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What are the Ethical Objections to Eating Veal?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon1004567 — On Mar 07, 2021

It's amazing to me - but not surprising, unfortunately - that so many people express absolutely no concerns about the inhumane treatment of animals, and in fact, often ridicule those who encourage and/or practice the humane treatment of animals. Thoughtless, unethical, soulless people are also likely to have sociopathic tendencies.

By JBBexejl0004 — On Dec 17, 2013

@anon257355: "My life is worth more than the life of the bird I'm about to eat."

No no, it is not quite so. You value your life more than the bird you are about to eat, yes, but your life is worth no more than that of a tree, or bacteria for that matter. There is no inherent value placed on any life, only that which you and others may perceive.

By anon334399 — On May 12, 2013

The lack of compassion by my fellow humans is disheartening. Whatever you put in your mouth for nourishment should be respected. Shame that people can't spare two seconds of thought about the source and the process of acquiring their food.

By anon320365 — On Feb 17, 2013

Poor plant! They are living things too! This subject is so ridiculous. I love a good veal chop, so I will eat my veal and you can eat the poor plants!

By anon298994 — On Oct 23, 2012

@anon150052: I guess we should hail Hitler a saint, then. After all he gave all those wonderful people a short period to live before brutally digging massive graves for them. I don't see anything unethical about that.

By anon277422 — On Jun 29, 2012

The people who support this practice are indeed, a very strange lot. I'll wager that many of them have dogs and would never support separating puppies from their mothers to be consumed by soulless beasts like themselves.

By anon273673 — On Jun 08, 2012

@anon257355: That's a pretty strong statement. You would rather have animals live than have people who eat them "anywhere in the world." Sounds like you think animals lives are more important than people who aren't vegetarian. Sorry, but my life is worth more than the life of the bird I'm about to eat. And it's worth more than the life of the cow I'm going to eat tomorrow, and the pig's life the next day, etc., etc. And if you're wondering, I sleep fine.

By anon257355 — On Mar 26, 2012

To the people who don't care how tortured the animals were that go into their mouths, you are without conscience. I would prefer to see those animals living happy lives freely than having those selfish, uncaring people anywhere in the world.

By anon154335 — On Feb 20, 2011

Geez people. It's food! get over it!

You like eggs from chickens? Both the chickens and the eggs never touch the soil of the earth, but you have no problems digging into a bucket of Original Recipe 20 piece bucket from KFC, now do you?

Like turkey? Like bacon, ham, pork chops, ribs? You can go down the entire lists of meats and you'll find something undesirable about the "raising process" or "slaughtering process" in all your meats.

If you like meat, you need to get a grip on reality. I don't care if my burger came from a cow that had a name. A little seasoning will take care of that anyway!

They are raised for food and mass-produced!

Next, we'll have people becoming Anti-Vegan because the vegetable wasn't grown in a proper soil/manure ratio. This is ridiculous!

By anon150052 — On Feb 06, 2011

I have nothing against raising male dairy calves for veal, as my point of view is that it did have a life however short and that must be better than dying for no reason straight after birth.

Although I strongly disagree with the use of veal crates as a way of raising any cattle. I have worked with calves for a number of years and even though we take them away from their mothers at days old I feel that that makes them easier to handle as they grow up.

I become very fond of the cattle that I care for, although everything has a purpose, and if people wish to eat meat (as I do) then the animals need to be reproduced. Although under no circumstances should this be done and cause pain and suffering to the animal.

By anon146950 — On Jan 27, 2011

Male dairy calves are a part of the dairy industry. Instead of being slaughtered and wasted, they are given a short but humane life and then their lives are given so we can eat and survive - they aren't wasted. Letting them spend time with Mum and roam the paddock should happen on every farm. The old ways are horrible and unethical.

You might say I'm 'part of the problem' but there is no problem. Farmers are just like you and me. They need to make money to survive and this is one way to do it.

By anon146681 — On Jan 27, 2011

I didn't know why or how veal steaks were lighter in color and so tender when made up as veal schnitzel. Now that I know what happens to the animals, especially how they are starved of iron, I will not buy veal again.

By anon122388 — On Oct 27, 2010

Listen up people who are still eating veal: if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem. While other beings are being tortured for your gastronomic pleasure, I hope you sleep well at night.

By anon116635 — On Oct 07, 2010

I would like to know if all the above people drink milk or eat butter or cheese?

Veal calves are a by-product of the dairy industry. Male calves are of little or no value to the dairy farmer. Female calves are kept and raised as replacement cows in the milk producing herd.

Milk cows have to become pregnant one time per year and have that baby to be "in-milk." The male calves are sold and raised as veal calves.

What else is there to do with them.

With that said I am a proponent for the ethical treatment of animals. While they are on this earth they should live a healthy and pain-free lifestyle, then swiftly and humanely euthanised.

By anon108492 — On Sep 03, 2010

Rearing animals is strictly controlled in Scotland. A few small producers rear Rose Veal ethically which is available at farmers markets and mail order. Drumachloy Farm is on a tiny Scottish island. called But and produces the best veal in Scotland. It is sold online.

By linrichie — On Sep 01, 2010

Thank you for educating me that "free-range veal" may be no more humane than how most veal calves are treated.

Arguably the worst part about these baby calves is that they're removed from their mothers just after birth. It is well documented -- the psychological trauma, the desperate and neurotic coping behaviors, and psychoses that develop in humans and in animals with the inability to feel safe and bond.

These sweet babies bleed out, crying for their mama's response. Unanswered, their mammalian brains conclude that their mother must be dead. Psychological and physical failure to thrive sets in, and the neuroses begin. Treatment of a living being like this is horrifically inhumane, unethical, and certainly "un-God-like."

Poor babies. Can you imagine? If we did this to a puppy we would be charged with animal cruelty; why is this allowed for calves?

Tell your local grocery store meat guy and restaurant owners that you are unhappy they carry veal. It's a start. --a psychotherapist

By anon69832 — On Mar 10, 2010

Your attitude about this issue (anon2014) confirms the attitude of an ethnocentric society who believes that they are entitled to whatever the hell it is they want, at the expense of other people or animals.

By anon65593 — On Feb 14, 2010

The reason they are not allowed to roam is because it keeps the meat tender. I agree that eating any type of meat is unethical, but I'm just not ready to make that lifestyle change, maybe one day. For now I will do the least and admit that eating meat is wrong.

By anon40162 — On Aug 06, 2009

The point is that it is animal cruelty. People don't need to eat veal, we just think we have a right to everything and to do whatever we want just for an extra buck or pleasure. Keeping an animal confined and stressed out is wrong.

By anon14072 — On Jun 09, 2008

I can see your argument, but I think you missed the thrust of this article. During their short lives these animals are often kept held in pens where they are not even able to sit down or get comfortable. Even if you're a meat eater, it can be pretty difficult to contemplate why anyone would require this for gourmet purposes. Raising a cow of calf that is allowed to roam, whether you slaughter it sooner or later, is surely kinder than raising an animal in inhumane conditions that cause animal suffering through life, long or short.

By anon2014 — On Jun 24, 2007

Hey, a lot of people eat different things, whats the difference between eating a baby cow and a full grown cow, nothing really, oh that poor baby cow didn't to grow up and get butchered, it missed so much of its little cow life!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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