Learn Why Some Activists Are Avidly Against Eating Veal

Veal with rosemary and mushrooms
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Veal is the meat from young calves (as opposed to beef, which is the meat from adult cows). Along with foie gras and shark fins, veal has a bad reputation because of the extreme confinement and cruelty involved in the way veal calves are raised on factory farms. 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. As far as animal activists are concerned, there's no right way to eat veal.

Mistreatment and Early Slaughter

Veal is meat that comes from the flesh of a slaughtered calf (young cow). It is known for being pale and tender, which is a result of the animal being confined and anemic. Typically, 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. Some of the female calves will be raised to become dairy cows like their mothers, and the rest are turned into veal.

Calves destined to become veal spend most of their 16- to 18-week lives confined to small wooden or metal cages known as veal crates. This 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. Fortunately, veal crates have been banned in some states including California, Arizona, and Maine.

Bob and Slink Veal

Bob veal and slink veal come from newborn calves which were just a few days or weeks old at slaughter. Slink and slink veal comes from unborn, premature, or stillborn calves.

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 some other countries.

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.

Is "humane veal" a real commodity?

Some farmers now offer "humane veal," meaning meat from calves that 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 doesn't matter how much room the calves have before they are slaughtered—they're still slaughtered! The animal rights goal is not to give the calves more room or to feed them a more natural diet, but for people to stop eating these meats altogether and switch to a vegan lifestyle.

View Article Sources
  1. Welfare Implications of Veal Calf Husbandry.” American Veterinary Medical Association.

  2. Farm Animal Confinement Bans by State.” American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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