13 June 2012

Rose Veal - the continuing story!

Pic c/o http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t0bv
Did you see Countryfile (on BBC1) this week?  If not, I'm sure it is available still on the Iplayer (here), so you can have a peek if you want.  I only mention it because they re-visited the issue of rose veal.  (Incidentally, is there a definitive version for the name "Rose" or "Rosé" veal?).

Since my earlier rant on the subject (see here), I have had cause to talk to many different people (thank you, one and all) who seem to be coming at the veal thing from lots of different angles and with lots of different viewpoints.  The amazing point about all this, is that everyone seems to have a differing view on where the veal situation is at in Great Britain.

It is staggering, to me, how many people who are supposedly working in the area of veal - in one way or another - have no idea about how the welfare standards for the production of veal in this country have improved.  So many of them still believe that veal is produced in the appalling crate system, which has been abolished in this country - and has been for years.  On the continent and if you're particularly looking for so-called "milk veal" or "white veal", then you can expect to find veal that has been produced in this barbaric way - although having said that, the welfare standards in some countries are fast following in GB's wake.

So if the people who are working in meat production/butchery/meat supply still believe that British Rose Veal is produced in this manner - is it any wonder that the public are still in the dark?  

This is why programmes such as Countryfile - that go out in a prime time evening slot and broadcast the good news about Rose Veal, are so important.

We have to get the message across to the general public that Rose Veal is as viable a product as any other meat product - and that the old (justified) reasons for outlawing it are over, provided you opt for British Rose Veal.

So let's take a look at what happens, currently - and as far as I understand it - to a male calf born to a dairy cow.

In some dairies, male calves are shot within days of having been born.  This is because of a) the understanding that it is uneconomical to produce these calves to an age where they can become meat producing, and b) the understanding (incorrect) that dairy breeds are incapable of producing enough musculature to make them viable for meat.

Now, personally, I would far rather these unfortunate calves are shot at an early age, if their only other alternative is to be shipped out to meat producers who might be some hours away - or even, God forbid, in another country.  The miserable conditions that calves often have to endure - and very often die on the way - in circumstances such as these would, I think, make anyone want to end their suffering before it happens.

However, this isn't their only alternative.

Now I do realise that not every diary farmer is able to do this - but I feel sure that those who, for reasons of space, or manpower, or whatever, can't keep their bull calves at home, with some co-operation between farms, should be able to send their calves a short distance to a farm that can keep them at home and produce them up to an appropriate age for the production of Rose Veal.  After all, it would seem that there are farms out there that do just that - take calves from dairies and produce Rose Veal, as their main source of income.

Ah, but - and you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you - let's think about the calves' death.  Yes, I know, it's difficult - but if you're going to eat meat then how the animals die should be as much on your agenda as how they lived.

You see, this is where the supermarkets aren't helping matters.  It would seem - on the surface - that to be a veal producer for a supermarket would be a good thing.  Assured income for a steady supply.  However, look at the arrangements for converting the "on the hoof" veal to "in the polystyrene tray" veal and the rot begins to set in.  As a veal producer for a supermarket, you cannot take your calves to your local abbatoir (where you may very well know the workers, know their practices and be extremely happy that your animals will be respected and treated with care right through to an easy end) because said supermarket has a designated abbatoir which has been checked out by the supermarket as meeting all its requirements for animal welfare etc.  The problem is, that this designated abbatoir may very well be some six hours or more away from the farm.  Not good - not good at all.  Have you seen those diabolical multi-storey animal carriers?  I wouldn't want any veal calf of mine to have to travel to its end on one of those.  Call me a softie, but that's the way it is.  I just don't see why the veal can't travel once it has no pulse.

The obvious way around all this, it would seem to me, would be if more farms would be prepared to market and sell their own meat.  There would be multiple benefits to doing this, as from the animals' point of view it would cut down on the undesirable welfare issues I've set out above and from the consumer's point of view, it would cut out the middle men who consistently put their mark-up onto a piece of veal, until it reaches the astronomical prices being asked by the supermarkets - which would result in lower prices to the consumer.  From the farmer's point of view, it puts the money directly into their pocket with the added benefit of being able to provide the kind of life - and the kind of death - that the majority of farmers would choose for their animals.

c/o "Cows that Type" by Doreen Cronin
Now this all depends, of course, on how much it costs a farmer to take a new born dairy bull calf and produce it up to veal age.  On this subject, I've received no end of conflicting information - and again, it all depends who you speak to and what their angle is.  So, to get the true low-down on the subject, the lovely Louise Trowbridge of The Uncommon Pig has got in touch with me and offered to link me in on their project to raise two of their own dairy bull veal calves for a charity supper in November.  Louise is proposing to follow the costs of raising these two, from which I hope we'll be able to have a fairly (allowing for differences in cost across the country) definitive view of just how much it is likely to cost a farmer to raise a calf for veal.

I find this whole question of veal to be enormously interesting and filled with more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel.  As such, this story is by no means over and I think you can expect to find more blog posts appearing that deal with veal as Louise and I establish a method to work together  - but I also hope that you'll find your curiosity piqued by the insight into how the meat producing machine works in the U.K. - as written by a relative newbie to the whole process!



  1. I would buy veal here if it were available!

    1. I'd have thought it was available, because surely S.Africa "grows" a good deal of beef, or is it S.America I'm thinking of?

  2. Very interesting Jenny. I agree with your sentiments. The farmer who lives being me actually is a veal farmer and his calfs live in a big barn and are allowed out. He only has about 3 at a time. I have asked to buy direct from him and hope to do so next time he has meat available. Keep up the good work!

    1. Oh well done you, Anneli! ~applause~ If only more people would go that way. :) Thanks!


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