Veal is often compared to beef but is lighter in colour and finer in texture and veal usually comes from a (male) dairy calf.
The veal industry's support for the dairy industry goes beyond the purchase of surplus calves. It also buys large amounts of milk by-products. Almost 70% of veal feeds (by weight) are milk products. Most popular are whey and whey protein concentrate (WPC) by-products of the manufacture of cheese. Milk by-products are sources of protein and lactose. Skimmed milk powder, casein, buttermilk powder and other forms of milk by-products are used from time to time. Buttermilk is the liquid which remains after the fat in cream is turned into butter.
Veal has been an important ingredient in Italian and French cuisine since ancient times. The veal is often in the form of cutlets, such as the Italian cotoletta or the famous Austrian dish wiener schnitzel. As veal is lower in fat than many meats, care must be taken in preparation to ensure that it does not become tough.
In addition to providing meat, the bones of calves are used to make a stock that forms the base for sauces and soups such as demi-glace. The stomachs are also used to produce rennet, used in the production of cheese.
Early producers found that a separate micro-climate was the only means of raising a calf through the perils of early growth. The growing stall was thus born. In the beginning these separated growing areas were almost totally enclosed. This was thought to curtail the spread of disease and provide a clean and comfortable environment in which the calf could flourish. Mortality was reduced substantially and product quality and quantity improved. As time and management philosophy developed the stall was changed. It became larger and more open. The stall also provided an opportunity for individual handling of the calf. However, many animal welfare activists oppose the use of these crates. Veal crates were banned in the UK (under the 1987 "Welfare of Calves Regulations" which came into effect in 1990) and throughout the European Union in 2007.
There has been some controversy in veal-raising methods over the years, including housing, use of antibiotics and hormones. In Europe, these issues have all been addressed. In North America, there has been a general lag in these areas but there is no use of hormones now and use of antibiotics follows withdrawal guidelines. This is actively monitored by government agencies. The AVA (American Veal Association) announced in 2007 a 10 year phasing out of "crates". California will have a ballot initiative, Proposition 2 (Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act) on the November 2008 ballot which would ban veal crates as well as sow gestation crates and severe confinement of egg-laying hens. The tethering of calves in the USA was mostly due to economics as the cost of housing is reduced. This made veal raising viable for a family farming operation.
In North America, there has been a recent move to more group housing, although it has been used since 1981 in various forms.
Open straw yards
Grain-fed calves normally consume a diet of milk replacer for the first 6-8 weeks. They also have access to water and roughage such as hay during this time. The calves then move on to a corn-based grain feed.
Refinements such as group housing begin to address some complaints about veal raising such as the use of small stalls in which animals cannot socialize normally. In addition to not allowing calves to socialize normally, stalls prevent calves from being able to move. Though this method provides for tender veal due to lack of muscle usage, it is considered by animal welfare advocates to be cruel. Many issues remain unresolved including practices relating to weaning, transportation, social grouping, feeding methods and nutrition that continue to place stresses on calves that have demonstrably negative effects on their health and behavior.
Alternative agricultural practices for utilizing male dairy calves include raising Bob veal (immediate slaughter), raising as "red veal" without the severity of dietary restrictions needed to create pale meat (resulting in fewer antibiotic treatments and fewer culled calves), and as dairy beef.