Editor’s note: For additional coverage of the Dutch veal industry, please see: “A close look at Dutch veal — dubbed safest in the world.”

If veal is on your shopping list, Dale Bakke says you need not go looking for an imported brand shipped from “halfway around the world.” Bakke acknowledges the Dutch are the world’s largest veal producers, but he makes the case that U.S. veal farmers are “far superior.”

Bakke is president of the American Veal Association, which represents about 500 family farms that produce U.S. veal. Those farms are mostly in the Northeast dairy states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York.

“We strongly believe our U.S. veal farmers produce veal which is far superior in terms of food safety, quality, and it is more sustainable meat since it is raised and processed right here in the U.S. and not shipped from halfway around the world, ” Bakke said.

“Additionally, every calf from farm to market is completely traceable.”

Veal production is on the upswing in the U.S., approaching 600,000 head in 2019. Veal comes from calves who, after 22 weeks of milk-fed growth, weigh about 500 pounds and are ready to go to slaughter.

The U.S. has the potential for more veal production. That’s because the nation’s dairy herd includes about 9 million cows, and to continue milk production each must have one calf each year. Dairy farmers have to do something with bull calves to continue milk production. Veal production is considered a natural option.

The international debate
Veal is a delicacy that finds producers in America and Europe ready to argue their competitive advantages on food safety, animal welfare, traceability and more.

The U.S. veal producers say the Food and Drug Administration holds American producers to a higher standard when it comes to the use of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. Bakke says by their count, about 50 such substances allowed by the Netherlands and European Union are banned by the FDA  in U.S. veal production.

“Their very use would constitute food adulteration by the FDA,” Bakke says. He acknowledges that all meat must be 100 percent antibiotic-free at the time of slaughter, which is achieved through withdrawal periods.

“Our veal farmers in the United States have worked very closely with the FDA to reduce and eliminate these same products within our domestic production system for the very reasons of ensuring food safety,” Bakke told Food Safety News.

Food safety nuances between Dutch and American veal producers may say more about their level of play when compared to other segments of the beef industry.

Traceability and treatment
Both the Dutch and American veal producers emphasize their high tech traceability systems at a time when the rest of the U.S. beef industry seems content with using branding irons from the 1880s.

“I certainly do not understand the reluctance of some factions of the beef industry to adopt the use of a standardized animal identification system,” says Bakke.

He says traceability systems follow the animals  from the dairy farms to the veal producers to the packers and processors and into the public marketplace.

American and European veal producers also like to describe how they raise veal calves. They are milk-fed along with a grain supplement while housed in roomy pens with plenty of room to do what calves do. There’s no use of castration, dehorning, tail cocking, ropes, or crates.

The dairy states in the U.S. and in the Northeast, along with Florida, the Gulf Coast, Texas, and the Southwest, are major markets for U.S. veal. Export markets for U.S. veal have included Japan, Russia, Mexico and the Caribbean. Bakke says export markets come with traceability requirements.

“I believe American milk-fed veal differentiates from the tender, young, high-quality beef raised here in the U.S. more than veal from some other producers that are raising calves to much heavier weights and older ages,” Bakke added.

Editor’s Note: Food Safety News Editor Dan Flynn visited the Netherlands as a guest of the Dutch Meat Industry Association and the European Union’s Trusted Veal from Europe campaign. It promotes European veal as a high-quality, safe alternative to other meats.

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