December 16, 2003
Programming Executive Vice-President
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036-8799
Dear Mr. Erwich:
The American Veal Association (AVA), representing the nationâ€™s 1000 family veal growers, was disappointed with the Malcolm in the Middle television show that aired on December 7. The episode, whether intentionally or unintentionally, left viewers with a negative impression of the special-fed veal industry.
During the show, Hal Wilkerson asked his son, Reese Wilkerson, â€œWow, how do they get the meat this tender?â€� Reeseâ€™s response: â€œWell, thatâ€™s the thing about veal. Imagine if you took Jamie and put him in a little box where he would never see daylight, you donâ€™t let him move so his muscles donâ€™t get all tough, heâ€™s basically blind and you force feed him nothing but milk. Thatâ€™s what makes them taste so good.â€�
That dialogue, exchanged between the characters, enforced misconceptions about our industry. Veal is a tender meat, but not because of the myths mentioned by the characters. To follow, is a brief primer to better explain our practices.
- Comfortable Housing
Modern veal housing is designed to partition the animals only up to the shoulder level, ensuring calves visual and physical interactions with their neighbors. Calves are also tethered which allows farmers to gently and safely handle calves for purposes of contact, feeding, treatment and sanitizing, while also reducing the risk of calves harming themselves and each other. Calves can comfortably lie down in natural positions, stand up and groom themselves. This type of housing and tethering allows animals to receive their own feed, individual care and attention. Most importantly, individual housing has been shown to help prevent the spread of disease by limiting calf-to-calf contact while allowing socialization.
- Well-lit Housing
Modern veal barns are well-lit by either artificial lighting or natural sunlight. Producers house their calves in well-lit barns to make it possible to monitor the calves regularly, to feed the animals and keep them clean. Typical veal barns are also heated during cold months and have year-round ventilation to provide clean, fresh air.
- Milk, ideal food for young humans and calves
Jamie Wilkerson, the young child on the show, receives milk because it is the most perfectly digestible food for him. The same is true for calves. Based upon the nutritional standards of government agencies and professional organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the National Research Council, vealâ€™s milk-based formula is similar in composition to infant formula. Veal calves receive diets designed to provide all of the 40 essential nutrients they need including important amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins.
- Tenderness impacted by collagen, not production methods
As compared to beef, veal is typically more tender because of its younger age and, therefore, greater proportion of collagen in the muscle tissue. Veal calves go to market at 5 months (500 pounds) with more collagen in their muscle tissue versus beef cattle which are typically marketed at 13 to 21 months of age (1000 pounds). In addition, veal is nutritious and a nutrient-rich meat, with only 5.6 grams of fat and 27 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving.
To comply with those production guidelines, the American Veal Association (AVA) encourages all of their family veal growers to participate in the veal quality assurance program (VQA). The program certifies family veal growers after they've completed an exam on quality production practices, such as housing and nutrition, and have agreed to audit visits by a licensed veterinarian.
Mr. Erwich, we were pleased that veal was the featured protein in this Malcolm in the Middle episode. Veal is a tender meat enjoyed by many American families, not unlike the fictional Wilkersons. That being said, we hope any future episodes, that mention veal, will more accurately reflect truth rather than activist propaganda.
Providing safe, quality veal to American consumers is a top priority for the AVA. If you have additional questions regarding the veal industry, we encourage you to visit the AVA web site at www.vealfarm.com.
American Veal Association
1500 Fulling Mill Road
Middletown PA 17057