Brave New Veal: Something Wicked This Way Comes
By Catherine Clyne
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
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
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
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
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
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 www.goodveal.com.