”
But the position that could damage the food industry the most is Trump’s take on H2B visas, Lempert added.
“This is a very serious issue,” he explained. “We have 67% of workers harvesting fruit who are frankly not citizens of this country and they are undocumented workers and seasonal workers. 61% harvesting vegetables.”
To put in perspective how this would impact the average consumer, Lempert said a “50% reduction in dairy workers is about 80,000 people and would increase the price of milk by 45%.”
The bottom line, he said, is these workers “are afraid to come and work. They are afraid they are going to be deported, they are afraid their money is going to be garnished. So we have a real dilemma in growing our food.”
On that noted, he asked: “Are we about to embark on a whole new food battle ground?”
2017 promises significant scientific advancements
But 2017 won’t be all regulatory tug of war or a return to the status quo of several years ago. Rather, it could bring significant advances in the future of food production, Lempert said.
For example, he predicts cellular agriculture will come into its own in 2017 -- offering a viable new way to make animal-based products without the animals and which is more sustainable for the earth.
“Back in 1931, Winston Churchill … questioned whether or not we should be growing, in this case poultry or any other food for the best parts, and not the other parts. Well, the reality is we are getting there” with cellular agriculture, which is the production of animal parts in cellular cultures, Lempert said.
“This is not sci-fi. In 1978 we had human insulin created this way and in 1990 rennet. Now, rennet typically comes from part of the stomach of the cow and is used as a started in cheese. Well, there are a lot of people who were [vegetarian] who didn’t want animal rennet, so again we had cellular agriculture being able to bring artificial rennet for that group of people,” he said.
Flash forward to modern day and companies are creating animal feed proteins that are identical to meat, dairy, eggs and some seafood, he added.
The benefits of cellular agriculture, which uses cells from once living animals, and acellular agriculture which uses organic molecules but not living material, are enhanced food safety with the elimination of e coli and salmonella, longer shelf life, improved animal welfare and more sustainable production, Lempert said.
Sustainability takes center stage
This feeds into another trend to watch in 2017: Sustainability, according to Lempert.
He explains that consumers are moving ahead of industry on sustainability by not waiting for a clear definition. Rather, they are buying foods that they understand how they were made, grown and raised.
Egg production will be a specific element of this trend to watch, Lempert said. For example, he predicts the cage-free movement will evolve into pasture-raised and aviary systems that guarantee chickens room not to just to turn around but to roam and feed as they would in the wild.
Expect more investment from Silicon Valley
Enhanced sustainability of food production also will continue to draw in heavy investments from Silicon Valley, Lempert predicts. He explains that hi-tech food entrepreneurs are looking for solutions to unsustainable farming practices and in doing so are looking at an opportunity that is 10 times that of global software.
But what are these investors looking for? Lempert says companies with social conscience, that are health driven, solving a problem and mass-market oriented.
Finally, other trends to watch in 2017 that already began gaining momentum this year include functional food and the impact of digital communication on consumer understanding of products and manufacturers' ability to sell them, Lempert said.