30 May 2012

Rose veal - rant alert!

As of this morning, I am officially cross.  Now, if you know me, you know that getting me cross isn't so easy to do - as I am one of life's easygoing sorts.

However, purely by coincidence, yesterday we attempted - unsuccessfully - to lay our hands on some rose veal.  Lo and behold on the same day, there was a programme on the t.v. where Jimmy Doherty was trying to get Tesco to accept rose veal in some shape or form.

First of all, let me explain what rose veal is, for those who haven't a clue.  Rose veal is the meat of a male calf.  What happens is that because dairy cows have to have a calf from time to time to keep producing milk, naturally, male calves are born as well as female.  The females have their future already mapped out in that they simply join the milking herd.  For male calves, however, the future is bleak.  The majority - note that, the MAJORITY - of them are shot within hours of being born, because there is no market for them.  They are as much a by-product of the dairy industry, as by-catch is of the fishing trade.

Shooting a day old calf has to be one of the biggest crimes that farming isn't speaking about - and it happens every day, somewhere around the country, simply because there is no market for their meat.

Veal calves in a particularly poor, substandard situation
Yet - and get this - supermarkets like Tesco are busily importing German veal, "because the consumer wants it".  *blink*  So why the hell are we importing veal from Germany - where the welfare standards are so much lower than in Britain - when we are shooting our own veal calves?

Now I understand the reticence that people have, towards eating veal.  However, because of the improvement in the legal welfare standards in Britain over the past few years, veal calves are no longer kept in crates (which they are on the continent), in the dark, in inhumane conditions.  Rose veal calves are put out to grass for the first few weeks of their life - with a gang of other calves of the same age - then they are brought in and kept in pens (still with their little gang) with room to frolic and play while they put on the muscle required for good veal.  Yes, they have a short life - but so much better a life than being shot at birth!

Veal calves being raised for rose veal in the UK
So it seems that a number of people either haven't bothered about how their veal is produced, or alternatively, have come around to veal again in the knowledge that welfare standards have improved the lot of the veal calf.  They're probably happily buying Tesco's German veal, with no idea that they're supporting the inhumane veal production still in force on the continent.  (Yes, I accept that Tesco will have examined how their veal is produced and purport to be happy that it is produced to a good welfare standard - but you'll just have to forgive me if I'm a tad sceptical about the whole thing.  This is a supermarket, when all is said and done).

Now, the idea that these consumers are "happily" buying Tesco's German veal brings me to the price.  Are you sitting down?  Veal escalopes, in Tesco, are currently selling for an astronomical £27.99 per kilo.  That's almost thirty quid!  No, I don't think you heard me right - THIRTY quid!  Maybe you don't think that's an obscene price, I don't know.  I reckon you've probably gathered that I think it's completely outrageous.

So let's think about a hypothetical situation where Tesco have accepted the British rose veal and are selling it at about that price.  How many of you would consider using it?  I'd venture to suggest that not many could support that kind of outlay - and those who could, wouldn't use veal escalopes very often.

What's the betting that the next thing to happen isn't that Tesco extends the range of cuts of rose veal that they have available - oh no.  I'd be willing to bet that they take it off the shelves altogether.

So where does that leave the farmers, who have calves coming up through the ranks - calves that they've put money into and suddenly have no outlet for?  It's just a disaster waiting to happen for them.  I'd venture to suggest that the old saying that "you never see a farmer on a bike" is no longer true for a lot of smaller farms these days.  It seems as though farming is fast becoming a lost art.

I was quoted, yesterday from our local butcher, a price of £15 per kilo for the equivalent of braising steak, but in rose veal.  Now I thought that was bad enough - it certainly stopped us in our tracks of wanting some to make schnitzels with.

However, on the "Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket" last night, he was quoted a price of £5 per kilo for veal with which to make meatballs.

How the hell are we - ordinary punters - supposed to get behind the production of rose veal when the price is so terribly inflated?  Surely - even if it's just a welfare issue for the poor calves - there is such a huge market out there for affordable meat, that you would think the farmers would be hugely keen on producing rose veal.  I'm sure they are, in the majority, however it seems to me that the supermarkets have such a stranglehold on prices - which trickles down to your local butcher - that it is just pricing the product out of reach of us normal mortals.

The thing I keep coming back to, is that rose veal is a by-product of the dairy industry.  These calves are surplus to requirements, effectively.  So, by producing them up to an age of 35 weeks, farmers are making them viable as a meat product - and apparently, at a break-even cost to themselves.  I suppose there is a chance that by insisting on a reduction in price at the consumer's end of the trail, it pushes prices up for the farmer, resulting in the production of rose veal becoming a cost rather than break even.  I'm not sure on that point.

Anyway, now do you see why I am so cross?  I'm actually making myself crosser by the second in the writing of this piece.

I'm not going to give up on trying to find affordable rose veal - in truth I've just started.  Also, if any of my assumptions and beliefs as set out above are incorrect, do please comment and correct me.  This is something that needs to be shouted about - and I'd rather what I am shouting is correct, than perpetuate misunderstandings.

Read "Rose Veal - the continuing story" here ..


  1. I agree with Jenny and think that the whole situation is completely scandalous. At 27.99 a kilo, I suspect that the continental veal is one of the most expensive meats available. In fact, having kjust checked online, Kobe Beef can be had for around £30 a kilo!

    It just staggers me that home produced meat is being ignored in this way while people look to import the exact same product as massively inflated prices. I can only assume that if Tescos are selling at this price then somebody must be buying it.

    It just makes no sense.

    1. I defy anyone to claim that Kobe beef is from animals that are "surplus to requirements". I can only come to the conclusion that we're being fleeced - again.

  2. Jenny, we saw the programme too, and totally agree that importing German veal at obscene prices is gross and that the poor little bull calves shouls have a short life but a merry free range one, thus cutting down on animal abuse, wastage, food miles and profiteering (we are talking supermarkets, after all)

    1. The price that Jimmy was bringing the veal to Tesco at wasn't too bad - it was once they'd put their cut on top that it reached astronomical rates. Someone, somewhere needs to get a grip on these damned supermarkets and their pricing regimes. They are very keen on blaming us, the consumers, for their strategies - but it doesn't take much scratching of the surface before you begin to see the rot that's underneath.

  3. I'm surprised at no mention of the astronomical demand for dairy, which is after all the root cause of surplus male calves, but I agree that these animals should at least be utilised - and in as humane a way as possible - to try and correct the imbalance. The sad fact is that it's far cheaper for a dairy producer to shoot the calves at birth than rear them, and there simply aren't enough veal farmers - separate enterprises taking on rearing the calves for the table - to keep up with the demand for dairy cattle.

    I wanted to make a few comments with regards to veal from the continent. While there are some terrible farming practises regarding veal imported from Europe - much as there are with poultry and pig production over here - traditional veal crates are now banned throughout the E.U. I wouldn't buy - or sell - an unhappy animal (making for substandard meat as well as an ethical hangover), however the element you're missing regarding veal from the continent is around variation.

    From France you can buy Limousin veal, which is what the majority of Limousin cattle are reared for, and the calves suckle mothers' milk, outdoors to free range, until slaughter. The result is completely different to rose veal both in taste and texture, because Limousin are reared specifically for meat (veal more commonly than beef) rather than slaughtered as a byproduct from the dairy industry. It's much the same as trying an A.O.C French chicken instead of a U.K. free-ranger; something different. Limousin veal carcasses are sold with certification and tags to ensure clarity and transparency when it comes to provenance and animal husbandry, and escalopes retail at £28/kg in a very, very good butcher (sadly only shops in London I'm afraid). There are some atrocious practises within less noble continental veal farms - particularly in Holland and Germany, I believe - but there's also incredible meat from ethically sound producers which has a place alongside British rose veal.

    You can find rose veal online and in many good butchers shops around the country, but I doubt the likes of Tesco (ugh) will be selling it any time soon. Your local butcher - if he hasn't been put out of business by the proliferation of supermarkets - is probably more open to trying to source rose veal if asked. Because he's probably a nice guy (or lady, of course) and because he or she needs your money. I would rather get the people out of supermarkets than the veal calves in...

    Apologies for the mini rant of my own; a subject quite close to my heart! Good luck with your quest for rose veal, I hope it ends deliciously :-)


    1. Nicola, thank you so much for commenting and clarifying the situation with veal on the continent. I love your comment that you'd rather get the people out of the supermarkets than the veal calves in - and I can't help but agree with you!

  4. Thanks Jenny. I should admit: I used to work for a company [www.hubbub.co.uk] competing with the supermarkets to offer food home delivery from local independent shops, and I now work for a farm with five butcher shops [www.thegingerpig.co.uk]...not exactly impartial but passionate nonetheless!

    1. Don't worry about impartiality - you are "in the know", which is what matters here. :)

  5. Likewise - I watched the program & then avidly set about trying to locate some nice veal steaks only to discover that living in N. Ireland has huge drawbacks if you're after certain meat products :((.

    I found a couple of good veal farms but their delivery ranged between £10 & £25 - now, I'm on benefit-only income so no way can I afford that. However, I have found some veal in my local M&S, & while it's not in the format I'd have preferred (burgers) it will at least let me discover the taste.

    I've switched from Tesco this year in protest at many of their working practices & principles but have to admit ASDA & Sainsbury's don't quite cut it where product range is involved :( (ASDA doesn't have ANY veal products & Sainsbury's isn't much better).

    Sadly, these types of programs are very short-lived - we watch them, & within a month or less, forget about them & move on (thinking of the organic chicken drive Hugh FW had a few years back). But the only way to persuade TESCO of what the public want is to write letters to their Head Office & put the case to them. Up to them to show whether they truly do care about what they think.

    Good luck to all you dairy farmers dealing with the sharp end of this - truly hope you find a suitable solution soon.

    1. I dislike Tesco intensely. It all stemmed from Tesco in Kingston Upon Thames, which had an appalling smell about it. I just wouldn't go in there because of that. The rejection of Tesco continued thereafter and has been supported by, as you say, their working practices and principles. I find that our local Asda has enough of everything - and I will buy from our local butcher in preference to Asda, ordinarily.

      I'm not so sure about the "watch the programme and move on" - I know I don't, and haven't, moved on from the Chicken Out campaign. I'd buy free range chicken in preference to any other and can't see that changing.

      It might take me a while to source some affordable Rose Veal, but I know I'll get there in the end! :) I think I must have terrier in my blood lines somewhere waaay back. :)

  6. Hello. my twopenneth if no-one minds... Could be a long one though.

    For meat, the supermarkets are evil. That huge profit mark-up never gets back to the farmer. Chicken profit for farmers selling to Tesco is around 1.5 pence per bird for tortured animals, 2 pence for free-range or organic. The jump in pricing when you're buying the chicken is down to supermarket massive profiteering.

    Milk is a better deal for farmers. I have a dear friend who’s a proper ol' stylee dairy farmer. He sells all his milk to Tesco and resolutely won't reveal the contract price. He'll only say things like 'it's a good price and I've got no complaints'. But whatever the price they're buying at, it affords him a pretty good lifestyle, to the point where he's now considering launching his own brand of cheese/creams.

    On to veal. Dairy farmer friend won't consider rearing it. Says animal rights loons would target him, his Tesco contract could be put at risk, and he's a dairy farmer not a meat farmer. Even giving his unwanted boy cows to veal producers would label him 'veal industry', which is equivalent to 'child killer' in bad PR terms. All that said, if the rose veal industry took off, he'd hitch a ride, but it would have to have become an enormous & well established industry first.

    Veal pricing... Tesco play the same game as the fur industry. Take a niche product that's actually dirt cheap to produce, and flog it as a high-end luxury product. Even as a child walking around the first supermarket to be built around here in the early 70s, I can remember being fascinated by the prepacked meats (Meat? On a polystyrene tray? In this plastic stuff?). Mother dragged me away telling me we weren't poor enough for tripe and rabbit, but we'd never be rich enough to buy veal. (What happened to rabbit being cheap? Costs me a bloody fortune now!) So high end branding has always been a problem for veal.

    Jimmy and his £5 a kilo (I have no idea what a kilo looks like, I still leave in imperial times), as I saw it, was him buying the lowest grade of veal mince possible for the meatballs (so tongue and tail as opposed to steak cuts) and buying-in-bulk trade price from a farmer who'd like the TV exposure.

    Tesco have agreed to phase out imported veal and use British instead. But I honestly can’t see it lasting. You’ll see the slightly disingenuous phrasing in the press release. http://www.metro.co.uk/news/84614-tesco-phasing-out-foreign-veal Personal feeling is that they won’t attempt to mainstream veal or rehabilitate it’s image, just charge £27.99 for it as a ‘premium’ product.

    Last thing. Then I’ll go. Promise. I once walked out of a business lunch when my colleague ordered veal. I feigned illness and left.

  7. I am a dairy farmers wife and I will set the record straight for you all regarding veal. We have never shot calves even if that means rearing them at a loss on our family run dairy farm. In the last 9 month beef animals are becoming more in demand and that has ment black and white bull calves now have moved up a level and have a place somewhere in the food chain. So our bull calves are now worth £100 at 6 weeks old and are kept until 2.5 years old. Jimmy's programme was a bit out of date. I have been asked to rear some veal for a top local chef so I will keep a record of the exact cost of this and get back to you all. It will be interestinfg for us as we have never reared veal before. Ours will be outdoor reared over the summer. What I don't like is animals having a long and stressful end to their lives being transported half the way across the country to designated supermaket slaghterhouses. Everyone should buy local meat where ever possible - it is better for animal welfare, tracability, enviroment and finanically does wonders for the local community. Check out my website to follow my progress on twitter www.theuncommonpig.com . We are free range, high welfare, family farers and we need your consumer support so please get in touch!

    1. One day, you never know, we might co-incide over the telephone! lol I agree with everything you've said here and will continue trying to get in touch.

  8. Good read Jenny! I love how we as bloggers are taking a stand! I too did a blog post about Rose veal a few weeks ago and I have very strong opinions about it. But the sad thing is that due to this program, some beef producers are starting to kill of their beef calves for veal... very sad indeed.
    I hope they put a stop to it, veal should be a dairy byproduct only!


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