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The Truth About Veal

Holle is a retired English and creative writing teacher. She is a professional freelance writer and former dog trainer.

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Do you enjoy eating veal? What do you really know about it? I don’t eat veal because I’ve seen firsthand how these calves are treated. It’s a deplorable practice, and when you see it in person, it has a much more powerful impact than seeing it on some TV documentary.

My ex-husband worked at a dairy farm when we were both in college, and I saw the veal calves many times. Most veal calves are males born to dairy cows. The females are raised to produce milk, but the males aren’t needed, other than the tiny fraction kept as bulls for breeding purposes, so they end up as veal.

These calves were taken from their mothers just a few hours after birth. They were then chained by the neck in small, dark crates. They were fed only milk or milk replacer. They were never allowed to run, to play, to feel the comfort of their mother beside them, or to even see the sunlight. In fact, they were barely able to move. Why? Because the producer didn’t want the calf to develop any muscle, so that its meat would be extremely tender.

Animal Cruelty and Veal

I don’t always agree with the actions of animal rights activists, but in the case of veal, these groups were on target. They made the public aware of such practices in the 1980s, and the demand for veal plummeted as a result. The veal market has never recovered.

After more investigations prompted by undercover humane society checks, atrocities in veal slaughterhouses were discovered. One such “organic” plant in Vermont that handled bob veal was closed down. Bob veal comes from calves that are only a few days old when they’re slaughtered. At the plant mentioned, these tiny calves were kicked, dragged, and electrically shocked for the amusement of the workers. Some of the poor animals were even skinned alive. The USDA and the Vermont Agriculture Agency shut down the plant in November 2009, thanks to humane society checks and their resulting investigations.

Veal Is Unhealthy

Even if none of this cruelty concerns you, the health of you and your family should. Most veal calves are fed and given huge amounts of drugs to keep them alive and to make them gain weight. Such drugs are required because the calves are forced to live in a totally unnatural state. The vealers are under constant stress because of this, and stress brings on a number of health problems. Most of the drugs are in the antibiotic and hormone categories. Even the USDA admits that the illegal use of drugs is rampant in the veal industry. In fact, about 90% of veal calves in the U.S. are fed synthetic testosterone illegally. Is this really what you want to feed your family?

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The public has expressed outrage at the conditions of veal calves, forcing producers to listen. In 1990, the use of veal crates was banned in the United Kingdom, and in 2007, the rest of the European Union followed suit. The U.S. is slowly catching on. Several states have already passed legislation that phases out veal crates in 2011-2013.

Free-Range Veal

In addition, free-range veal is being produced by Strauss Brands. In this case, the calves are allowed to stay with their mothers in a grassy pasture until they’re slaughtered. They feed at will on their mother’s milk and graze on green grass. These calves aren’t fed antibiotics and hormones, and the meat is lower in fat. The calves actually get to be calves for a few months before being killed. Consumers like this method of raising veal, and the demand for free-raised veal is rising sharply.

I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat. I strongly believe, however, that we owe it to meat animals to at least give them some quality of life before “harvesting” them. I’ve raised cattle, pigs, and chickens, and all our animals were free range. They had large green pastures with shade trees, ponds, and streams. They weren’t crowded into feed lots or fed a host of chemicals. They were allowed to mingle with others of their kind. They at least had a little happiness before they made the ultimate sacrifice to fulfill our desire for flesh.

Much of the beef raised in the South experience this same type of living conditions. For example, fellow online writer Randy Godwin raises cattle on his family farm in South Georgia. His cows, like ours, did have large grassy pastures and wooded areas to roam freely. In the hot Georgia summers, the cows even have a couple of ponds in which they can take a refreshing dip—and they do! Randy doesn’t give his cattle antibiotics or steroids, either, to make them grow faster or as a preventive measure. They don’t need them. They get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and quality feed, and they aren’t under stress by being forced to live in an unnatural environment.

The next time you get a craving for veal cutlet or veal parmesan, think about all the suffering that went into producing that little package.

Further Reading

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2010 Holle Abee

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