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Resurgence of Veal

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Deconstructing the Myth

The British veal industry, like its counterpart in America, is working on a comeback. Making a case that veal from "happy animals" is tastier, industry spokespeople imply that putting baby calves in a pen with a "surrogate mother" resolves the moral problem of separating these newborn animals from their real mothers.

Is putting groups of calves in a pen with an unrelated "retired" dairy cow a realistic way to address the physical and emotional trauma of being taken from one's mother shortly after birth? And what about the cow being used as a "surrogate?" How many babies of her own were stolen before she was used up, and how many more of her "adopted" calves will be stolen after she's had a chance to bond with them?

Is the public being duped into accepting a feel good illusion by a supremely cynical industry? One must seriously ask who is being made happy by this new trend, the baby calves, or the people who will buy their flesh when, at six months of age, their lives are scheduled to prematurely end?

If baby calves that "have no useful function" as a result of being a by-product of milk production are killed and turned into dogfood, supple leather gloves, and various products for people to eat, can we as a society continue to tell ourselves that cow's milk is a wholesome food for human children, who have no more of a biological need for cow's milk than they do for pig's milk or monkey's milk -- or even their own mother's milk after the age of weaning?

This article points out that cows are social animals who need touch and eye contact, and at the same time discusses which approach to raising them produces the tastiest flesh. Can a level of disconnect this profound be healthy for anyone, or is it a sign that something has gone terribly wrong?

To learn about the hidden truth of the dairy and veal industry, see the slide show Happy Cows: Behind the Myth."

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

--Henry David Thoreau


Veal, without the cruelty
We import thousands of tonnes of veal each year. The calves are kept in close confinement in the dark and fed nothing but milk. But, says Allegra McEvedy British organic farmers are now producing the meat humanely, and the good news is it's just as tasty.

Is putting groups of calves in a pen with an unrelated "retired" dairy cow a realistic way to address the physical and emotional trauma of being taken from one's mother shortly after birth?

Source: THE GUARDIAN by Allegra McEvedy with Jon Bentham   Sep 2007   9/5/2007
Click here for direct link to source

British consumers love cheese, milk and yoghurt, but to keep the cows producing all that milk, they need to keep calving. This works out fine for female calves, but not so great for young bulls. As the offspring of dairy herds such as Guernsey, Ayrshire and Friesians, these bull calves do not tend to grow up to make good beef, and their fate has been a varied and, at times, inhumane one.


Until 1990, when the British government banned transporting animals in close-confinement crates, many of the bull calves were exported, mostly to the Netherlands, where animal welfare standards are lower than they are here.

Then it became common practice to slaughter and dispose of male calves at just a day or two old. Carol Yesson, a Stop Calf Exports Campaign Officer at Compassion in World Farming, says that an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 male calves are destroyed in the UK each month. And this year, as close-confinement crates were banned throughout the rest of the EU, we are back to exporting up to 3,000 a week. "But we fear that may double if Defra don't take action to stop calf exports," says Yesson. "Most of the calves exported end up in the Netherlands and Belgium where the barren, group-housing system is commonplace. And some animals undertake incredibly long journeys, of up to 100 hours, to Spain and Italy. A Compassion in World Farming report published in May 2007 with Bristol University showed that death and disease following transport can be high and that for a two-week-old calf, transportation is incredibly stressful and causes undue suffering."


Molly Dineen's recent documentary - The Lie of the Land - highlighted Britain's un-joined-up farming practices.an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 male calves are destroyed in the UK each month. Meanwhile, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission, we import 95% of the 2,000 tonnes of veal we eat every year from the continent. I am certainly not blaming our farmers, who do tough jobs, but clearly this system has been failing.

Helen Browning, an organic livestock farmer, and food and farming director of the Soil Association, says, "Historically, for most dairy farmers, male calves are seen as having no useful function - but due to the increasing demand for veal, as well as more and more people wanting to buy British, things are changing."


Abroad, traditionally, veal calves are kept in close individual pens, a tragedy in itself as cows are social animals that need to touch and have eye contact with other members of the herd. To keep their meat as pale as possible they are kept in the dark, fed only milk (not solids, which they need to grow strong) and are anaemic, with no iron or minerals in their diet. "Welfare standards on the continent are just not as high as ours," says Browning, whose veal calves, by contrast, are allowed to roam free in the summer months, and are given hay and oats to eat in their communal sheds through the winter. They are often even settled with surrogate mothers - cows who are retired from the dairy - and generally have a pretty good time of it until they're about six months old and their number's up.


Having cooked and eaten Browning's veal, I find it has more flavour than the usual pale version; all the delicateness of its continental counterpart and is just as tender. I believe that, ethics aside, when it comes to animals, taste is defined by life: what it ate and how it moved. As happy calves move around, they grow muscle, and giving them a balanced diet provides their bodies with what they need to get stronger - as nature intended. These differences produce a meat with a pinker tinge to it, which is known in the industry as "rose veal".

Despite my name (Allegra), there's no Italian blood in my body, but my love of Italian food is written on my bones. Along with garlic, tomatoes, parmesan and a bunch of other super-special Italian cookery staples, veal sits at the high table of Italian ingredients; I adore this unique flesh in all of the many dishes it appears in, such as vitello tonnato and involtini of spinach, mozzarella and grilled aubergines, saltimbocca alla romana (pan fried with parma ham and sage), scaloppine al burro e salvia (escalope cooked with butter and sage) and costoletta alla milanese (pan-fried in breadcrumbs). I have even cited osso buco (shin steak, including the bone and marrow, braised very slowly with vegetables, tomatoes, white wine and herbs) as being my death row meal.

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