The Deal with Veal

The October 2020 edition of the Waitrose & Partners Food magazine included a fantastic Veal feature, which included a conversation with our dedicated farmer James.  If you missed it, the key highlights are outlined below and head to our recipe page for a tasty Veal Saltimbocca!

"Most people who visit James's farm presume he's raising beef.  Young cattle gambol in open barns, kicking up straw and even playing with balls.  The charming scene is a far cry from the distressing images that people often associate with veal production.  But for the past 30 years now, all veal sold at Waitrose & Partners has been reared on James's farm.
Many of us remember the outcry in the late 1980's when it was revealed that veal - defined as meat from cattle under a year old - frequently came from animals who were being raised on the Continent in appalling conditions.....Passionate campaigning from the animal-rights movement eventually led to a ban in the UK (and later in the EU) on the containers known as 'veal crates'.  It also created a negative image of the meat for decades to come.
But for animals raised by farmers such as James, this has never been reality.  In fact, the requirements for the production of veal in Britain make it arguably a more ethical choice than many of the other animal products we consume.  And that's before you take into account that male calves are a byproduct of the dairy industry.
As a young farmer working in the industry, James saw how calves were removed from their mothers soon after being born, so that the cows could go back into the system and produce milk.  The female calves would be kept to be raised for milking, but the males would be destroyed; he felt this was a waste, when the young cattle could instead be reared as high-welfare meat.  He started farming veal in the early 1980's, keeping the cattle in large, airy, straw-filled barns where they could move about freely.  By 1990, he was the sole producer of veal for Waitrose, and since 2006, he has sourced all the calves from the dairy arm of the retailer and other dairy farmers.
James's priority has always been to produce high-quality meat, which is achieved by raising animals that are well cared for.  As he points out, calves are playful animals and often form a bond with their keepers.  "It is paramount that the cattle are warm, dry and comfortable," he says.  "They need the ability to interact with their surroundings and the farmer."  
Veal or 'young beef' has long been a popular meat, providing a tender, more delicately flavoured and lower-fat alternative to mature beef.....Chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gizzi Erskine have championed rose veal in their recipes, while farmer and broadcaster Jimmy Doherty raises his own calves and has urges consumers to think again about the meat......
James is proud that his calves spend their lives being "playful and sociable", as young animals would naturally be.  "They even have automatic 'brushers' to give them a scratch when they fancy it," he says.  In his opinion, rose veal is not only one of the most delicious but also one of the higher-welfare meats you can buy.  "The old production system should have the bad name rather than the product itself," he says.  "British Veal is an ethical choice.""