Even those committed to eating kosher meat should consider not eating veal. Baby calves prepared for slaughter often are sick, consume only non-kosher food, and live under extreme conditions to ensure the meat will be white, respectively involving possible terefa, kashrut (Ramah and Shach, Y.D. 60:1), and tzaar baalei chaim issues.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the great 20th century halakhic authority, made clear that veal is prohibited on a Torah level (Even HaEzer 4:92):
Regarding those who produce veal, there is definitely the prohibition of tza’ar ba’alei chaim. For although this is permissible when done to serve human needs, that is only when there is a true need, for example, to slaughter animals for food, or use them to plow, and to carry burdens, and so on. But it is not permissible to cause them pain for no good reason, even if there exists an individual who will derive some profit from this.
More recently, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Dov Linzer has adamantly argued that the consumption of veal is against Torah and halakhic values relating to the cruelty of tza’ar ba’alei chaim and that as Torah-true Jews we have a mandate to strive higher.
In American society, many people have decided to give up veal. According to the Beef Food Service, in 2011 the annual U. S. veal production was about 150 million pounds, with 85 percent being special-fed (on a whey-based, liquid diet) calves that were slaughtered at 18-22 weeks of age. Thanks to a lengthy boycott campaign against veal, annual calf slaughter has been drastically cut from a high of 3.4 million in 1986 to fewer than a million in 2011. Yearly per capita consumption of veal has also decreased: While annual per capita veal consumption peaked at 8.6 pounds in 1944, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s it was about 4 pounds annually, in 1988 it was still more than a pound, but by 2008 it had fallen to 3/10 of a pound.
This decline has resulted from a public increasingly aware of the cruelty involved in the veal industry. The veal industry emerged from the dairy industry: Milk cows have to give birth each year to continue producing milk, and calves (especially males) are taken from their mothers at birth. Then the veal calf is put in a stall 22 inches by 58 inches, and chained there for its entire short life, unable to lie down or turn around completely. In order to maintain the light pink color of its flesh and ensure that it reaches its maximum weight, breeders keep the calf in the dark and withhold drinking water, forcing them to consume their exclusively liquid, nutritionally poor, diet, which is laced with antibiotics, steroids, and other chemicals.
The industry’s reply to critics is distorted and inconsistent. On the one hand, in an argument reminiscent of those who justified slavery, the industry argues that veal producers treat their calves well because it is profitable to do so, and thus ill treatment would be counterproductive and illogical. This is spurious, as the extremely short(at most 5 months and often much shorter) period before slaughter, combined with taste preferences that encourage the abuse, makes it far more profitable for producers to mistreat the calves. The industry also claims that the “milk-fed” calves have a “nutritionally complete milk supplement” that in reality is anything but, and encourages diarrhea. Even noted chefs who would not oppose eating veal have advocated feeding grain and grass to calves to give them a more balanced diet. Bizarrely, the industry defends the use of stalls as allegedly ensuring that each calf is thus guaranteed food and is less likely to have contact with other calves, reducing the risk for disease. This does not explain why the “supplement” of antibiotics and steroids is needed. Finally, undercutting their previous argument, the industry has acknowledged a shift away from stalls, and now 40 percent of veal calves are raised in group pens. Still, veal calves are taken from their mothers immediately at birth, and many of the old abuses occur even at more “humane” farms.
One further way to decrease veal consumption is to combat the image of veal as a symbol of gourmet cooking. Veal is expensive, and most is consumed at upscale restaurants especially in major metropolitan areas. According to a 2006 survey funded by America’s Beef and Veal Producers, more than 70 percent of upscale restaurants serve veal, and more than 60 percent of these restaurants believe that veal adds to the prestige of their establishment Modestly priced restaurants are far less likely to serve veal than upscale restaurants, and there is an unfortunate tendency to associate veal with high quality establishments. If people do not order or request veal, it will lose its appeal to upscale establishments, as well.
It may be hard for someone to completely wean off all meat products even though the mistreatment, health, and environmental issues are clear today. However, one might take the first step to permanently remove veal from their diet. As Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in Eating Animals: “When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh.” Veal calves are the most tortured of all.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”