This is a piece I wrote last year in a ‘persuasion’ exercise. I don’t think rabbits are farmed on a large scale in the UK, but that hardly matters to the rabbits. It’s as well to be aware.
On: Battery Rabbits
As an RSPCA member who kept pet rabbits years ago, I believe few people are aware that rabbits are being reared under conditions that are identical with battery hens. The plight of the unfortunate chickens has been highlighted by the media so effectively that free-range egg sales have soared. But public awareness of rabbit farming in the UK is very low. The RSPCA’s website states: “Any system for rearing farmed rabbits must meet their key behavioural and physical needs … Farmed rabbits need the opportunity to carry out their key natural behaviours in the same way as all rabbits do.”
Farmed rabbits are stacked in tiers of wire cages. Eight or more growing rabbits may inhabit an area of just over half a square metre, about the size of an A4 sheet of paper for each rabbit, and less than fifty centimetres high. Yet the larger breeds, those most often farmed, cover two metres in a few hops and jump to the height of a metre. The result is like a medieval torture with the victim unable to fully extend the body. Apart from the discomfort caused by the inability to do what rabbits normally do (digging, playing, interacting, hiding, gnawing on edible objects and natural mothering), the cages inflict physical damage and foot injuries, leading to leg and spine problems in those that live long enough, those kept for breeding.
Because rabbit farming is often seen as an easy way to make money, untrained workers may be in charge of large numbers. The usual diet of pellets is easy to feed but harms teeth and digestion. Gut and respiratory problems are common and the death rate from disease for farmed rabbits in the European Union can be as high as 30 per cent. Rabbits can normally live for twelve to fourteen years, but those reared for food are killed at eight to twelve weeks and breeding rabbits at around three years. There are few abattoirs specialising in rabbit slaughter, so travel distances and killing methods are much in question.
Some may argue that rabbit is a part of a traditional diet. However, research by North Dakota State University revealed that in the US most rabbits are bred for non-food purposes, for “fur garments and trimmings. Medical and cosmetic research also requires a large number of rabbits each year.”* It may be argued that rabbits have a role to play in medical research. Rabbits may have enabled researchers in the cosmetics industry to find out what products make eyes weep and which do not. But the ethics remain dubious.
Next time you are tempted to buy a furry toy, check whose fur it was. Next time you linger over the cosmetics counter, ask about the company’s policy on animal testing. If you are tempted to make a rabbit pie, before you pop that pouch of pink flesh into your supermarket trolley, you can ask how those succulent morsels were created.
The RSPCA wants to see “strong laws to protect farmed rabbits .. to properly cater for their needs”. Improvements should include: properly constructed spaces to move around in naturally, hygienic, well-ventilated and the right temperature, comfortable solid flooring and bedding material, better feeding, lighting allowing natural darkness, trained and competent staff. Public pressure can bring this about. You can write to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR. Tell Caroline Spelman about your concerns and explain how she can help the miserable lives of battery rabbits to be transformed.
*[Source: Survival and Self-Reliance Studies Institute, USA.]
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