Veal is a meat product from calves between four months to a year old. The meat produced is a much different product than typical beef. It is almost white in color, and has a softer texture than beef. This different texture is caused by the way veal is produced, and explains the many ethical objections to raising and eating veal. In fact some people who are happy to eat other forms of meat still find eating veal repugnant because of the way in which the calves are raised.
Up until recently, the standard production of veal involved removing a newborn calf from its mother within 24-48 hours. The calf was then placed in a very small crate, often chained there. The pen or crate did not allow for the animal to move freely or even assume any type of comfortable position. Further, veal were fed an iron free diet, inducing anemia and keeping the resulting calves meat white.
In many parts of the US, and in the rest of the world, people are still eating veal that is raised in this fashion. However, concerns about the ethics of treating animals in this way, which has contributed to animal stress, and some say animal cruelty, has led to a change in the way some veal calves are raised. Many veal products are now advertised as free range, and those who enjoy veal claim free range veal is as good or better than confined veal.
One of the troubles with the free range label for veal is that the term is not clearly defined. Even when eating free range veal, one could still be eating veal raised in difficult conditions. Free range could mean a veal calf gets out as little as once a week for a few minutes. Since diet still must be restricted, older veal calves would need to be kept from consuming grass or grazing.
Some farmers do raise veal in more humane fashion. For instance, instead of removing calves from their mothers, the cows keep their calves and stay with them through the first months of life. Farmers may also allow cows and calves to roam fairly freely most of the time, instead of just for short time periods. Veal diet is still restricted to milk and egg powder, inducing anemia. These changes often make some people feel better about eating veal.
The trouble is, since the raising of veal is not clearly legislated in the US, it may be hard to know just how ethically a veal calf is being raised. Unless one could have free access to a veal farm, and actually see the treatment of the calves, it may be difficult to determine if you are eating veal that is treated in a humane way.
In response to ethical concerns about eating veal, some states are now attempting to legislate specific ways in which veal must be raised in order to reduce cruel treatment of the animals. Not all who farm support these measures, but many of them do.