THE BLOG
18/07/2013 13:23 BST | Updated 17/09/2013 06:12 BST

The Truth About Veal

AP

Have you ever eaten veal? If not, you're not alone. Many people don't understand what veal is or think it's cruel because it comes from calves killed at a young age.

It raises a difficult ethical issue because of the short lives these animals lead. However, it shouldn't be an animal welfare problem if the calves are handled carefully and killed humanely, in a way that doesn't cause suffering.

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These calves are usually the unwanted offspring of dairy cows which have to give birth to provide milk, and around half a million are born every year.

Surely it's better to ensure they are treated well, and produce higher welfare meat from them, than let them go to waste as a simple by-product?

However in reality many calves are not kept in higher welfare systems. Instead they're transported hundreds of miles across Europe and reared for veal in conditions which could be illegal here.

For example, many systems on the Continent fail to provide veal calves with any appropriate bedding. Instead they are often kept on bare slatted floors with no comfortable bedded resting area and are sometimes fed a diet lacking in fibre.

Thankfully this is not the case here in the UK where the law requires calves to have a comfortable straw bed and a diet including plenty of roughage to allow their digestive system to develop properly.

Despite this, of the small amount of veal that is eaten in the UK, very little is produced under welfare-friendly systems here.

Some supermarkets sell only British veal, but many hotels, restaurants and other caterers sell veal imported from the Continent. So we may be importing and eating meat produced under systems which are illegal in this country.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

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Humanely reared Freedom Food-labelled British veal is widely available . Under the Freedom Food scheme, calves are inspected to detailed higher welfare standards which are set and monitored by the RSPCA .

They live in small groups, with deep straw bedding, have access to fibre, and are provided with a diet that keeps them in full health and vigour.

So if you eat veal, please make sure it's from animals reared under welfare-friendly, loose-housed systems.

Also, if you see veal on a restaurant menu, even if you aren't thinking of ordering it, ask the manager where it comes from.

If it's not from this country, let him or her know that the chances are that it could have been produced under systems that would be illegal in the UK, and ask them to use only humanely reared veal.

The more people know the truth about veal, the better the chance we have of ensuring all veal calves live lives without suffering.

John Avizienius, deputy head of the RSPCA's farm animals department