Veal is meat procured from young calves – typically younger than nine months old. It’s not only renowned for its tenderness and flavor but its cost too.
The problem is that many people struggle to justified the slaughter of such young animals – is it a cruel practice to support?
Veal is cruel because it supports the breeding and slaughtering of calves (anywhere between two hours to 35 weeks old) purely for human consumption. The degree of humane conditions for rearing and slaughtering is another key element to consider too.
Read on to learn for details regarding what is veal and whether these animals are subject to lives of cruelty.
What Is Veal?
Veal is a beef acquired from young calves that are slaughtered as young as two hours old for Bob veal or as old as 35 weeks old for rose veal.
Since they don't lactate, most veal comes from male calves, particularly of a dairy breed, but ultimately, male and female calves of any breed can be used to make veal.
It’s most common to slaughter these calves between 16-18 weeks old. And during this time, they are fed an extremely strict diet that is typically milk-based and free from any grains or grasses.
This diet allows the veal meat to have a delicate texture and a creamy pale color with a grayish-pink hue. The calves’ young age attributes are why veal is tender compared to beef from a full-grown cow.
If you’re wondering how this affects the dairy industry – you’re not alone. Dairy isn’t always as ethical as you might think it is. There are a few things to know before you pop to the shops to get some milk this week and we explain it all here: Can Milk Be Cruelty-Free?
Is Veal Cruel?
How cruel it is to consume veal ultimately depends on a few factors. The two most significant ones include:
The Principle of Veal
Many individuals believe that consuming veal is cruel on principle alone.
There's no way around it – if you are consuming veal, you support an industry that slaughters infant calves solely for human consumption.
It’s worth considering that veal is no different from the various other types of young animals that humans slaughter and consume.
The global caviar market size was valued at USD 276.2 million in 2018. This is an industry built solely on the harvesting of sturgeon eggs from their slaughtered mother. And yet, this animal product is seen as a delicacy, similarly to veal.
There's a tremendous amount of money to be made in these industries, because people do enjoy consuming these foods.
The important thing to remember is that as long as there is demand for it – farmers will make a plan to supply it, even if it means conducting cruel practices.
So if the idea of separating a calf from its mother at birth only to slaughter it weeks later for human consumption doesn't sit well with you – you have the right to deem it as cruel and stop supporting the industry.
The Process of Veal
One of the most cruel aspects of procuring veal is how companies handle the young calves from birth to slaughter.
Many handle them in a manner that results in illness, disease, mental and physical trauma, and even death.
Although this is not the case in all situations, it’s the unfortunate majority. Be warned – we’re about to depict the particularly cruel approach to handling calves intended to become veal.
The bond between a mother and child is extremely strong, and it is no different when it comes to a cow and her calf. Unfortunately, young calves are often separated from their mothers within hours of their birth if they need to be procured for veal.
This separation is extremely distressing to both the mother and the calf. Not only because of their relationship, but also because the mother is producing milk intended for the calf.
The calf is taken away from its natural source of nourishment and withheld from any emotional support.
After the calves are separated from their mothers, they are relocated to rearing farms where they will be raised until slaughter.
As if the separation from its mother wasn't traumatizing enough, the horrid conditions of calf transportation are sometimes enough to kill the calf before they even arrive at the farm.
The mental toll of being separated from its mother mere hours after its birth combined with the stressful transportation process will often lead to illness or even death on the journey.
Calves are extremely vulnerable to the point that they are unsuitable for transportation. They cannot regulate their body temperature, which is essential considering the fluctuating temperatures during travel.
This process's immense stress and the insufficient spaces they stay in, often lead to bruising and weight loss along the journey, which can be deathly to such a young animal.
Another incredibly cruel element these young calves are subjected to is veal crates. These crates are banned in the EU and some states in America. Sadly, they are still used in the United States overall since they are not illegal nationwide.
Veal crates are essentially narrow crates with metal bars for the calf's head, or they're restrained with rope. The crate is extremely narrow to fit the calf inside but is devoid of additional room for the young animal to turn around or adjust.
They are horrid and unnecessary contraptions that are undoubtedly cruel since they severely limit the calf's mobility and keeps them confined indefinitely.
In addition to limiting their mobility, these veal crates also prevent the calves from grooming and socializing.
Some aren't even provided proper bedding. Instead, they are forced to stay on slatted floors which are so uncomfortable that they cause injuries or lameness.
It is not uncommon for a calf's living conditions to cripple them to the point that they must be picked up or aided by the slaughter plants.
The cruelest diet for a calf is if they are "milk-fed". This means the calf is fed a low iron diet to produce the most desired white meat. As calves age and are fed different diets, their meat becomes redder in color, which butchers see as less desirable.
The "milk" diet actually consists of a milk replacer that is laced with antibiotics. If it is, this is usually added to control diarrhea caused by an inadequate diet.
This diet is particularly damaging to claves because it causes anemia. After all, they are deprived of sufficient amounts of iron. Which, in turn, damages their immune systems and causes the calves to be weak, lethargic, and ultimately sickly or unwell throughout their short life.
How Can Veal Be Cruelty-Free?
As we mentioned previously, the exceptionally cruel process detailed above is not the case in all veal companies. However, it is, unfortunately, a reality more often than not.
It is never justifiable to mistreat any animal so thoroughly that they are in a constant state of stress, fear, discomfort, and illness for the duration of its life.
If you put the question of the principle of veal being cruel aside and you are a meat-eater, then veal can technically be cruelty-free as long as the calves are treated humanely and with respect from the moment they are born to the moment they die.
The first step to a cruelty-free life for calves intended for veal is to provide them with sufficient living quarters and a healthy diet. These animals' lives might be brief, but they deserve health and comfort before being slaughtered for human gain.
Cruelty-free settings will allow calves to remain with their mothers in suckler herds where they are sufficiently weaned before slaughter. Allowing them to live in comfort and receive the proper nutrition from their mothers' milk to support their development until they reach the designated age.
There are other alternative scenarios where calves are raised in locations where they receive proper bedding, ample space for exercise and activities, and sufficient opportunities for socialization and interaction with other calves.
The scenario mentioned above is the optimal choice where the calf is permitted to stay with its mother, even though these alternatives are still not entirely cruelty-free.
The process and principle of acquiring veal from young calves is very cruel. Some companies will certainly raise calves intended for this purpose in cruelty-free environments, but sadly, not all follow this path.
Ultimately, these animals are produced with the expectation to give their lives for human consumption – and their short-lived time on this planet is cruel and barbaric.
The only way that this practice will stop is if people stop demanding it.
And as a bare minimum, its essential to enforce cruelty-free husbandry of these animals. Look for farms that treat their animals humanely and support the organizations that are trying to pass legislation to make this form of animal cruelty illegal.