Let’s Start with the Basics --
Veal is one of the most misunderstood protein products derived from livestock agriculture. Often associated with international cuisines such as Italian, French, German, and other middle-European countries, American consumers tend to prepare veal dishes more for special occasions. However, through the efforts of the NCBA’s Veal Marketing Committee, veal is beginning to be used for more casual dinner fare such as barbecues. Veal is USDA or state inspected. Here are some facts about veal, compiled from various sources. So, Starting with THE FARM...
What is Veal? Where does veal come from?
Veal is the nutritious and nutrient-rich meat derived from male offspring of dairy cows. Dairy cows must give birth annually to continue producing milk, but male dairy calves are of little or no value to dairy farmers, other than a very small percentage which are raised to maturity and used for breeding. Male dairy calves are used as the primary product source for veal throughout the industry.
- Calf: A calf is a young bovine of either sex that has not reached puberty (up to about 9 months of age), and has a maximum live weight of 750 pounds.
- "Bob" Veal: About fifteen percent of veal calves are marketed up to 3 weeks of age or at a weight of 150 pounds. These are called Bob Calves.
- "Special-Fed" Veal: The majority of veal calves are "special-fed." A veal calf is raised until about 18 - 21 weeks of age, weighing up to 475 pounds. They are raised in specially designed facilities where they can be cared for and monitored.
Special, milk fed, and formula fed are the names given to nutritionally balanced milk or soy based diets fed to calves. These diets contain iron and 40 other essential nutrients, including amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins.
How are Veal Calves Housed?
Today's modern, environmentally controlled veal barns provide for optimal animal health and safety. Barns are well lighted, whether artificially and/or by natural light, and a constant source of fresh air is circulated. Many barns are temperature controlled as well.
Traditionally, individual stalls have been used for raising the calves. These stalls have provided a safe environment where the calves can stand, stretch, groom themselves, and lay down in a natural position. These pens are invaluable assets to help maintain proper health of the animals. They allow the calves to be individually looked after. They also help protect calves from the more aggressive of the herd. The stall's slotted floors allow for efficient removal of waste.
More recently, the U.S. veal industry -- under the guidance of the American Veal Association -- has instituted a ten-year plan to move toward group housing, where small groups of calves can share their living space and enjoy more freedom of movement and social interaction than in the heretofore ‘conventional’ housing systems. Under this group housing system, individual care and monitoring is still the key to maintaining optimal conditions which help promote growth, good health, and still provide growers with the best opportunities for economic viability. Dutch Valley Foods’ veal division is investing heavily in the research and development of these group systems for its company leased facilities, and expects to complete it's transition in accordance with the
AVA's ten-year time frame.
How are Veal Calves Raised?
Veal calves are observed individually on a twice-daily basis and are provided with specialized care. They also receive a milk replacer diet that provided all of the 40 vitamins and minerals they require.
Veal calves are usually separated from the cows within 3 days after birth, allowing for optimal control over diseases and monitoring the dairy cow for udder problems.
Are veal calves healthy?
Veal producers carefully watch each calf to be sure it is not suffering any clinical symptoms of anemia, such as weakness or loss of appetite. Calves must receive diets with iron to meet the animals' requirements for normal health and behavior. A calf that does not eat will not grow.
Veal farmers monitor each calf for health deficiencies such as anemia. The feed is controlled to meet the calves' nutritional needs. Individual stalls allow veal farmers and veterinarians to closely monitor the health of each calf and properly treat a calf with a specific, government approved antibiotic, only if and when required. Health products for use with veal calves are approved by the Food and Drug Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services and the manufacturers before being put on the market. The FDA also regulates the labeling of the product, the doses permitted, and withdrawal period.
Why is veal meat light in color?
The light meat results from the age of the calf and the level of myoglobin (iron content) in the muscle. Myoglobin produces a red pigment that affects the color of the meat. To keep the meat light, without harming calf health, the amount of iron a calf receives is controlled through a nutritionally balanced milk-based diet and monitored on a regular basis.
Are Hormones and Antibiotics Used In Veal Raising?
Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat disease in the veal calf. Penicillin is not used in calf raising: tetracycline has been approved but is not widely used. No hormones are used in veal raising.
(Source: UDSA: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Veal_from_Farm_to_Table/index.asp )
How is Veal Inspected?
All veal in retail stores is either USDA inspected for wholesomeness (as is the case for all Dutch Valley Veal product brands) or inspected by state systems which have standards equal to the federal government. Each calf and its internal organs are inspected for signs of disease. The "Passed and Inspected by USDA" seal insures the veal is wholesome and free from disease.
Is Veal Graded?
Veal and calf carcasses are graded on a composite evaluation of two general grade factors: conformation (proportion of lean, fat, and bone in carcass); and quality of the lean. In addition, the color of the lean carcasses is key in differentiating between veal, calf and beef carcasses.
There are five grades for veal: prime, choice, good, standard, utility.
Grading is voluntary; a plant pays to have its meat graded.
When veal is graded, a shield-shaped purple mark is stamped on the carcass. With today's close trimming at the retail level, however, you may not see the USDA grade shield on the meat cuts at the store. Instead, retailers put stickers with the USDA grade shield on individual packages of meat. In addition, grade shields and inspection legends may appear on bags containing larger wholesale cuts.
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