Cargill has taken a minority stake in Cainthus and intends to partner with the Irish ag tech startup in developing monitoring technology for dairy farms, according to Meatingplace. Additional applications for poultry, pigs and fish are in the works. Financial details were not released.
The Dublin-based Cainthus has developed a way to use predictive imaging to identify specific animals through facial recognition and from their hide patterns, according to The Irish Times. The program tracks food and water intake, detects heat and follows behavior patterns, the newspaper reported, providing data analytics to help determine milk production, make reproduction plans and monitor herd health.
David Hunter, president and co-founder of Cainthus, told Bloomberg that his company preferred to partner with Cargill due to its extensive agriculture experience. Cargill, now based in Minneapolis, was founded in Iowa in 1865 and is still majority family-owned.
Carfill said the technology has the potential to collect information on livestock and determine the best way to feed, track and treat individual animals — but do it in a faster and far more efficient manner.
Beyond the intended on-farm applications, such a system might be able to help deliver on growing consumer demand for transparency and traceability. Methods enhancing traceability can track a product's — or an animal's — history and location through recorded and documented identification. According to recent research, the food traceability market will be worth $14 billion by 2019.
As a practical matter, there should be little difference between tracing food ingredients and tracing food animals when it comes to making the food chain more transparent. And for a farmer or producer who works in animal agriculture, sharing pertinent health information on a given animal made available through monitoring could enhance consumer faith and trust in the final product, whether it's a gallon of milk or a T-bone steak.
Cargill introduced its version of tracking technology during last year's Thanksgiving holiday with its traceable turkey program. The company used blockchain technology allowing consumers to text or enter a code from the product packaging to a website, which would then link to the farm where the turkey came from.
For food companies, there are major assets to becoming more transparent. About a year ago, Label Insight found that manufacturers who practiced "complete transparency" would be rewarded with loyalty from about 94% of consumers. They might also reap a premium price for such products, particularly from millennials — those coveted shoppers who value both sustainability and transparency and will purchase products accordingly.
Consumers want to know if their meat has residues of antibiotics or hormones and whether it's grass-fed, natural, or organic. They also want to be sure the animals were treated humanely. A recent study by the Center for Food Integrity revealed that a "trust deficit" exists between consumers and food firms, federal agencies and farmers. Only 25% of respondents said they believe U.S. meat is derived from humanely treated animals, so there's an uphill battle to fight over perception — and perhaps this new technology could help to win it.