Calf Cruelty is Not Necessary

By David B. Kopel. More by Kopel on factory farming.

Houston Post, Apr. 24, 1989. Placed in Congressional Record, July 25, 1989, by Rep. Charles E. Bennett (Florida).

In the United States, we sometimes condemn the "barbaric" animal cruelty in other nations, such as bull-fighting in Mexico, or eating dogs in Korea. Yet those practices pale in comparison to a form of animal cruelty invented in the United States, which results in the torture of hundreds of thousands of animals per year. That practice is production of "milk-fed" veal.

For many years, gourmets in Europe have enjoyed the delicate meat of veal calves which are fed on mother's milk, and slaughtered a week or two after birth. In the early 1960's, Americans began to develop an interest in European gourmet veal, so American companies decided to produce a home-grown version of the "milk-fed" veal calf.

But the American producers did not imitate the French methods. Instead, the Americans began using much larger, sixteen-week-old calves (with greater weights, and hence greater profits). The U.S. producers then devised methods to make their older meat look like the younger, pale white European meat. This "great white hoax" results in tremendous cruelty to the American calves.

Separated from their mothers only a few hours after birth, the calf is chained in stall so small that he cannot even turn around. The total confinement system keeps the calf from developing any reddish muscle. And by preventing the calf from burning calories in normal exercise, the confinement system maximizes rapid weight gain. Stalls are so tiny that the calf cannot even stretch out his legs to sleep, but must lay hunched on top of them.

To keep the older calf's meat looking young and white, the calf is fed an iron-poor liquid diet. Diners ordering from a restaurant menu might think that "milk-fed" means mother's milk. Far from it.

The calf instinctively wants to nurse from his mother. But instead, he drinks only from a plastic bucket filled with a mixture of powdered milk replacer, water, vitamins, sulfa drugs, mold inhibitors, and antibiotics.

The calf receives no drinking water, because adequate water would make the calf drink less of the skim milk/drug mixture, and therefore gain less weight. The water that is mixed with the milk replacer is specially treated to remove iron.

On the uncomfortable slatted floor, there is not even straw bedding -- since the animal might eat the straw for its iron content. Standing on the slatted, barren floor causes the calf's knee joints to swell.

A calf has 4 stomachs, but the inadequate diet only allows him to develop one. His first stomach, the rumen, is designed to break down cellulose, but the calf's diet contains no cellulose, and no roughage. Hence the calf will often develop stomach ulcers and suffer from "scours" (extreme chronic diarrhea).

With no place to defecate but the slatted floors of his stall, the calf must lie in his own feces -- which may coat his hide -- and must breath ammonia gas, which causes respiratory disorders. In a desperate effort to ingest iron, a calf may lick his urine off the floor for its meager iron content. Thus, although restaurants eventually sell the calf's meat as "milk-fed veal," a more honest description would be "anemic veal."

What makes this whole process all the worse is that the iron-deficient, anemic diet does not affect how the meat tastes. It just changes the meat's color to fool gourmet desires.

Even young calves have a need for social interaction and activity. Veal calves have nothing to do but eat, which takes only 20 minutes a day. The lack of activity produces stereotyped, repetitive neurotic behavior, such as teeth grinding, tongue swaying, and "crate struggling." To reduce the calves' restlessness, veal producers keep the stalls pitch black for 22 hours a day.

As researchers at Texas A&M have detailed in the Journal of Animal Science, the confinement system causes stress which may reduce the white blood cell count of the calves. Not surprisingly, the "milk-fed" veal calves are extremely susceptible to every kind of disease, including intestinal disease, septicemia (blood poisoning), fungal infections, and pneumonia. About 10% of a typical group dies before they can be appropriately fattened for slaughter.

The death percentage would be even higher, but for the high doses of drugs that the calves are fed. Antibiotics, particularly oxytetracycline, are used daily.

As a result, veal calves' bodies become breeding grounds for "super-salmonella" -- bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics. Dr. Kenneth Stoller, formerly a Staff Physician at Cedar Sinai, and currently at the Children's Clinic in Pasadena, warns: "These mutant bacteria infect human beings, as well as animals." The Journal of the American Medical Association and The New England Journal of Medicine has linked antibiotic animals feeds with food poisoning in humans.

None of the torture is necessary. Quantock, Britain's leading veal producer, has developed the "straw-yard" system: calves are raised in barns with natural light, in groups of 20, and fed a healthier diet from rubber teats. As of 1990, the veal crate will be illegal in Britain. Sweden recently began a 10 year phase-out. The European Parliament has taken the first steps toward a ban on the veal crate.

Here in America, Rep. Charles Bennett (D-Florida) has introduced HR 84, which prohibits the confinement of veal calves in small crates, and makes it illegal to deliberately feed calves a diet deficient in solid food and iron. Fifty-five Representatives, ranging from bleeding-heart liberals to arch-conservatives like Robert Dornan (R-Calif.) have already cosponsored the bill. Both houses of the California Legislature passed a ban on anemic veal last year, but the bill was lost in end-of-session parliamentary maneuvering.

Consumers, though, don't have to wait for the government to act. Right now, consumers can stop paying six to ten dollars a pound for an anemic imitation of European gourmet veal. Instead, they can buy normal veal at much cheaper prices. Restaurants can drop anemic veal from their menus, and instead offer their customers healthier meat raised in more humane conditions. World-renowned chef Alice Waters has done so at her Chez Panisse restaurant, as has the Bennigan's chain.

A million calves a year suffer through the anemic veal nightmare. When the American public wakes up, and learns the truth about the production of anemic veal, that nightmare will end.

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