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What is veal?

What meat is veal?
Veal is meat from calves, usually the bull calves from dairy herds, since they cannot be used for milk production. Veal comes in two forms. “White veal” is noted for being pale and tender, which is largely the result of a restricted diet and minimal exercise, however, since the ban on crates, calves do move around a lot more, the UK produces “rose veal” with a darker colour but still tender, which reflects the calves ability to move about and have access to a healthy diet. Instead of feeding on its mother's milk, the calf is typically fed milk powder and (in the case of rose veal) calf replacer pellets and forage.

Is veal cruel?
In the EU - but not the UK - veal calves are usually kept in closed barns with slatted floors, without bedding and with little or no fibre in their diet, this is where the majority of “white veal” comes from. However, in the UK calves for veal tend to be kept in naturally lit straw barns, fed a suitable diet, and some have access to pasture. These differences between EU and UK veal calves mean that UK veal calves have a higher quality of life. Under RSPCA Assured this is enhanced further by strict requirements around the volume of milk-fed, how long for, provision of environmental enrichment and increased space allowances.

Can veal calves be raised humanely?
Although veal crates have been banned in the EU, many calves on the continent are still kept in barren houses with slatted floors and no straw bedding. Not giving calves straw to lie on means they have nowhere comfortable to sleep and rest. Having no fibre in their diet can stop their digestive system from developing normally - good quality fibre such as clean barley straw is essential. Calves can be given a low iron milky diet with insufficient fibre making them anaemic. Such systems are less usual in the UK and are not permitted under the RSPCA Welfare Standards so all calves sold as RSPCA Assured veal have had a higher welfare life. Calves reared for veal do not have to be castrated or disbudded unlike calves reared for beef, which saves them from undergoing a painful procedure, commonly done without the application of long-acting pain relief.

What is the difference between beef and veal?
The difference between beef and veal is that beef is from older cattle whereas veal is the meat of younger cattle.

Is veal banned in the UK?
No. The calves of dairy cows can be reared in the UK to become ‘rose’ or ‘white’ veal. The calves are slaughtered between six months and eight months old. If slaughtered at an older age the meat is sold as beef.

How old is a calf when slaughtered for veal?
Under European and UK rules, a calf is defined as being under six months and veal is only allowed to be labelled as such if the animal is slaughtered under eight months. There is no recommended age for slaughter, however, it is normally from six to eight months old once they reach about 300 kilos.

Are veal calves in the EU still kept in crates?
No, veal crates were banned in the UK in 1992 and subsequently throughout the EU at the end of 2006, something for which the RSPCA had campaigned for many years. Veal crates were individual pens without enough room for the calves to turn round, lie down properly, or even groom themselves.

How is veal kept in the UK?
It is common practice in the UK for calves to be kept indoors but in well-bedded, open-sided barns lit by natural daylight. These barns allow for the circulation of fresh air (and views of the outside world) while at the same time protecting the calves from the elements.

Why is veal white?
White veal is generally not produced in the UK. White veal tends to come from calves produced on the continent, which were slaughtered before eight months of age, usually between 20 and 24 weeks of age. During this time their diets consist of fortified milk and solids, with very little fibre, so it is low in iron, leading to the white colouring (due to anaemia). White veal has welfare concerns associated with it, if you want to eat higher welfare veal you should ask for RSPCA Assured veal, or at least UK-produced rose veal.

Does veal see daylight?
In the UK, calves are often kept indoors but in open-sided barns. These barns are well lit by natural daylight and the open sides allow the circulation of fresh air and permit the animals to look outside. Legally animals have to have sufficient lighting equivalent to that provided by daylight for a normal length of time, plus a period of darkness equivalent to nighttime.

Are calves still exported to the continent for veal?
Yes, male dairy calves can legally be transported as young as 14 days old, although the UK Government has committed to ban the export of live animals for further finishing and slaughter, so this will become illegal in the near future. Exporting calves to the continent is a major welfare concern since the transport regulations permit them to be transported on a lorry for up to 19 hours, with just one hour’s rest on board, in temperatures of up to 35℃ (nine hours transport, one hour rest followed by another nine hours transport). Research has shown that calves under four weeks old struggle to adapt to the live transport process and can suffer higher levels of illness and death following transport. We are also concerned about the conditions on farms these calves will be reared and finished on as they are likely to be lower than on farms in the UK.

What happens to bull calves of dairy cows that aren’t reared for veal?
Thankfully the dairy industry is working hard to minimise the number of dairy breed bull calves born through the use of sexed semen (to only produce female dairy calves). The rest of the dairy herd will give birth to dairy-beef calves which go to be reared for beef. Sadly, the vast majority of unwanted dairy bull calves that are born are shot at birth as there isn’t currently enough of a market for all of them to be reared as veal. The RSPCA is seeking to end the practice of shooting bull calves on dairy farms and the industry has committed to achieving this by 2023.

Is veal still cruel?
The RSPCA welfare standards for veal calves do not allow calves to be transported to the continent. The calves must be kept in small groups, with deep straw bedding to lie on and are not allowed to be solely fed on milk. They must be given a diet rich in iron and fibre to keep them healthy and to allow their digestive systems to develop normally. We believe that under the RSPCA Welfare Standards these calves have a good life.

Do the RSPCA welfare standards allow single hutches for rearing calves?
Yes, individual hutches or pens are allowed to be used by members of the RSPCA Assured scheme for calves up to 3 weeks of age, providing all the RSPCA’s strict welfare standards are being met. Each hutch must be big enough for the individual calf to turn around and lie down whilst feeling secure and safe. And there must be plenty of straw bedding to lie on, play with and nibble. The calves must also be able to see, hear and touch those kept in neighbouring hutches. However, the new RSPCA standards encourage keeping calves in pairs, which enables them to develop their social skills at an earlier age. The law in the UK requires all calves to be housed in groups by 8 weeks of age.

What is rose veal?
Rose veal is meat from calves over the age of six months (usually about eight months) that have had fibre included in their diet, and therefore the meat is a much darker colour than white veal from calves who have only been fed on milk and are thus anaemic.

Is RSPCA Assured labelled veal rose veal?
Yes, all RSPCA Assured labelled veal is rose as the calves must have had fibre in their diet and are over six months before they are slaughtered.

On RSPCA Assured farms, veal calves must have:

  • environmental enrichment from six weeks of age
  • deep straw bedding to lie on
  • sufficient iron and fibre in their diet to keep them healthy
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