CIWF investigators visited rabbit farms across France, Spain and Italy – where three-quarters of the EU’s farmed rabbits are kept. Footage posted on their website reveals rabbits housed in barren metal cages, with as many as 10 fattening rabbits in each cage and each rabbit given less space then an A4 sheet of paper. It also showed bins full of dead rabbits and faeces piled up knee-high underneath the cages.
The charity claims that over 326 million rabbits are being farmed in barren battery cages in the EU, which is more than all the EU’s beef cattle and pigs combined. Launching its ‘Rabbit Revolution” campaign, it said it was completely unacceptable to keep rabbits in barren cages when the EU had banned the same treatment for hens.
Dil Peeling, CIWF’s director of public affairs, said: “It’s a scandal that cages like these have been scrapped for egg-laying hens, but are still seen to be suitable for rabbits. There’s no alternative – barren battery cages have got to go.
“The sheer numbers involved in this industry alone make the truth of rabbit factory farming a real horror. With the addition of high death rates and a life led without any stimulation or interaction, it is an animal welfare tragedy,” said Peeling.
CIWF also claimed that while rabbit is touted as a 'healthy meat', farmed rabbits are riddled with disease. It pointed out that, in France, the animals are routinely fed antibiotics, but the industry still has a mortality rate of 20%, which is higher than other farmed species.
The first stage of the CIWF campaign will be a public awareness campaign in the UK. “We feel that public awareness of where rabbit meat comes from is limited and that if people are more aware they will choose the higher welfare option,” Emma Slawinski, CIWF senior campaigns manager, told Globalmeatnews.com.
“We want people to be aware that if rabbit is not labelled with where it came from, it is almost certain to have come from barren battery cages.
“We are also encouraging UK consumers to be a bit proactive and, if they see farmed rabbit in their supermarkets, to write to the supermarkets and ask where it came from.”
CIWF also hopes to do some lobbying around EU welfare policies for rabbits. “One of the things we hope to be campaigning on in the future is species-specific production for rabbits,” said Slawinski.
“There are also particular issues around slaughter, because the new EU slaughter regulations miss rabbits out completely. When you consider that things like quails are included, which is a far smaller industry, it is reprehensible that rabbits have been left out. It leaves them very vulnerable to the welfare issues that we saw.”