The production of veal (the meat from calves) has long been considered especially cruel because it has typically involved removing newborns from their dairy-cow mothers soon after birth and raising them alone in narrow crates (2 to 2½ feet wide) that are too small for them to even turn around in; some are tethered. This limits muscle development, thereby keeping their flesh tender; it also prevents normal social development.
To produce “white veal,” the calves are fed only a milk formula, so their flesh remains pale (due to lack of iron, which causes anemia), and then slaughtered, usually around four or five months of age. Some calves are slaughtered at just a few weeks of age (bob veal).
A backlash against veal production beginning in the 1980s resulted in a big drop in U.S. consumption. To bring back customers and attract new ones, an increasing number of farmers are raising the animals in group pens, where they have some room to walk and can interact with other calves. Some are fed grain instead of just a liquid diet. A very small percent are pasture-raised alongside their mothers, without antibiotics.
Grain- and grass-fed “red veal” has more color, marbling, and flavor—though some veal producers argue that it is not true veal (marketers may instead call it “calf meat”).
Animal rights advocates acknowledge that these methods are more humane than using crates, especially when the calves are raised outside on pasture. If it meets certain standards, some veal can now even carry the “Certified Humane” label from the nonprofit certifying agency Humane Farm Animal Care (though another agency, the Animal Welfare Institute, does not endorse any veal).
A resolution by the American Veal Association calls for all veal producers to stop using crates by the end of 2017; some states already ban the practice.
A new USDA rule that was finalized in July 2016 will also, it’s hoped, help increase humane treatment of veal calves. It requires that “downer calves”—those that cannot rise and walk on their own at the slaughterhouse—be “promptly and humanely euthanized, and prohibited from entering the food supply,” similar to regulations that ban the slaughter of adult downer cattle, which were put in place more than a decade ago largely as a precaution against mad cow disease (the idea being that animals unable to walk could be sick).
Until now, a loophole in the law allowed downer calves to be set aside to rest and given a chance to try to walk again before being slaughtered.
Enacted in response to a petition by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), this new regulation should, at least in theory, discourage workers from kicking, shocking, or otherwise harming the animals, which can make them unable to walk. In recent years, undercover investigations by HSUS have revealed despicable abuses of veal calves at slaughter.
So is there really such a thing as “humane veal”? That depends on how stringent a definition you apply. Even if they are treated more humanely, veal calves (like all livestock) are still raised under unnatural conditions and slaughtered, for good or bad, at a young age.
And be aware that veal production is a byproduct of dairy production—which itself has come under fire from animal rights advocates—since dairy cows must produce calves in order for them to continue to produce milk. Male calves are commonly raised to become veal, while female calves become dairy cows. Consuming dairy foods thus promotes veal production.
Is veal even a healthier alternative to beef? It’s fairly lean overall, but as with other “red” meats, the calorie and fat content depends on the cut, as well as how it is prepared. Veal scallops and leg cutlets are among the leanest cuts, having about 140 to 170 calories and 4 to 9 grams of fat per 3 ounces, cooked, comparable to what’s in some lean cuts of beef and pork. Even healthier are many veggie meat-substitutes and legumes, which provide good amounts of protein and raise no animal welfare concerns.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP) is an international animal welfare rating program which includes the following:
- Using breeds with measurably improved welfare because most chickens are bred to grow so fast that many collapse under their own weight
- Ending extreme crowding and providing each chicken more floor space
- Keeping chicken litter clean enough to prevent eye sores, flesh burns, and respiratory distress
- Improving lighting standards, including at least six hours of darkness each night and 50 lux of light during the day, to decrease illness and disease
- Ending live-shackle slaughter in favor of less cruel systems, such as controlled-atmosphere stunning, which eliminates the suffering caused by shackling, shocking, and slitting the throats of conscious animals
It is time for leading restaurant chains to ban needless abuse from their supply chains. Consumers are demanding companies ban the cruelest practices from their supply chains, and those that fail to do so are quickly falling behind competitors. The best way for individual consumers to protect chickens and other farmed animals from cruelty is simply to leave them off their plates.
Here are five reasons for giving up meat:
- The environmental impact is huge
Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.
Nowhere is this impact more apparent than climate change – livestock farming contributes 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together.
Climate change alone poses multiple risks to health and well-being through increased risk of extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and heatwaves – and has been described as the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century.
Reducing consumption of animal products is essential if we are to meet global greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets – which are necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
- It requires masses of grain, water, and land
Meat production is highly inefficient – this is particularly true when it comes to red meat. To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain – to feed the animal – and roughly 15,000 liters of water. Pork is a little less intensive and chicken less still.
The scale of the problem can also be seen in land use: around 30% of the earth’s land surface is currently used for livestock farming. Since food, water and land are scarce in many parts of the world, this represents an inefficient use of resources.
- It hurts the global poor
Feeding grain to livestock increases global demand and drives up grain prices, making it harder for the world’s poor to feed themselves. Grain could instead be used to feed people, and water used to irrigate crops.
If all grain were fed to humans instead of animals, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. In short, industrial livestock farming is not only inefficient but also not equitable.
- It causes unnecessary animal suffering
If we accept, as many people do, that animals are sentient creatures whose needs and interests matter, then we should ensure these needs and interests are at least minimally met and that we do not cause them to suffer unnecessarily.
Industrial livestock farming falls well short of this minimal standard. Most meat, dairy and eggs are produced in ways that largely or completely ignore animal welfare – failing to provide sufficient space to move around, contact with other animals, and access to the outdoors.
In short, industrial farming causes animals to suffer without good justification.
- It is making us ill
At the production level, industrial livestock farming relies heavily on antibiotic use to accelerate weight gain and control infection – in the US, 80% of all antibiotics are consumed by the livestock industry.
This contributes to the growing public health problem of antibiotic resistance. Already, more than 23,000 people are estimated to die every year in the US alone from resistant bacteria. As this figure continues to rise, it becomes hard to overstate the threat of this emerging crisis.
High meat consumption – especially of red and processed meat – typical of most rich industrialized countries is linked with poor health outcomes, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various cancers.
These diseases represent a major portion of the global disease burden so reducing consumption could offer substantial public health benefits.
Currently, the average meat intake for someone living in a high-income country is 200-250g a day, far higher than the 80-90g recommended by the United Nations. Switching to a more plant-based diet could save up to 8 million lives a year worldwide by 2050 and lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion.