ICoMST 2023: a great success

ICoMST2023 is the world congress that analyzes the latest discoveries and innovative perspectives in the livestock supply chain.

The Italian edition of the 69th International Congress of Meat Science and Technology – ICoMST has proven successful. It gathered in the splendid setting of the “Padova Congress” in Padova, leading experts and world-renowned scientists in fresh and processed meat science and technology.

ICoMST is a global congress that occurs annually, alternating between a European and non-European location. The procedure for hosting ICoMST begins with submitting a candidacy by the national “Contact Person” at least five years in advance. The event was chaired by Antonella Dalle Zotte, the “Contact Person” for Italy, Professor of Animal Science at the Department of Animal Medicine, Production and Health (MAPS) at the University of Padova.

ICoMST 2023

ICoMST2023 was attended by nearly 600 scientists from 44 countries who gathered from 20 to 25 August 2023 to review the latest findings and innovative perspectives in this crucial field.

I had the honour of bringing the ICoMST congress to Veneto Region for the first time and for the second time to Italy after 68 editions, an achievement of which I am deeply proud due to its significance for the meat livestock sector,” said Professor Antonella Dalle Zotte.

Scientists worldwide shared their ideas on reducing the carbon footprint of meat production, exploring alternative protein sources while also addressing ethical considerations related to food security, animal welfare, and their implications for human health.

The five intense work days saw a significant presence of researchers under 32, comprising 30% of the total participants. Forty of them also attended an intensive course held by leading scientists in the field two days before the start of the congress. The transmission of knowledge and skills to future researchers represents the key to the scientific progress of every discipline.

“The theme of the Congress, ‘From Tradition to Green Innovation,’ was chosen to emphasise the importance and significance of traditional food products in various countries’ cultures,” emphasised Professor Dalle Zotte. Italy has a long tradition and great specialisation and diversification in cured meats, and, in general, attention is focused on the quality of meat products, whether fresh or processed. However, this quality starts with attention to the animal’s health, following the holistic concept of “One Health.”

The future of the livestock meat supply chain

Numerous topics were addressed during the five days of the congress, and an interesting roundtable discussion was dedicated to the future of the meat livestock sector, starting from the “Dublin Declaration,” a document signed by more than 1100 scientists worldwide. It aims to provide reliable evidence of the importance of livestock farming for the environment, human health, the economy, and society. In an interdisciplinary context, experts worldwide addressed these new frontiers’ ethical, nutritional, and sustainable implications.

The congress also raised important questions regarding human health, particularly the role of meat in nutrition. In this regard, a recent FAO report, based on scientific evidence, drew attention to a significant problem of malnutrition even among Western populations. Malnutrition can lead to anaemia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and obesity, stemming from imbalanced or ultra-processed diets. Meat and other animal products contain vital nutrients for humans that are difficult to replace with other food sources. Therefore, researchers are striving to disseminate scientifically supported information to reduce malnutrition.

The most pressing issues

According to Isabelle Baltenweck (ILRI), keynote speaker at the congress, the challenge lies in coordinating the nutrient-food-diet-food system chain, where some countries’ consumers have limited diet choices (the sum of foods regularly consumed).

In contrast, in other countries, consumers follow unbalanced diets. Thus, globally, there are two main threats in terms of food/nutrition: hunger (due to food scarcity or lack of nutritionally dense food) and cardiometabolic diseases (malnutrition, unlimited access to refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods). However, according to scientist Mario Estevez, animal-derived foods are not responsible for the two situations described above but, on the contrary, represent a solution.

The population is continuously growing, and according to FAOStat, meat consumption increases by 3% annually, providing 26% of bioavailable protein. The challenges are numerous and often complex. At the ICoMST congress in Padova, eminent scientists presented them and emphasised the importance of balancing sustainability with biodiversity, nutrition, and human health. The problem of the sustainability of food demand, especially for meat, needs to be addressed because current solutions, according to researchers, do not seem adequate.

Cultured meat and plant-based meat

Among the solutions the market proposed are other protein sources and meat alternatives. These include plant-based products (the most common), microalgae, mushrooms, and insect larva meal, which can be completely meatless or contain meat called “hybrids.” However, many scientists at the ICoMST congress drew attention to the lower nutritional value (especially protein) of some of these products when used as a complete replacement for animal-derived products and other nutritional issues arising from their high degree of processing (ultra-processed products).

Instead, “cultured meat” or “cell-based meat” produced from cells (animal blastocysts) was a subject of extensive discussion at the ICoMST Congress. According to scientist Lieven Thorrez, eminent keynote speaker at the congress, large investors have invested significant sums to develop a “cultured meat” product to meet the diverse needs of consumers worldwide. However, according to Prof. Thorrez, the companies involved seem to face numerous obstacles – productive, economic and sustainable.

Although it is a debated topic, we are still far from seeing synthetic meat enter our markets, primarily because creating and reproducing a product as complex as meat is not straightforward. Additionally, making the product eco-friendly and addressing the scale-up issue poses significant challenges.

At the University of Padova, most researchers in the field study the entire production process, i.e. from the animal to the meat product, focusing on the environment, nutrition and health of the animal from birth. Few researchers research fresh and processed meat, focusing more on finding technologies to preserve or improve its nutritional, technological and sensory characteristics or to monitor its authenticity. Scientific research in the meat livestock sector is very active, especially at the Department of Animal Medicine, Production, and Health (MAPS), where researchers operate from the perspective of integrated human-animal-environment health. Indeed, the MAPS Department was present with several scientific contributions from researchers, doctoral students, and post-docs, with the active participation of Dr. Marco Cullere (Co-chair), Professors Valerio Giaccone and Severino Segato (members of the Scientific Committee). The scientific committee included other Italian scientists, Association for Science and Animal Production (ASPA) members, including Professor Alberto Brugiapaglia (Co-chair), and international scientists.

Antonella Dalle Zotte

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.