Reared pigs originally come from wild boar, with important modifications that have transformed them first into a fat source (pigs for lard) and then into a source for meat, for the cold cuts and above all for the production of ham (large pigs, for cold cuts or raw ham).
Even more recently light pigs or pigs for slaughtering have come about thanks to efforts made in rearing technology.
These last two “types” of pigs differ not only genetically, but also for the rearing and in particular the feeding systems.
Therefore, the “types” of meat obtained are significantly different in regards to the quantity and the quality of the fat, which tend to gather outside the muscle and therefore can be easily separable from the “meat” (muscle).
Today fresh pork due to its relative cheapness is the alternative to beef, which is the most consumed in Italy.
The prejudice against the consumption of this meat, considered too “heavy” particularly during the hotter periods of the year, is related to the quality of fat in the pork that used to be obtained in the past. On the contrary today, pigs are reared with a cover of fat (so called lard) just 1-2 cm thick, against 8-10 cm years ago. Also the infiltrated fat in 5-6 months old slaughtered pigs (called “baconers”) has decreased to 2-4% from 15-20% in previous times.
Therefore, lean pig meat has become as excellent a source of protein and vitamins as that of Beef.
The meat of the younger animals are preferably roasted; that of the older animals are more suited for braising. The quantity of pig meat used industrially for preparing deli products, counts for approximately half of the quantity produced globally. The other half goes towards direct food consumption, along with the previously mentioned cuts.
The Sustainability of Meat and Cured Meat
The Report 2016 “The sustainability of meat and cured meat in Italy” has been presented at the European Parliament in Brussels and it focuses on the Environmental Hourglass, which graphically represents the environmental impact of food consumption per week.
The presentation of the Report has been introduced by the MP Giovanni La Via and MP Paolo De Castro and has offered to the European Parliament Members the occasion of a broader reflection on the pattern of zootechnical production chains that in Italy, generates a turnover of up to 30 billion Euros per year, compared to approximately 180 of the whole food sector and to 1,500 billion Euros of the National GDP.
The Italian method
The study analyzes in depth the strong points and the progress at the basis of the production method of the Italian meat- beef, pork and poultry- increasingly focused on topics of sustainability- firstly nutritional and environmental- thanks to the implementation of modern technologies throughout the production chain and to the increased operators’ awareness in meeting the requirements of an ever increasingly demanding consumer.
The consumption of meat and cured meat has always been in fact part of the Mediterranean Diet and of Italian food culture. As a matter of fact, Italy is characterized by an extreme focus on food, on its production, on its taste, on its relationship with culture and history. Variety of food, nutritional balance, moderation, oenogastronomic tradition and culture: these are the cornerstones of a diet pattern studied all around the world.
Safety, sustainability, nutritional balance are the distinguishing characteristics of the Italian model of the production of meat and cured meat, perfectly represented by the Environmental Hourglass.
The safety of animal origin food products entails a long series of controls that concerns the whole production chain, from farm to fork, aimed at guaranteeing the quality and the absence of forbidden substances (for e.g. the hormones and the antibiotics used as growth promoters). Moreover, today the farmers’ commitment is particularly significant for the responsible use of veterinary medicines, the use of which has decreased by 29% from 2010 to 2013, only for therapeutic purposes.
“In our Country, the control of the applications of the stringent European regulations are undertaken by the Ministry of Health, that boasts of one of the most structured health system in an international context, with 4,500 official veterinaries”, as declared by Giorgio Poli, Chairman of the Sustainable Meat Association and Professor at the University of Milan- Department of Animal Pathology, Hygiene and Veterinary Public Health. “The numerous controls and inspections- about 800,000 only in 2014- carried out by the competent authorities (the Local Health Authority, ASL, and the territorial Zoo prophylactic Institutes) on the finished product and the entire supply chain, ensure the quality and safety of all the food products that arrive on our tables.
In Italy antibiotic drugs can only be used for therapeutic purposes and subsequent to a veterinary prescription, with timing and treatment systems that prevent the presence of any residues in meat intended for the final consumer”.
“The growing interest in food sustainability has led consumers to pay more attention to the environmental impacts generated by food chains, including that of meat. The latter in Italy has proven virtuous, undertaking policies and actions to improve the sustainability of the entire sector, primarily by reducing the impacts related to the use of water – lower than the world average – and of energy, using and producing from renewable sources” – says Ettore Capri, Tenured Professor in Environmental and Agricultural Chemistry at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Piacenza.
A concrete example is the use of solar energy: the large availability of space, such as the roofs of the barns, have in fact made the exploitation of the sun as a renewable source of energy possible, that is later re-used thermal purposes and for the production of electricity. Moreover, through efficient animal manure storage management, which is particularly impactful, the problem can be turned into an asset: the manure can be used for biogas production, thus creating energy from non-fossil sources and generating an environmental advantage. Thanks to plants built in the agricultural sector, Italy is now among the top producers of biogas in the world.
Meat is an important source of high biological value protein and other essential nutrients for life and for this reason, in moderate amount, it should not be missing from the diet of the individuals of each age group, especially children and senior citizens.
“it is important to remember that a varied diet, inspired by the Mediterranean model, is best suited for the health of the organism, and this model also includes a moderate consumption of meat” – says Giorgio Calabrese, President of CNSA (National Food Security Committee) and Professor of Dietetics and Human Nutrition – After the alert launched by IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) several months ago it should be noted that the onset of tumors is derived from more individual, behavioural and environmental factors, among which should also be considered eating habits, and that the carcinogenic effect of meat is affected by the quantities consumed, cooking habits and processing”. Following the principle of moderation and adopting the right cooking methods, meat should therefore not be missing from the table, from two to three times a week. “Consuming lean cuts of meat and avoiding direct flame cooking is the best way to take this food during the week and should be alternated with more abundant amounts of fruits and vegetables, just as suggested by the Mediterranean Diet” – concludes Calabrese. “A proper and balanced diet not only ensures an optimal supply of nutrients, but also allows you to receive substances that play a preventive or protective role against certain diseases”.