Unwanted calves (Bos primigenius) are the lost animals of the dairy industry. That’s how David Bowles, director of communications at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), describes these calves. British consumers care so much about animal welfare that most of us don’t eat veal (calf meat). We think veal farming is cruel. But here’s the irony: instead of eating veal, we condemn unwanted calves either to die very young or to endure long journeys to veal farms abroad.
A dairy cow has to get pregnant once a year to keep her milk coming. Currently in Britain, her working lifespan is four lactations on average, with three ‘dry’ months between each lactation. Half her calves are male (aka bobby calves) and some of her female calves aren’t needed to replace her. So what happens to the excess calves? The farmer has to choose: either kill them within a few days of birth, or sell them to be raised for veal. In other words, the dairy industry relies on killing calves.
We could eat veal. The English Beef and Lamb Executire (EBLEX) offers a Quality Standard for veal. But as celebrity chef and farmer Jimmy Doherty says, veal has an image problem in Britain. In fact, for many British people veal is taboo. It’s not because we have any problem about eating meat from young animals. Lamb is in our shopping baskets, slaughtered under one year of age. Pigs too are slaughtered when only a few months old. Why not veal?
Our British anti-veal taboo came about when veal calves were reared here in a truly horrific system. Calves were incarcerated in tiny crates so that their muscles wouldn’t become fibrous like those of a normal beef animal. Calves were fed a fake-milk diet when they were old enough to eat grass, so that they’d be anaemic and their muscles would stay white.
Intensive veal production was incredibly cruel and I think that it didn’t even make sense from the consumer’s point of view. Who says veal should be very tender and white? I think this foodie fashion got way out of hand. If you want to eat cattle, cook their meat using the excellent recipes for beef. If you want very tender white meat, eat chicken. Or don’t eat meat at all. But I do want to point out that vegetarians who drink milk are supporting the production of ‘lost animals’ which get killed. As for veganism, people can make their own choices. But this blog shows my opinions about livestock and game.
Anyway, veal crates have been consigned to history here in Britain and in other countries of the European Union (EU). A campaign by Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) led to bans on veal crates (scroll down for the section on veal). Those bans came into force in Britain in 1990 and across the EU in 2007. The fight continues in other parts of the world. For example, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) tells us that crates are still used on veal farms in some states.
Since veal crates are gone here, if British farmers want to raise veal they raise rose veal. That’s ‘rose’ as in rose wine: pink, not white or red. Mr Doherty’s recent documentary series showed the slaughter of excess dairy calves. Meat Trade News Daily tells us how Mr Doherty is horrified to see ‘doe-eyed calves’ shot and he wants them to be raised for rose veal.
The Farmers Guardian says that the RSPCA backs Mr Doherty’s call for male dairy calves to be reared for rose veal. In fact, says Rachel Shields at the Independent, the RSPCA invites us to eat British veal with a clear conscience.
Even the RSPCA’s Freedom Food label is awarded to some veal products (scroll down for the section on veal). Here’s what the RSPCA says about veal production and the veal purchased in Britain. The Dairy Site says that veal production in the UK has changed. Jeremy Hunt at Farmers Weekly describes modern veal farming in Britain. Our largest supermarket chain, Tesco, is phasing out foreign veal.
Will British consumers change our minds? We’re conservative people on the whole and we do love animals. The Grocer tells retailers that despite the RSPCA giving veal its seal of approval there’s a long road ahead before public opinion changes on this emotive issue. Which? asks whether veal will catch on with British meat-eaters. Tracy McVeigh at the Observer is more optimistic, saying that British veal is poised for an ‘ethical’ comeback.
The dairy industry here is under pressure (see my tag ‘milk’). Clive Aslett at the Mail says that British dairy farmers can’t afford to be compassionate about killing calves. He may be right. On the other hand, buying high-welfare rose veal could be another way for consumers to support our dairy farmers.
An expanding British rose veal industry could benefit dairy farmers in a business sense. It could benefit them also in terms of infection management. Excessive livestock transport may be promoting the spread of diseases, including tuberculosis (see my tag ‘diseases’).
So there are business reasons and disease management reasons to buy British rose veal. Anyway, excessive livestock transport is cruel. CIWF says that around six million calves are reared for veal within the EU every year and that there are welfare concerns about standard EU veal production. RSPCA tells us about welfare issues in the dairy industry (scroll down for the section on dairy calves). CIWF campaigns to end long distance live transport of animals, including calves. CIWF tells us how retailers lead the way towards ending live calf exports.
Before I wrote this blog entry, I was anti-veal like nearly every British person I’ve ever met. But now I’m going to look out for Freedom Food approved British veal. I’m not even sure what it tastes like but a mild, tender cousin of beef sounds delicious. Anthea Gerrie at the Independent says that succulent veal has had an ethical and culinary makeover. She writes of Italian dishes. I’ve noticed a whole section of veal dishes on the menu of my favourite restaurant, which is Italian. Never considered ordering one of those dishes but now perhaps I will.