Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, food columnist for The Guardian, writes, “To be honest, if you drink milk or eat cheese, it’s crueler not to eat it [rose veal].” His logic goes something like this: As an inextricable byproduct of Big Dairy, the surviving male calves fated to become veal will either be raised intensively or humanely (as defined by rose veal proponents, of course). So, if you don’t support a system whereby “calves live in small groups, with deep straw bedding and access to a varied diet that leads to their distinctive pink meat,” then you (vegans excepted) are indirectly sentencing those poor bovine babies to a horrid existence or immediate death. Interesting, but well-informed?
Factory farming has grown highly specialized over the years. With beef-cattle moms having beef-cattle babies, the dairy calves (who must be made in order for milk to flow) need to find a place in the market. Females are either slaughtered immediately or raised as replacements for their mothers. Males become breeder bulls (though artificial insemination is the preferred method) or are sold to veal producers. In all cases, newborns are usually torn from their mothers within the first 24 hours (natural weaning takes eight months).
On (or in, as the case may be) the traditional veal farm (especially in the U.S.: video of Mendes Ranch in California), a calf will spend his short (4-5 months), miserable life in a tiny crate. Tethered at the neck (to make him more manageable), with barely enough room to lie down (but usually not enough to turn around), and fed a liquid formula-like diet that facilitates rapid weight gain, the immobilized calf becomes borderline anemic in order to produce a pale, tender cut of meat.
That said, there are two obvious problems with Fearnley-Whittingstall’s position. First, his rose-tinted praise notwithstanding, all veal production necessarily involves a negation of the calf’s natural wants and desires; by its very nature, commodification of a living, breathing, feeling being is cruel. And it seems to me that saying we owe them a decent six months is simply a rationalization to enjoy veal. Besides, how perverse is suggesting (encouraging) meat consumption to an ethical vegetarian? So while conceding that the open pen is more humane than the crate, I would argue that short of veganism, an immediate, painless euthanasia of the newborn is the most compassionate course.
Second, what if everyone started eating British Rose? Would their self-proclaimed humane system be sustainable? Enormous demand for affordable meat is precisely why pigs and chickens are treated as widgets. With worldwide demand expected to double by 2050, producers must mass produce. In other words, factory farming is here to stay (unless, of course, veganism alters the paradigm).
And finally, in a fact that Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall conveniently ignores, every veal calf, rose and white alike, will suffer the same transport distress and terrifyingly violent slaughterhouse end. Is fattening them up just so they can be shackled, slashed, and bled truly the “less cruel” route?