Like many businesses and people who would like to find a reset button for 2020, the veal industry — from farmers to processors — feel the same way. Can anyone even remember what we were anticipating and implementing the first two months of 2020? The impact COVID-19 has had on people and businesses is so unparalleled that it overshadows any original plans for 2020.
Like everyone else, American Veal Association (AVA) members, have been trying to make the best decisions for their families, employees and communities to protect public health while continuing to care for their animals, run businesses and contribute to a safe food supply. As challenging as it has been, we know we are not alone.
Within a matter of days back in March, the veal industry lost its primary foodservice customers for nearly 65 percent of their business as restaurants closed across the country and cruise ships were docked.
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Large inventories of premium veal cuts that traditionally would have been sold to restaurants and cruise ships have been placed in cold storage waiting for when these foodservice operations can open. Some cuts were moved through retail where possible. On farms, fewer calves are being raised for the special fed veal market.
The past six months have been devastating from the lost revenue caused by the devaluation of many foodservice cuts and concern about future challenges because of the cost of calf production being the same or possibly even higher.
The fact that veal is a specialty product supported by smaller farms and packer/processors enabled the AVA members to make some adjustments to weather the storm. Most veal packer/processors who focus on customized products had greater flexibility to adapt to the needs of social distancing with slower line speeds. That provided employees with a less stressful work environment. Ensuring worker health, safety and well-being has always been a core value of AVA members, but it has new meaning given the circumstances we’ve experienced.
Speaking of values, in July, the AVA recognized its 10-year anniversary of its Statement of Principles, a document that established ethical standards and a code of conduct for the veal industry, setting 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.
Veal farmers understand consumers, retailers, restaurants and policymakers have many questions and high expectations for animal care and stewardship. 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: Producing safe and nutritious food is our first responsibility.
- Animal Care: We have an ethical obligation to provide appropriate care for our animals at every stage of life.
- Environment: We have an obligation to protect the air, land and water on which we all depend.
- Employees: We have an ethical responsibility to provide a safe, healthy and rewarding work environment for our employees.
- Community: We have a duty to promote a quality way of life in the communities where we live and work.
For the past 10 years, the AVA has demonstrated its convictions are more than words on paper. It is that conviction that will enable members to move forward despite the uncertainties that remain. We know that most people have a sincere desire to know more about how their food is produced. We welcome that interest and know our values and commitment as articulated in the AVA’s Statement of Principles will guide our actions well into the next decade.
Today’s consumers are looking for unique, delicious and versatile protein options to create new culinary adventures. Veal is the perfect choice. Veal is a marketable protein that offers a meaningful story of sustainability, supported by self-mandated animal-welfare practices and ensured through the Veal Quality Assurance program. While the past few months have been challenging, AVA-members look forward to the opportunities that are lie ahead. There is a renewed interest in food and cooking; we invite consumers to explore the possibilities with veal. NP
To learn more about the AVA and Meet America’s Veal Farmers, visit www.AmericanVeal.com.