It’s Vealy Bad News

Veal crates were banned in the UK in 1990, and then eventually across the EU in 2007. The campaigns against British veal were so successful that consumption dropped dramatically. The image of a calf trapped within a crate remains so powerful that most people in the UK don’t eat veal. Foie gras and veal are top of the “ethically unacceptable” foods list, but there’s a new attempt to promote home produced veal. This is especially disturbing because it’s being supported by two of the main pressure groups that fought so hard to ban the veal crate. Both Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the RSPCA have stated that it’s OK to eat veal; as long it’s British. It’s now claimed that “ill practice” isn’t possible if the RSPCA’s “assured certification” guidelines (previously known as Freedom Foods) are followed.

Veal is inextricably linked to the dairy industry. When crates were still being used, a proportion of male calves (useless to the dairy industry) were taken by the veal trade. This usage virtually disappeared after the ban, and the surplus males were “disposed” with a bullet to the head. Currently, about 99,000 male calves are slaughtered by this method every year, and over 10,000 are exported to the veal trade in other EU countries. So a resurgence in veal sales is good news for the UK’s ‘poor old dairy farmers’.

The obvious question is why have the RSPCA and CIWF drastically changed their viewpoint? An RSPCA spokesman on BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours (28/8/2015) stated: “People need constant reminders that the days of the veal crate are gone, it’s 25 years out of date and we need to move on. Veal calves are deemed to be of no economic value, and most are destroyed soon after birth. The RSPCA and CIWF decided that there must be a better way of utilising them. The so-called higher welfare systems in other EU countries only means that crates aren’t being used. Instead, the calves are (reared) on wooden slatted floors and without proper bedding. This would be illegal in the UK. My message is buy British veal.”

It’s deeply depressing to hear these arguments coming from the RSPCA and CIWF, especially the specious “we’re not as bad as them” stance. Instead of pursuing a total ban of all veal products (which is very realistic) it’s as if they are now embarrassed by the success of previous anti-veal campaigns. These worked because (for once) the great British public actually got the message: producing veal is really cruel and if it bothers you then don’t buy it. It’s a pity that a hard hitting anti-dairy campaign isn’t being considered by any of the mainstream animal welfare groups. This would highlight the despicable practices of slaughtering male calves, and separating mother and the new born calf within 24 hours. Both the RSPCA and CIWF need to “move on” and have “constant reminders” that all milk production involves appalling cruelty, and that there are now ubiquitous non-dairy alternatives that didn’t exist 25 years ago. Instead, they maintain the spurious “it’s OK to exploit and slaughter animals as long as it’s done nicely” approach.

A couple of years ago there was a well publicised attempt to introduce so-called “ethical veal”, also known as “rose veal” owing to the slightly pink colour. And if you have any doubts please don’t worry, this really is ethically produced because the calves aren’t slaughtered until they are at least six months old. Yes, that’s the basic justification and the moral argument is pretty impressive. Firstly, you don’t want any beautiful male calves killed within 24 hours of being born. Secondly, these calves represent a potential source of revenue for all those ‘poor old dairy farmers’. Thirdly, in comparison with a broiler chickens these rose veal calves have a really long and wonderful life.

Sainsbury are now selling “assured veal” in 180 of their 1200 stores, and during the Christmas period last year they reported a 43% rise in sales. Veal mince costs £9 per kg, veal escalope £26 per kilo, and a veal sirloin steak £33 per kg. This compares with their Taste the Difference beef sirloin at £22-50 per kg. However, the only thing you can be assured of is that all methods of producing veal involve varying degrees of suffering and cruelty.

Paul Freestone


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