I have thought about writing on the topic of veal calves for a long time but have always backed away from the topic. After all, I do rescue and have a sanctuary. How can someone like me even say anything good about this industry. Well, I'm not really saying something good but I do want people who feel that veal should not be eaten, and the industry boycotted, to understand the potential unintended consequences of their actions. I would also like those reading this to consider a compromise.
Yes! As someone who lives in a big dairy region I say the current popular methods of managing these calves...my opinion of course...is cruel. I would love to see it ended forever. But before we all boycott and picket, lets talk about unintended consequences.
If you eat or drink dairy in any way, you are promoting the veal calf industry. Eating foods that are made with milk or cheese requires a calf to be born. The cow cannot produce milk without producing that calf first. That is basic biology. So if you are one of those that just boycotts the consumption of veal all you are doing is devaluing the sale price of the calf. The farmer still has to produce the calf to get the milk so you are not stopping the production of the calf. Hard cold fact, the more value a calf has, the better it is cared for. So in a sense, the boycott of veal contributes to potential suffering of the calf because of the decreased value.
I've talked to some rescue people who say, just put these bull calves out to pasture and let them live out their lives peacefully. There are two problems here. The first is that the cute bull calf grows up to be a seriously dangerous mature bull who's brain programs him to breed cows and challenge those who get in his way. No matter how kindly we treat them, keeping a bull as a pet is probably going to be the most dangerous thing you have ever done.
Some think, well, we will just neuter these bull calves and they won't be so dangerous. Yes, absolutely true. Some are downright sweet, but where will millions of pet steers live? In your back yard?
The second reason is cost to maintain and along with that, the destruction of the environment. We often discuss how some farming practices destroy the environment and natural habitat. The habitat destruction caused by all these bulls and steers doing nothing but eating grass and digging up and destroying the native plant life is too great to imagine. And of course in winter the cost to feed all of them is insanely expensive. Rescues and sanctuaries are always trying to find ways to feed their animals when they have a few to feed. How will they be able to feed millions of animals with a life span of about fifteen years? There is no way there is enough donated money to rescue groups, not to mention enough land to support all these animals, to properly care for millions of steers who avoided becoming a veal dinner.
So, to stop the general public from eating veal, you will have to end the dairy industry altogether if you don't want to cause more suffering, have a negative effect on the environment and use up valuable monetary resources for animal rescue. What does the successful elimination of the dairy/beef industry mean? It means no more dairy cows go to slaughter and no more dairy bi products. We think of beef as the only thing we get from cows. Think again
Cattle bi products used by all of us include ingredients in our tires, asphalt, dyes, medicines, anti freeze, shampoos, conditions, instrument strings, ice cream, chewing gum, some candies, marshmallows, shoes, belts, wallets and much more. Check out all the bi products of the dairy industry on the internet and you will get a better picture of what you will need to give up if you want to really stop the production of the veal calf.
Remember, the cow must be bred in order to give milk. The calf is produced whether there is value or not. When the cow no longer is able to produce milk she goes to slaughter and then she contributes to the production of hundreds of products that we take for granted in today's world. So, what do you do to solve this problem. Other than everyone adopting hundreds of steers and putting them in their backyards, or boycotting all products of the dairy industry...what is the solution?
My solution is to look at the source of the veal, or beef, and support those farmers who are using humane methods to raise their veal calves...and all the animals in their care. While my solution does not end the veal industry it is a humane compromise that does have a chance of success. It is unrealistic to think we can prevent the production of veal...so the next best thing is to make sure these calves have the best life possible even though it is a short one.
Today's veal calf industry raises calves in tiny stalls where they only have room to stand or lie down. They cannot interact with other calves, cannot enjoy soaking up the sun on a sunny day or romping in a field. They can't even enjoy or benefit from the foods they should be eating because the present day veal industry demands a product deficient in iron. It is the method the calf is raised that should be boycotted and support of humane methods of raising these calves should simultaneously be promoted. There is another way to raise veal calves that is humane.
Find farmers that raise calves in groups in pastures. The calf's 'social life' is satisfied as it can interact with other calves. These farmers are raising the calves on milk but also allowing the calves to eat grass or hay and provide them with a little grain. The calves do not produce the anemic white meat of the current popular veal calf because the methods I am suggesting do not deprive the calf of iron. The meat is slightly darker but the calf the produces that meat has been raised humanely.
Support local farmers who are dedicated to humane production of meat. The production and consumption of meat isn't going away because of a boycott but you can change what people will support. Don't tell people they can't eat meat. They just get defensive and stop listening. Offer them alternatives to factory farm meat production. Expose the factory farm as a house of horrors and promote the farmers who value the lives of the animals in their care and who are currently being pushed out of the market place because of stifling regulations and people unwilling to pay a few cents more for food that was raised humanely.
Reality is that the unintended consequences of a successful boycott of veal is cruel. It doesn't improve the lives of the calves. Even if a boycott does reduce the purchase of veal at the grocery store, the farmer cannot reduce the number of calves produced as he still has to produce milk. To end the abuse of the veal calf you would have to end the dairy industry and that would mean boycotting every single item that uses an ingredient from the dairy/beef industry. That isn't happening. Reality is that a boycott of one tiny portion of a huge industry has the potential to make the life of the calf much worse. So consider the compromise above that is humane, supports food grown locally and takes profits away from the factory farm.
In my perfect world, all animals would enjoy a long and happy life. But reality tells me that we must compromise to improve the lives of animals on the farm. If we are unable to see the big picture, and adjust our actions accordingly, it is quite possible that our efforts to improve the life of the veal calf will actually cause more suffering.