Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Milton Marks of San Francisco revived legislation Wednesday to outlaw allegedly inhumane conditions employed in the production of so-called “milk-fed” veal.
Under practices used by some ranchers, the veal calves are kept chained in 22-inch “veal crates,” which are too small for the animals to turn around or lie down in comfortably. The calves are fed a liquid formula twice daily to keep them anemic and thereby produce a highly valued white meat rather than meat with the natural reddish color.
The milk-fed veal animals, as they have come to be known, typically are slaughtered at 16 weeks. Supporters say that only about 15% of veal ranchers in California but as many as one-third of those nationwide raise veal calves in this manner.
The bill, which would ban use of the small crates, is a duplicate of one carried last year by Assemblyman Tom Bates (D-Oakland), which was killed in the Assembly Agriculture Committee. The measure was heavily opposed by ranching interests and, although it had passed the Senate and Assembly, it was sent at the last moment back to the agriculture panel where it was allowed to die.
Rather than voting on the bill, a majority of the committee members simply walked out. “The bill was treated real shabbily,” Bates said. Bradley Miller, director of the Humane Farming Assn., which is sponsoring the bill, said the committee members “didn’t have the courage to face their constituents . . . . Once they got their hands on it, they killed it.”
Miller said he hopes to avoid a similar situation this year by focusing public attention on the measure.
Supporters of the Marks bill contend that it is not only cruel to raise an animal in such cramped quarters, but that antibiotics given to keep the severely weakened calves alive--such as tetracycline and neomycin--can be passed along in the meat to consumers, which can pose a health hazard to humans.
“Animal scientists have testified that the calves’ autoimmune systems are weakened,” Marks said. “They become much more susceptible to disease, and so their formula contains heavy doses of antibiotics and other drugs. Medical doctors have expressed deep concern that consumers are at risk from drug residue and strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
Mike Henry, a representative of the California Farm Bureau, challenged that assertion, suggesting that keeping the calves in a closely confined space could benefit them. “You are keeping them in a small area, where they can be observed for bacteria and spread of disease,” he said. “You can treat them and you can ensure that they get a fair share of their feed. And at the same time, you can (prevent) them from gathering diseases and being contaminated from other animals.”
The bill seeks not to regulate medication given the calves, but the conditions under which they are raised. Marks’ bill requires the animals to be raised in an enclosure six inches longer than the length of the calf, from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail.
Marks and Miller said that by reducing the stress on the animals, their susceptibility to disease is lowered, and the need for potentially dangerous antibiotics is reduced.
Marks also hopes to direct the bill to the Assembly Public Safety Committee rather than the Agriculture Committee, where Bates’ measure died last year.
“We’re talking about allowing a calf to turn around,” Miller said. “That’s not animal husbandry; we are talking about animal cruelty. Keeping a calf chained in a box is not an agricultural practice, it is a cruel practice.”