Hacking away at the sustainable meat industry

What role can technology play in helping food companies and grocery stories procure more pork chops, steaks and ribs produced by ranchers and farmers adhering to sustainable and organic business practices?

That was the central question posed by the first ever "Meat Hackathon" (MeatHack) held Dec. 7-9 in New York City.

Hackathons are events where individuals self-organize into teams to collaborate on potential solutions to specific challenges within a specific, short period of time. The MeatHack teams were focused on these themes:

  • Improving food labeling so it's easier for consumers to identify organic, antibiotic-free and grass-fed meat;
  • Addressing the operational efficiency of meat processors, so it's easier for them to distribute products; and
  • Helping small family farms compete more effectively in an industry rife with consolidation and dominated by massive organizations.

The hackathon's winning entry -- an Internet-enabled meat scale and label printer called CARV that can help cut the amount of time it takes for organic meat producers to obtain approvals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food Safety Inspection Service  (FSIS) -- received $2,500 to help bring its idea to fruition.

"The pitch had a business model component to it that we thought was very feasible," said Shai Goldman, venture partner with 500 Startups, and one of five finalist judges. "It seemed like it was solving a real problem."

Solutions to ease market entry

The event organized by Food+Tech Connect is actually the third in a series of food-themed challenges encouraging entrepreneurs, farmers, distributors and other food industry stakeholders to find solutions that make it easier for local and organic food suppliers to get their wares onto consumers' plates.

The other sponsors were GRACE Communications Foundation, an organization focused on building public awareness of the interconnections between food, water and energy systems; and Applegate, the organic meat purveyor.

Image of slaughterhouse cows courtesty of pixelpeter via Shutterstock.

Next page: Why the meat system needs to be disrupted