The American Veal Assn. (AVA) is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its Statement of Principles, a document that established ethical standards and a code of conduct for the veal industry and set the stage for a decade of continuous improvement in an ever-changing animal agriculture landscape.
“These principles are the foundation of what we care about as an industry and are especially important today as the pandemic has raised questions about how food is produced and processed,” AVA president Dale Bakke said.
“Veal farmers understand that consumers, retailers, restaurants and policy-makers have many questions and high expectations for animal care and stewardship,” Bakke said. “These principles demonstrate that our industry is not only committed to providing the best care for veal calves but to producing safe, nutritious food, protecting the environment, providing quality work environments and supporting our communities.”
Leaders in all segments of the industry – veal farmers, feed companies, meat processors and marketers – came together in 2010 to outline their core values. The organization unanimously approved five core principles: food safety, animal care, environment, employees and community.
For the past 10 years, AVA has demonstrated that its convictions are more than words on paper.
“We know that most people have a sincere desire to know more about how their food is produced,” Bakke said. “We welcome that interest and know that our values and commitment as articulated in the AVA’s Statement of Principles will guide our actions well into the next decade.”
The veal industry has made great strides in each of the five areas, Bakke noted.
AVA said it has a proven track record in its commitment to food safety through the U.S. National Residue Program for Meat, Poultry & Egg Products, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Food Safety & Inspection Service and identifies contaminants in meat, poultry and egg products. The veal industry has had zero detected contaminants the last two years and just one positive result for each of the three previous years. According to Bakke, AVA and its members helped serve as a model for the food safety testing program.
The Veal Quality Assurance (VQA) program has been a key element of AVA’s success story. VQA is a certification program funded by the Beef Checkoff Program and is available to all formula-fed veal calf growers. The science-based best management practices and resources ensure that veal calves receive quality care through every stage of life and are raised using production standards that result in a safe, wholesome, high-quality meat that meets regulatory and customer expectations.
“All members of AVA are VQA certified, demonstrating that they understand and apply best management practices in all stages of veal production,” Bakke said.
Veal producers have worked diligently to understand and meet the needs of veal calves. Producers invested more than $150 million to transition their barns to group housing systems. Group pens allow the calves to stand, stretch, lie down, groom themselves and socialize with other calves, which are pillars of the Five Freedoms of Animal Wellbeing – the internationally accepted standards of care that affirm every living being's right to humane treatment. At the close of 2017, AVA announced that the historic, 10-year-mission to transition all veal housing to group pens had been achieved.
“The veal industry not only conserves and protects; we also upcycle by adding value to byproducts of other industries.” Bakke said.
Innovation has been integral to the veal sector since its beginning. Veal producers create high-quality protein from dairy bull calves, which previously represented an underutilized segment of animal agriculture. In recent years, the veal industry has been at the forefront of utilizing whey solids, a byproduct of the cheese-making process, as high-quality feed for calves. This innovation diverts whey solids from being spread as fertilizer to instead produce nutritious food. The American Dairy Products Institute recently stated that one-third of the whey solids produced each year in the U.S. are not used for further processing.
The veal industry – including packers, processors, farmers and feed companies – is made up of family-owned business. These businesses and individuals diligently work to meet or exceed all regulations that apply to each step in the process of producing veal from farm to market. Regulating agencies include USDA, the Food & Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Raising veal can be a wonderful family business and lends itself to helping young farmers get started in agriculture, the organization said.
“With most crop and livestock farming, the economies of scale are so large [that] it’s quite a challenge for a young family,” Bakke said. “Veal gives them an opportunity to have the rewarding lifestyle of participating in agriculture.”
Veal producers are expected to actively participate in activities that strengthen the community, engage their neighbors and seek to leave the community and natural resources in a better condition for future generations. Members are also working to reach out to others who are not as familiar with how veal is produced.
“When people come to the farm, meet the farm families and see the barns and calves, they are left with a very positive view of veal,” Bakke noted. “There is nothing better than visiting a veal farm to get your questions answered.”
Bakke said he is proud of the commitment and progress AVA members have demonstrated over the past decade, guided by the core values and ethical principles that will continue to guide them for years to come.