The humane touch

How food is raised is as important to today’s consumers as where it comes from. Animal welfare is an especially hot button for the meat industry. In response to customer demand, chef/owner Todd Gray of Equinox in Washington D.C. seeks out small production farms that practice certified humane treatment of animals. Restaurateur Wolfgang Puck has recently made headlines for the same sourcing strategy.

Every producer—large and small—agrees that the better care animals receive, the better quality the meat will be. Lately, the industry as a whole and each sector has been more proactive in instituting humane treatment guidelines.

•The American Meat Institute (AMI) has been working with Dr. Temple Grandin, a leading animal welfare expert, since 1991. Grandin encouraged the development of an auditing program to monitor and measure practices in packing plants; it was launched in 1997. This May, the AMI released the 2007 Animal Handling Guidelines and Audit Guide to update and further improve practices through the addition of more criteria.

•The Pork Industry Animal Care Coalition, made up of pork producers, packers, restaurants and retailers, initiated Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus) in June. The program addresses 12 areas that affect animal care and well-being on the farm, including housing, air quality and caretaker training. Those who comply through training, assessment and audits can achieve PQA Plus certification.

•A number of veal packers are taking a leadership role in converting to the European style of raising calves in group pens instead of individual stalls, according to Dean Conklin, director of the Veal Committee of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The industry’s goal is to increase veal consumption in the United States by upgrading animal handling practices. Strauss Veal & Lamb in Wisconsin is also testing free-raised production.

•The American sheep industry has developed a quality assurance program to commit producers to use humane and environmentally sound practices, says Bo Donegan, executive director of the American Lamb Board. Lamb is traditionally pasture raised and the animals roam free—they’re never confined to stalls. Managing the land as a sustainable resource is a priority of the industry, Donegan adds. “Producers take care in shepherding their flocks to protect water and avoid over grazing. The sheep contribute to environmental balance by controlling invasive weeds without the use of herbicides.”

•The cattle industry has a Beef Quality Assurance program in place as well as a Producer Code for Cattle Care. In 2007-08, the USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System is conducting a beef study to assess and update animal welfare practices.

Product cutting: Veal scaloppini or cutlets
Conducted by Jim Eidman, Executive VP of sales and marketing
Strauss Veal & Lamb, Franklin, Wisconsin

Veal for scaloppini can be sliced from several different cuts—the leg, loin, round or shoulder or clod (the best buy).

  1. Determine the size of the slice that fits your end use. Top round yields the largest slice; clod the smallest. Some operators prefer placing four 2-ounce scaloppini on a plate for more coverage; others like the look of two larger pieces.
  2. Consider other specs. Do you want the purveyor to pre-pound the slices to reduce shrinkage or pin the veal to make it more tender? How should the veal be packed? Boxed product usually comes with veal slices in individual cryovac packages. Weights range from 1½ to 8 ounces per slice, with 4 ounces being the most common.
  3. Open the packaging and inspect the color. Veal ranges from white to red in color; animals can have the same diet but stress and other factors will affect the color of the meat. For consistency, different colors are never blended in the same package. Check the texture. Meat should be firm and slightly moist, never slimy.
  4. Cook and taste the veal. The texture should be tender and moist; the flavor mild and not gamy. Make sure the taste of the veal meets your specs.

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