Veal is the meat of calves, in contrast to the beef from older cattle. Though veal can be produced from an animal of either sex and any breed, most veal comes from young male beef cattle. Generally, veal is more expensive than beef from older cattle.
There are several types of veal, with terminology varying by country:
- Bob veal, from calves that are slaughtered when only a few weeks old (at most 1 month old) up to 60 lb.
- Formula-fed ("white" or "milk-fed") veal, from calves that are raised on a milk formula supplement. The meat colour is ivory or creamy pink, with a firm, fine, and velvety appearance. They are usually slaughtered when they reach 18–20 weeks of age, 450 to 500 pounds (200 to 230 kg).
- Non-formula-fed ("red" or "grain-fed") veal, from calves that are raised on grain, hay, or other solid food, in addition to milk. The meat is darker in colour, and some additional marbling and fat may be apparent. It is usually marketed as calf, rather than veal, at 22–26 weeks of age, 650 to 700 pounds (290 to 320 kg).
- Rose veal in the UK (generally called young beef in Europe), is from calves raised on farms in association with the UK Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Freedom Food programme. Its name comes from its pink colour, which is a result of the calves being slaughtered at or after 35 weeks (8 months up to 12 months).
- Pasture-raised veal
- Free-raised veal is from calves raised in the pasture with unlimited access to their mother's milk and pasture grasses. They are not administered hormones or antibiotics. These conditions replicate those of pasture-raised veal. The meat is a rich pink color. Free-raised veal is typically lower in fat than other veal. Calves are slaughtered at about 24 weeks of age.
- Special-fed veal is from calves fed a balanced milk- or soy-based diet one fortified with 40 essential nutrients, including essential amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, dietary iron and other dietary minerals and vitamins. As of 2013, the majority of veal calves in the USA are special-fed.
Veal has been an important ingredient in Italian and French cuisine from ancient times. The veal is often in the form of cutlets, such as the Italian cotoletta or the famous Austrian dish Wiener Schnitzel. Some classic French veal dishes include fried escalopes, fried veal Grenadines (small, thick fillet steaks), stuffed paupiettes, roast joints, and blanquettes. Because veal is lower in fat than many meats, care must be taken in preparation to ensure that it does not become tough. Veal is often coated in preparation for frying or eaten with a sauce. Veal Parmigiana is a common Italian-American dish made with breaded veal cutlets.
In addition to providing meat, the bones of calves are used to make a stock that forms the base for sauces and soups such as demi-glace. Calf stomachs are also used to produce rennet, used in the production of cheese. Calf offal is also widely regarded as the most prized animal offal. Most valued are the liver, sweetbreads, kidney, and bone marrow. The head, brains, tongue, feet, and mesentery are also valued.
Newborn calves are given a varied amount of time with their mothers, which can be anything from a few hours to a few days. Free-raised calves are raised alongside their mothers, and always have access to their mothers' milk.
The modern veal industry has strong connections with the dairy industry. To produce milk, cows must be lactating, and in order to be lactating, they must get pregnant and give birth. Since only female calves can be used to produce milk, use of male dairy calves is limited, outside of breeding.
The veal industry's integration with the dairy industry goes beyond the purchase of surplus calves. It also buys large amounts of milk byproducts. Almost 70% of veal feeds (by weight) are milk products. Most popular are whey and whey protein concentrate (WPC), byproducts of the manufacture of cheese. Milk byproducts are sources of protein and lactose. Skimmed milk powder, casein, buttermilk powder and other forms of milk byproducts are also used from time to time.
"Milk-fed" veal calves consume a diet consisting of milk replacer, formulated with mostly milk-based proteins and added vitamins and minerals. This type of diet is similar to infant formula and is also one of the most common diets used for calves in the veal industry.
"Grain-fed" calves normally consume a diet of milk replacer for the first six to eight weeks and then move on to a mostly corn-based diet.
Free-raised calves are raised on an open pasture and receive a diet of milk, grass, and fresh water. Furthermore, free-raised calves do not receive antibiotics, which are often a focus of criticism amongst animal welfare organizations.
Veal production is a controversial issue in animal welfare.
Multiple animal welfare organizations that focus on factory farming consider several practices and procedures to be inhumane. Public efforts by these organizations have put some pressure on the veal industry to change some of its methods.
Alternative agricultural uses for male dairy calves include raising bob veal (slaughter at two or three days old), raising calves as "red veal" without the severe dietary restrictions needed to create pale meat (requiring fewer antibiotic treatments and resulting in lower calf mortality), and as dairy beef.
Many veal farmers have started improving conditions in their veal farms. The use of crates to prevent movement by veal calves is a principal source of controversy in veal farming. The American Veal Association has announced a plan to phase out the use of crates by 2017.
Veal crating is criticized because the ability of the calves to move is highly restricted; the crates have unsuitable flooring; the calves spend their entire lives indoors, experience prolonged sensory, social, and exploratory deprivation; and the calves are more susceptible to high amounts of stress and disease. According to the Veal Quality Assurance Program, the Veal Issues Management Program industry fact sheet, and the Ontario Veal Association, individual housing systems are important for disease control and in reducing the possibility of physical injury. Furthermore, they state it also allows for veal farmers to provide more personal attention to veal calves.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations do not permit the use of hormones on veal calves for any reason. They do, however, approve the use of antibiotics in veal raising to treat or prevent disease.
In 2004, the USDA expressed concern that the use of illegal drugs might be widespread in the veal industry. In 2004, a USDA official found a lump on a veal calf in a Wisconsin veal farm, which turned out to be an illegal hormone implant. In 2004, the USDA stated "Penicillin is not used in calf raising: tetracycline has been approved, but is not widely used."
The following shows where veal crates have been banned, or are currently in the process of being banned:
Veal calf production as such is not allowed in many Northern European countries, such as in Finland. In Finland, giving feed, drink or other nutrition which is known to be dangerous to an animal which is being cared for is prohibited, as well as failing to give nutrients the lack of which is known to cause the animal to fall ill. The Finnish Animal Welfare Act of 1996 and the Finnish animal welfare decree of 1996 effectively banned crates in Finland and provided general guidelines for the housing and care of animals.
In 2007, the American Veal Association passed a resolution encouraging the entire industry to phase out crate confinement of calves by 2017.
As of 2015[update], eight US states ban veal crates. Nationally, several large veal producers and the American Veal Association are also working to phase out the industry use of veal crates. State-by-state veal crate bans are as follows:
- Arizona (since 2012, a part of Proposition 204)
- California (effective 2015, a part of Proposition 2)
- Colorado (since 2012)
- Kentucky (Passed in 2014, the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission issued a decision to begin a phase-out period of four years and that by 2018 veal crates will be completely eliminated from Kentucky farms)
- Maine (since 2011)
- Michigan (effective 2013)
- Ohio (passed 2010, effective 2017)
- Rhode Island (since July 2013)
Current active legislation in:
- New York (proposed in Jan. 2013 and 2014)
- Massachusetts (House and Senate bills filed annually since 2009; current bills would take effect one year after passage)
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- Ontario Veal Association — Ontario veal industry in Canada.
- Thinking Outside the Box — Dutch veal farming from Beef magazine
- Welfare Implications of Veal Calf Husbandry from the American Veterinary Medical Association (PDF format, October 2008)
- VealFarm.com — Veal industry in the USA
- Veal Recipes. A collection of recipes for various cuts of veal, tips on cooking, selection and handling of veal