Resolve to Think Twice About Eating Veal in 2013
Ready or not, the holidays are upon us. ‘Tis the season to dust-off your favorite holiday recipes, throw on your lucky apron and take to the kitchen. Whether you plan to use traditional family recipes or switch up the menu this holiday season, please do your best to avoid veal this year. Even better, why not make a New Years resolution to eliminate veal from your diet? You’ll be happy you did!
When you consume veal, either in a restaurant or in your home, you are eating the meat from a male dairy calf. That poor animal has been confined and tethered to a crate and fed a milk-based, iron-deficient diet for the duration of his short life. Forced immobility and a nutrient deficient diet promote the meat’s tender consistency and pale color. These animals are then slaughtered at a mere six to fourteen weeks of age.
The origin of veal production is rooted in the dairy industry. Originally, male calves born to dairy cows on farms were kept for breeding purposes. When demands for dairy products skyrocketed in the early Twentieth Century, however, farmers turned to artificial insemination (AI) to increase the efficiency of dairy production. The use of AI on farms completely eliminated any need for bull calves as studs. Unfortunately, male calves were also considered useless in beef production due to their Holstein heritage. Opportunistic meat producers then capitalized on the predicament of dairy farmers, who still had male calves being born, by purchasing the unwanted calves to supply the growing veal industry.
The questionable treatment of dairy calves used for veal production is the subject of much ethical debate. Proponents of veal consumption justify the practice on the grounds that it provides a meaningful alternative to the wasteful slaughter of unwanted male dairy calves. Alternatively, animal activists argue that the suffering inflicted on veal calves cannot be justified under any circumstances.
Critics have often just tried to regulate and enforce a standard for the humane treatment of veal calves. I argue that this compromise is inadequate. There is no humane way for us to justify the practice of producing veal. For this reason, we must initiate efforts to shut down the veal industry for good.
I’m emotional on the topic, as you can perhaps tell. But there is also a logical justification for my desire to abolish the industry. According to the utilitarian perspective, an action or practice is “right” if it creates more utility than disutility. In the context of veal production, utility is defined as positive value of human pleasure and disutility can be considered the negative value of calf suffering. So, how do we quantify and compare these two seemingly abstract values?
To assess the utility that humans derive from eating veal, one approach is to consider the nutritional benefits and accessibility of this “delicacy.” Although it is true that veal contains fewer calories than beef and is a great low-fat source of protein, it actually contains more cholesterol than beef, and only about half the iron and zinc. In addition, the fattening sauces and seasonings that must be used in veal preparation to cover up the bland taste of the meat ironically nullify the delicacy’s few nutritional benefits. Veal also costs nearly twice as much as beef in supermarkets. Ultimately, humans derive remarkably minimal utility from our consumption of veal.
Alternatively, the disutility created by veal production in the form of calf suffering is undeniable. The cost of suffering inflicted upon veal calves far outweighs the human pleasure supposedly satisfied by the industry. Veal production is thus inherently wrong, and we have a duty to stop it.
But what about those unwanted male calves? In order to eliminate the need for the veal industry entirely, I recommend that the dairy industry renew its commitment to the use of gender-selected semen for artificial insemination. The technology to sort individual sperm cells into viable X and Y-chromosome-bearing entities has existed since the 1990’s. Dairy farmers can choose to impregnate their dairy cows with only X-sorted semen. Dairy cows should in fact almost exclusively produce heifer calves, therefore eliminating the need for a veal industry as an outlet for unwanted male calves.
Proponents of the industry cannot continue to justify the consumption of veal by saying that there is no alternative use for unwanted male dairy calves. With gender selection technologies, this is simply not true anymore.
For more information about the various reproductive technologies available to dairy farmers, visit http://www.wcds.ca/proc/2012/Manuscripts/Lucy-1.pdf.
Baby cow image via Shutterstock.