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What's Wrong with Veal?


Calves in veal crates

Calves in veal crates

Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

Last updated May 7, 2014

Along with foie gras and shark fins, veal has a reputation for being one of the cruelest foods because of the extreme confinement and cruelty involved in the way veal calves are raised on factory farms. For many, veal is among the most politically-incorrect meals.

From an animal rights perspective, eating calves violates the calves' right to freedom and life, regardless of how well they are treated when they are being raised.

What is veal?

Veal is meat that comes from the flesh of a slaughtered calf. It is known for being pale and tender, which is a result of the animal being confined and anemic. Instead of living on his mother's milk, the calf is fed a synthetic formula that is intentionally low in iron to keep the animal anemic and keep the flesh pale.

The calves used in veal production are a by-product of the dairy industry. Adult female cows used in dairy production are kept pregnant in order to keep up their milk supply. The males who are born are useless because they do not make milk and they are the wrong breed of cow to be useful in beef production. About half of the female cubs will be raised to become a dairy cows like their mothers, but the other half are turned into veal.

What is a veal crate?

A veal crate is a wooden or metal cage in which a calf is confined for his entire life, which is typically eight to sixteen weeks. The crate is barely larger than the calf's body, and too small for the animal to turn around. Calves are also sometimes tethered so that they don't move around too much, which keeps the flesh tender.

Veal crates have been banned in some states, including California, Arizona and Maine.

What is "bob veal" or "slink veal"?

Bob veal and slink veal come from unusually young calves. Bob veal can come from a newborn calf who was just a few days or weeks old at slaughter. Slink veal comes from an unborn, premature or stillborn calf. Unborn calves are sometimes found when an adult cow is slaughtered and happens to be pregnant at the time of slaughter. Meat from unborn calves is now illegal for human consumption in the U.S., Canada and other countries, but their hides are used for boots and upholstery and their blood is used for science.

As crates are being phased out, bob veal is gaining in popularity. Without the confinement of a crate, the calves move around and their muscles toughen. Because the calves slaughtered for bob veal are so young, their muscles have not yet developed and are very tender, which is considered desirable.

What about humane veal?

Some farmers now offer "humane veal," where the calves are raised without veal crates. While this addresses some people's concerns about veal, animal advocates tend to believe that "humane veal" is an oxymoron. From an animal rights perspective, it's doesn't matter how much room the calves have before they are slaughtered.

While there are many different cruel factory farming practices, some people focus on veal crates and consider veal to be the worst of the worst because of the intense confinment, anemia and separation of the calf from his mother. However, the animal rights goal is not to give the calves more room or to feed them a more natural diet, but veganism.

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