A lot of people refuse to eat veal because of the way veal calves are treated, which has led to the surge of humanely raised veal in recent years. It's important to understand the difference between the two before deciding to purchase one, both or neither types.
How Most Veal Calves Are Raised in the United States
Most meat in the U.S. comes from factory farms, where the owners are more concerned with making a tidy profit than in the welfare of their animals. Here is how veal calves on most farms like this are raised:
- Veal calves are taken from their mothers almost immediately after they're born.
- They are placed in 22" by 54" crates and tethered to them 24 hours a day. The crates are designed to be so small that the calves cannot step forward or backward or turn around. This makes the meat very tender since the animals do not develop muscle.
- They receive a substitute for their mothers' milk that is deficient in iron so they stay anemic, giving the meat a whiter color, instead of the usual pink or red that characterizes beef.
- Not much water is provided, so the calves will drink more of their feed.
- Many are given steroids or growth hormones to help them gain weight quicker, plus antibiotics, since confinement can breed disease.
These practices have long been considered inhumane by many worldwide. In fact, the use of crates and the anemic diet is illegal in Europe.
What Does Humanely Raised Mean?
There is some debate as to what constitutes humanely raised veal. Some say that calves raised in pens as opposed to crates qualify. Others argue that the veal calves must be pasture raised and allowed to feed on grass and grain.
Another area of contention is in what feed is considered humane. The best food for a calf is the milk from its mother. However, some say milk substitutes are still humane as long as they give the calves proper nutrition. It is almost unanimous that calves that are given a large amount of steroids, hormones or antibiotics do not qualify as humanely raised.
Humane Farm Animal Care, an animal welfare organization, will certify veal as humanely raised if it meets it stringent requirements, which are available on its website. Often, humane veal is also organic, because some of the requirements are similar. However, this is not always the case.
Buying Humanely Raised Veal
A good way to tell if veal is humanely raised is simply by looking at it. If it's pink, that most likely means the calf had an adequate supply of iron. This pink veal is sometimes identified by the following names:
The best way to purchase humane veal is directly through a farmer's market or online. That's the easiest way to be sure of where the meat is coming from. Some places that offer it are:
To find more humane farms, check the listings on EatWild
Some restaurants, such as Wolfgang Puck's establishments and many upscale organic eateries serve humanely raised veal. Most likely, this will be mentioned on the menu, though there is also no harm in asking.
Some people do not consider veal humanely raised unless the calves are also slaughtered in a humane manner. If you are one of these people, it's important to ask questions and to not just assume the veal is in accordance with your beliefs. There is, of course, no law that says you have to eat veal, so you may want to just avoid it altogether if you are concerned.