Veal has traditionally never been as popular in the UK as it is on the continent – particularly France and Italy, where they can’t get enough of it. Literally.
Remember the veal blockades of the early 1990s? For those of you that don’t, the UK banned the use of veal crates in the production of veal in 1990, following a campaign against the suffering which the crates caused to the calves. (Veal crates were individual pens with no bedding and next to no room to move, in which calves were kept for up to eight weeks – the idea being that the muscle would have less chance to develop and the flesh would be more tender.)
However, other EU countries didn’t impose the same ban, so calves were being exported from the UK to be raised in crates abroad. Although this was perfectly legal, the result was that calves suffered the distress of being transported on top of the ordeal of being raised in a crate. A 10-year ban on beef exports (because of the BSE crisis) put a temporary stop to this. But the calf exports resumed in 2006 along with other beef exports. And even though veal crates have been banned throughout the EU since 2007, the minimum conditions for calf welfare remain lower on the continent than in the UK.
So veal is still in the shops, although it remains unpopular with British consumers – only about one in every hundred households buy it. But now there’s an alternative – rosé veal.
As the name suggests, rosé veal is pinker than traditionally produced veal, with a stronger flavour. The reason for this is that the calves are fed a more balanced diet than the mostly milk-based diet fed to the calves used to produce white veal. They also get more space to move around in (including, in at least some instances, access to pasture in the summer), which means their muscles develop more.
But is it more ethical? Well, maybe. Not all rosé veal is the same, because at present there’s no legally defined standard. To be sure of buying veal produced in better conditions, look out for accreditation from the RSPCA or the Soil Association. Or buy your veal in Marks & Spencer (they’ve sold only rosé veal since January 2008), Waitrose (their own-brand veal isn’t labelled rosé, but equates to it), Tesco (they stock only high-welfare British veal) or Sainsbury’s (they carry a range of Freedom Food-approved cuts).
And either way, there’s no getting round the fact that the calves are a by-product of the dairy industry. Cows need to give birth to calves if they’re to produce milk. The female calves join the dairy herd to produce milk in their turn when they grow up. Very few of the male calves are chosen for stud purposes or to produce beef – it simply wouldn’t be economically viable to raise them to adulthood. So most are either shot at birth, or raised as veal calves.
I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as the view attributed by BBC Olive magazine to the rosé veal producers: that “eating this new meat is more of an ethical choice than boycotting it”. Nonsense – how can a vegan square the ethics of boycotting dairy products with eating veal? And even if you eat meat and dairy products, is it really more ethical to kill calves at six months than at birth? Perhaps the article writer has oversimplified the producers’ stance. (A BBC magazine dumbing down? Shurely shome mishtake. 😆 )
But if you do eat meat and drink milk, then choosing accredited rosé veal at least means that the calf has a more pleasant time of it before it’s slaughtered.