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October 2006
Editorial: Brave New Veal: Something Wicked This Way Comes
By Catherine Clyne


Janet’s veal appeal.
Courtesy of Channel 4’s The F-Word

In August, the edgy UK Channel 4 cooking show, The F-Word, featured a segment on “rosé veal.” Cameras followed Janet Street-Porter, an editor of The Independent, as she went on a crusade to “educate” people about how great British veal is. She visited a farm where we saw spindly-legged little male calves. The farmer explained they get plenty of fresh air and sunlight and live longer than most lambs. Slaughtered at six or seven months, the meat is a light pink color, hence the name “rosé veal.”

Street-Porter set up a table outside a Sainsbury’s grocery store with an “Eat British Veal” sign, offering passersby samples. Her mission was to remove the “ignorant” stigma attached to veal as a pale, cruelly-produced product, and she encouraged viewers to ask their local grocer to stock British rosé veal. She reported that Waitrose was the only national supermarket chain currently selling this type of veal.

Nine days after the program aired, Waitrose reported a 45 percent increase in veal sales. Responding in a press release, none other than Compassion in World Farming, the UK’s largest farm animal welfare organization, “welcomes the recent uplift in sales of British veal seen by our Compassionate Supermarket of the Year, Waitrose.” Since the UK ban on exporting calves was lifted in May, CIWF “applauds” efforts to promote British veal for “providing better lives for calves through higher welfare rearing systems and thereby helping to save them from the inhumane live export trade.” (Ironically, CIWF was at the forefront of the successful protests that inspired the 1990 ban on veal crates in the UK and influenced the British public to shun veal.)

As Street-Porter observed in The F-Word, “If you actually think about it, it’s crueller not to eat veal than it is to eat it.”

What the—I’m definitely thinking of a certain f-word!

The “Good Veal” Guide
In the country where anemic white-fleshed veal had been banished from all but a few restaurant menus, gourmands and organic industry hacks are trying to pull baby cow flesh back from near oblivion with a clever PR campaign.

In early September, the “Good Veal” campaign was launched at the Organic Fortnight hosted by the Soil Association, the UK’s premiere organic industry group. The “Good Veal Guide” was unveiled with “mouth-watering” recipes by celebrity chefs. “We, as chefs, farmers and butchers, believe passionately that veal produced from the UK’s organic dairy farms should not be regarded as a poor relation of the meat business,” they state.

Ironically, proponents frame it as an animal welfare issue: “The typical male dairy calf will never turn itself into a great beef animal,” the Guide laments. “But good farming will produce superb meat from these livestock, at a younger age.” As Helen Browning, a “pioneer” of the “first humane organic veal system” puts it, “The result is a delicious rosé pink veal with a delicious taste that can be eaten with a light heart.”

The campaign is quite clever. Apparently, only one percent of the British public eat veal at home. The solution? Market British veal to gastropubs, which specialize in serving high quality pub fare, so people will choose it when they eat out. At the same time, strategic puff pieces provide recipes and encourage people to “experiment” with veal, suggesting it is “especially liked by children” and can be used in sandwiches and stir fries.

“ This veal should not be tarred with the same brush as the imported white slab of protein,” they argue. “With a life span of six months, [the calves] live twice as long as even the slowest growing chicken; they have the same life span as a good organic pig, and longer than many organic lambs.” What’s eye-opening is the admission that most animals raised for meat are slaughtered when they’re still babies, an ugly reality that even animal activists haven’t hammered on publicly—not yet, at least.

The campaign also appeals to people’s patriotism. A commentary in The Independent observed: “Unless we are prepared to give up drinking milk and eating cheese, we have to find a use for the male calves produced by a dairy herd. Eating good English veal is far preferable to allowing the animals to be shipped to the continent where they will be kept and slaughtered in worse conditions.”

Rather than get at the root cause of the problem and examine dairy consumption, the answer is: though it may make us a little uncomfortable, the best thing we can do for these babies is eat them.

Drink Less Veal
Veal calves are considered a “byproduct” of the milk industry. Dairy cows are kept pregnant so they continuously produce milk intended for their babies. Newborns are routinely taken away and their mommies milked for human consumption.

So, what to do with all those male babies produced by the UK’s dairy herd? They have so little value that, up until recently, hundreds of thousands were shot dead at birth. Ten years ago, with the mad cow scare, a ban was placed on the export of British cows. With the lifting of the ban in May, the expectation is that dairy farmers will transport calves to mainland Europe, where they could be crated and killed for white-fleshed veal.

CIWF’s three-part solution is to encourage trade “in meat not live calves where journeys exceed eight hours,” “rearing British-born male dairy calves in the UK for sale as high-welfare alternatives such as extensively-reared beef and rose veal,” and “switching to dual-purpose breeds which can be used for milk and beef, to ensure that male dairy calves are not a ‘waste product.’”

If it’s possible to be more troubling than all this, the organization bringing “compassion” to farm animals neglects to even suggest a reduction in milk consumption. Conspicuously absent in all of CIWF’s calf campaign literature is any suggestion to reduce dairy consumption and replace with dairy-free products like soy and nut milks.

A Wicked Wind Blows
Already proponents are testing U.S. waters, floating the idea of pink veal as a “humane” option as reflected in articles like “The Veal Deal: Call off the PC Police: There’s a New Meat in Town” (Boston’s Phoenix, 9/22/06) and “Are You For Veal? Free-range Meat Could Win Over Critics” (Colorado Springs Gazette, 5/31/06; reprinted recently in the Miami Herald and Chicago Tribune’s online edition). Enthusiasts neutralize animal activists and assuage any guilt by pointing to how “humane” pink veal is.

Animal activists in the U.S. often look to the UK for inspiration for their success with legislative bans on some of the cruelest practices of confining animals. But it gives us pause to think that CIWF, the group that got veal crates banned, is now lauding British veal consumption as a solution to an apparent animal welfare problem.

Is this where we are headed? Will a rise in consumption of pink veal here be equally lauded as a victory for the animals? By not addressing the root cause of the problem—milk—animal activists are put in the unfortunate position of deciding between the evil of lessers: shooting male calves at birth, crating them for white veal, or giving them six months of life before rosy slaughter.

White, pink—or green—veal flesh involves profound suffering for the calves and their mothers.

To see the Good Veal Guide visit

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