Jane Martin, RSPCA Good Business Awards manager, explains why the association, and the public, are opposed to the live transport of veal calves
There was a time when even mentioning veal on a menu meant running the risk of isolating certain customers.
Veal is a meat that conjures images of frail young calves transported hundreds of miles in cramped crates. Indeed, the picture of dewy-eyed calves pressed against the sides of a truck became an iconic image back in the 1990s. The public did not like live transport, and let it be known by steering clear of veal in large numbers.
This year marks the launch of the RSPCA's Good Business Awards "Hot Topic". We asked the public to vote for the animal welfare issue that means the most to them and, in turn, we're asking on-trade outlets to show what they are doing to meet the concerns.
Perhaps it will come as no surprise that the overwhelming answer was "live transport". This was heartening news for the RSPCA, as we are categorically opposed to the live transport of veal calves.
In an ideal world, all male dairy calves would be reared in the UK and not subjected to long, gruelling journeys across Europe, potentially to face life in conditions which would be illegal in Britain.
Calves can be transported abroad as young as two weeks old and dehydration is a big problem. We know from scientific research that long-distance transport can have serious, negative, short- and long-term effects on the health and welfare of young calves. Legally, unweaned calves can be transported for 18 hours with a one-hour break on board the lorry.
Although veal crates have been banned across the EU, calves can legally still be reared on bare slatted floors with no comfortable bedding and fed a liquid milk diet which can cause them to become anaemic and produces very pale meat.
Part of the solution to this problem is for more people to eat British veal. When properly run and managed, veal calf-rearing systems in the UK can provide animals with a good quality of life. And, of course, support from the UK's booming restaurant and hotel trade is needed to set a precedent.
We need restaurants and hotels to shout about the positive things they are doing to stop the live transport of animals. If you stock British rose veal, let your customers know. If you don't already, it's time to start sourcing veal from animal-friendly UK farms and suppliers.
Working together, restaurants, hotels and retail outlets like supermarkets can respond to increasing customer demand for ethically sourced food and make a difference to the lives of animals. It's a tasty solution for everyone.