Veal Industry’s Comeback Plan: Focus on Ethical Practices

A full generation after veal largely disappeared from dinner plates and restaurant menus because of ethical concerns, the American Veal Association is working to encourage better farming practices—and is seeing some results.

From an ethical perspective, there aren’t many dinner foods more maligned than veal, the meat of calves.

The criticism generated by the industry’s farming practices got so strong that, by and large, the meat faded from many menus after the 1980s. Now, on average, people eat less than a third of a pound of veal each year, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Veal farmers have an ethical obligation to provide for the care of the animals on their farms.

Seeing the effects of the long-term decline, the industry has taken the criticism seriously and is well along with a plan to end the most controversial practices associated with veal farming, including housing calves individually in cages or stalls. In 2007, the American Veal Association launched an effort to get all veal producers to convert to a group housing style for calves. The AVA aims to achieve a full conversion by 2017.

“Veal farmers have an ethical obligation to provide for the care of the animals on their farms,” the association’s website states. “Providing safe and clean housing, proper nutrition, water, and excellent care through each stage of life is the right thing to do and a priority for veal farmers.”

The Times article highlights the success of Strauss Brands, a large-scale veal producer, in converting roughly 5 percent of its veal to “free raised” or “pasture raised.” The animals are not penned, they stay with their mothers to nurse, and they are not given hormones or antibiotics. The method has drawn interest from companies that otherwise would have avoided selling veal, such as Whole Foods.

In some cities, veal is making a a comeback. Pittsburgh, one of the few large cities where the meat never truly went away, is seeing a growing number of people ordering the meat when dining out, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. One thing driving veal’s comeback in that town? Much of the meat is locally sourced.

But is that enough? A 2012 report by the Humane Society of the United States suggests that there are still many other areas of veal production that need work, such as animal diet, transport, and slaughter.

“Despite important movement toward the group-housing of calves raised for veal by U.S. and European industries, legislative bodies, and consumers, individual housing and restrictive tethering of calves are not the only aspects of veal production that degrade calf welfare. Many customary veal industry practices fail serious scientific examination of their impacts on calf health and well-being,” the report states [PDF].

The industry itself admits that it may never fully bounce back from its heyday in 1944, when people ate an average of 8.6 pounds of veal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“To be honest, the common consumer perception hasn’t changed much,” Jurian Bartelse, a past president of the AVA, told the Times. “It’s, ‘Oh, those poor calves.’”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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