What’s the deal with veal?

im only a baby

I think veal sums up everything that is bizarre and cruel about eating meat.  Veal is the meat of bull calves – usually from dairy cattle.  These calves are taken away from their mothers at around a day old and then kept in hutches, stalls or indoor sheds to restrict movement so as to prevent connective tissue from developing as the paler the meat the better the quality is considered.  Nice.

And of course these are the lucky ones.  Or unlucky ones. Depends on how you see it.  Up to 99,000 are still shot every year and over 10,000 exported to the continent because the demand for veal in this country is obviously nothing like the demand for dairy so there is a huge surplus of male dairy calves.  Just imagine a pile of 99,000 dead day old male calves – what a heinous waste – just so that we can have our milk and cheese.  How can a pint of semi-skimmed milk or a chunk of cheddar ever justify the barbaric means?

Veal has always been a controversial issue in terms of animal welfare but there are improvements happening and people are becoming more aware.

Multiple animal welfare organizations, who strongly focus on factory farming, have spent decades trying to educate consumers about several veal production procedures they consider to be inhumane. This education has proven successful in creating pressure on the industry, resulting in changes in the methods used by the veal industry over the past 30 years or so.

Living space was always a huge issue of concern and a strong animal welfare movement concerning veal started in the 1980s with the release of photographs of veal calves tethered in crates where they could barely move. After the release of these photographs, veal sales plummeted, and have never recovered.


Veal crates thank became illegal in the UK in 1990, and a full ban was placed for the entire European Union in 2007.  The American Veal Association has announced their plan to phase out the use of crates by 2017.  So that’s at least progress.

Although not common in the UK, veal farms are widespread on the continent. Around six million calves are reared for veal within the EU every year. The biggest EU producers are France (over 1.4 million calves), the Netherlands (1.5 million calves) and Italy (almost 800,000 calves).

If you insist on eating veal then here’s a good article with guidelines on how to do it as ethically as you can from the freedomfood.com website:

What’s the deal with ethical veal?

What's the deal with ethical veal?

 You know that a golden rule is to never eat veal if you care about animal welfare. Right?

Well, it is not quite that simple.  The veal industry rightly got a very bad name due to the use of veal crates, one of the most bizarre and cruel ways to keep calves it is possible to come up with.  Fortunately, the crates were banned in the UK in 1990 and eventually banned across the EU in 2006.  But while crates may be a thing of the past and the calves have to be given some roughage as part of their diet, the standards for rearing veal calves in the EU are still lower than those required in Britain.  It’s not just the amount of space provided that is different.  Calves on the continent don’t have to be given straw bedding once they are more than two weeks old and EU legislation does not require their diet to be sufficiently iron-rich to avoid the animals becoming anaemic.  All-in-all, it is hardly surprising that veal has disappeared from the welfare-conscious shopper’s trolley.  But if you eat meat, like a drop of milk in your tea or a slice of cheese in your sandwich, it is time to think again.

There is a very strong argument for eating veal – but only British high-welfare or British rose veal*. About 10,000 male British dairy calves were killed last year, simply for being the wrong sex and unable to produce milk. With the ban on live transport lifted, a further shocking 11,000 were shipped abroad last year – and the live transport trade is growing. Animal lovers are rightly concerned about the fact that live calves are transported over these distances, sometimes in appalling conditions and having experienced the trauma of auction, to live in conditions illegal in the UK.  It’s an issue Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA have been trying to tackle through a forum on veal calf exports they set up in 2006.  A recent RSPCA survey revealed consumers are really concerned about live transport and an epetition against the live export of calves is currently gathering signatures (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/42002) .

British high welfare veal provides another, ethical option. Calves can be reared in the UK where legally they have to be given bedding and a proper diet that not only ensures their digestive systems can develop normally, but also ensures they do not become anaemic. Choose veal with the Freedom Food logo and the animals will have been reared to RSPCA standards, which ensures higher welfare.

Farmers like Freedom Food member David Tory are raising British veal calves which are free to run around with pen mates and in fact have a longer life than chicken, pigs, turkeys and lamb!

Your choices make such a difference – so always make sure it’s British high-welfare veal – whether you are cooking at home or eating out.

*Freedom Food labelled British high welfare veal comes from calves reared to the RSPCA welfare standards, slaughtered between 6 and 12 months.  They must have evidence that their blood haemoglobin is above accepted levels.  Calves slaughtered between 8 and 12 months can also be called ‘rose’ veal.