The roar of rabbit breeders


Rabbit breeders are in turmoil. They are protesting the arrival of new rules that would involve changing the cages where animals are kept. Hardly noticing a far different measure, certainly more favorable to them, aimed at introducing mandatory origin of rabbit meat on the label. And they overlook the appropriateness of an equally important measure, for them as for the entire livestock industry in Italy, the origin of meat at the restaurant. Supporters of the campaign
End the Cage Age
and consumers, meanwhile, are calling for animal welfare and label transparency. Waiting for Godot.

Rabbits out of cages

Protests against ‘new ministerial guidelines’ on rabbit breeding appeared in the press in the last days of July 2019. (1) According to Lombardy’s councillor for agriculture, Fabio Rolfi, ”the ideological vision of the Ministry of Health threatens to kill the Lombard and Italian rabbit industry. The call to replace the cages currently in place with park-keeping systems is a symptom of an animalistic view that will put our breeders out of business‘.

The fear is an increase in production costs for the industry, which has 447 farms in Lombardy (up 22.5 percent, from 365 in 2010), with a total of 289,000 head (down 12 percent, from 329,000 nine years ago). ‘If the Minister of Health wants to penalize the Italian rabbit market, say so publicly. Doing so only contributes to widening the gap with other European and non-European countries‘, thunders Rolfi.

Coldiretti-which also claims to have helped write the disputed guidelines (!)-aligns with the protest. (2) ‘We agree that some farming systems are outdated and need to be improved to ensure animal welfare, but it is risky to adopt solutions that have not been sufficiently tested. Moreover, even from the point of view of economic sustainability, there is no data to support such changes with knowledge‘. This is the statement of Roberto Moncalvo and Bruno Rivarossa, president of Coldiretti Piemonte (200 farms, over 700,000 head) and confederal delegate, respectively.

The mystery of the phantom guidelines

However, the new ministerial guidelines are a ghost. The press office of the Ministry of Health, lost in the search for an official who could unravel the mystery, dismissed us by sending the screenshot below,‘updated June 13, 2019. On political attacks on Minister Giulia Grillo (M5S) – for alleged ‘ideological views’ hostile to Italian farmers – not a peep.


The Web offers more news than the ministry press office. The Ministerial (Voluntary) Guidelines-attached hereto-appear to be dated 2015. Thus, it was Beatrice Lorenzin, who led the department from 2013 to 2018 (under the Letta-Renzi-Gentiloni governments), who suggested that rabbits be let out of cages.

The editing of the text is the merit of the National Reference Center for Animal Welfare of the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. Based on the recommendations of the Council of Europe, an EFSA report, Leg. 146/01 and the recommendations of COPA-COGECA (the confederation representing national agricultural confederations in Europe).



The decision to give the voluntary guidelines mandatory status would then accrue within the State-Regions Conference, the Lombardy Department of Agriculture explains. Who forwarded us the attached preview of the contested document, still ‘under embargo’.

When asked about the issue, the State-Regions Conference replied that the document is still informal and will have to be discussed in the Agricultural Policy Commission. As things stand, in short, it is unclear on what basis the animated protests rest.

New labeling of rabbit meat

More concrete is the second piece of news affecting rabbit breeders. The Agriculture Committee of the Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution, 10.7.19, committing the government to promote in Europe a labeling of rabbit meat bearing the origin and farming method of the animals.

The resolution passed in Parliament was proposed by Guglielmo Golinelli (League) and unanimously approved by members of the Commission. (3) The initiative is motivated by the goal of improving animal welfare in the industry (pandering to the desires of European consumers, as surveyed by Eurobarometer 2016) and above all by the need to protect Italian production, which is in steep decline.

A leader in Europe until a few years ago, the Made in Italy rabbit is harassed by increasingly insidious foreign competition, which has caused the bankruptcy of more than 40 percent of Italian rabbit farms and more than 20 percent of slaughterhouses. Due to massive imports of rabbits from abroad, especially from France and Hungary. And of a dumping that seems to be consuming itself right in the shadow of the Internal Market.

‘In recent years, imports Italian have undergone a transformation: import volumes from Germany, which is not a producing country, are high, and there are doubts about whether rabbits (frozen or chilled) come from other European or non-European areas. So much so that it has also been reported that there is a “parallel market” for importing rabbits from outside Europe, particularly from China. On the Italian market, also suffering from dumping phenomena, the risk is that low-quality rabbit meat will arrive‘ (House of Representatives, Committee on Agriculture, resolution 10.7.19).

China-through triangulation with Germany-seems to be the main culprit in the collapse of Italian production. In fact, 99 percent of rabbit meat imports into the European Union come from the Middle Empire, which, with a production of 417,000 tons of carcasses, is the leading global exporter of rabbit meat, Italian MEPs report.

Countermeasures to the collapse of the Italian rabbit industry have stalled for a decade. ‘On April 29, 2010, the Intervention Plan for the rabbit sector was approved at the State-Regions Conference (Act 22/State-Regions Conference), but to date many of the provisions contained therein are still unfulfilled; the establishment of the Single National Commission for Live Rabbits for Meat from National Farming (C.u.n. cunicola), initiated after a long gestation, with the aim of formulating market and price trends of the product category “live rabbits for national breeding” in a transparent and neutral manner, is one of the few measures provided for in the Plan to have been implemented‘, reports the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee.

The 2010 Action Plan also included the introduction of mandatory origin labeling for rabbit meat. A decision, however, that remained on paper. Unlike pork, sheep, goat and poultry meat, to which it was extended-as of 1.4.15, Through reg. EU 1337/13 – the origin labeling requirement already required for beef by EC Regulations 1760/00 and 1825/00. The rabbit industry has thus been left in the dark, at the mercy of obscure imports.

To close ‘this regulatory loophole ‘ (and more), members of the Agriculture Committee instruct the government to fulfill 7 measures. In detail,
1) ‘to take action in the appropriate European forums for the inclusion in Union legislation of mandatory origin labeling for rabbit meat and processed rabbit products, both whole and portioned, in addition to breeding and slaughter, as provided for fresh beef, pork, sheep, goat and poultry meat, in order to safeguard an important sector of the national livestock industry and to ensure greater legal certainty for all operators in the chain and correct information for consumers, activating to this end also so that the label can also include information relating to the chain, and, in particular, those relating to the farming system;
2) To put in place every possible and useful initiative to protect breeders and producers through the valorization of the national rabbit product, which is characterized by a higher quality than that of other producing nations, and to support the supply chain with promotional campaigns in the same way as other Made in Italy products;
3) To take steps, in consultation with the relevant peripheral administrations, to monitor the sector. As well as for a strengthening and coordination of controls on imports and exports of rabbit meat, also in order to more effectively combat counterfeiting, agro-piracy and trade in products falsely indicated as Made in Italy;
4) to report to the relevant parliamentary committees on the status of the implementation of the sector plan referred to above on whether there are any critical issues hindering its full implementation and what steps, if any, are necessary to provide for its updating;
5) To consider requesting, pursuant to Article 12, Paragraph 2 of Law No. 287 of 1990, the initiation of a fact-finding investigation by the Competition and Market Authority into the proper functioning of the rabbit meat market;
6) to draw the attention of the EU institutions to the need to verify the possible adoption by some Member States of measures that amount to an infringement of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;
7) to consider encouraging the use of breeding methods that are more respectful of animal welfare, also with a view to allowing greater value to be placed on domestic products as opposed to imported ones‘.

Theorigin of restaurant meats-about which GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade) has been fighting for years, so far in vain, alongside the Italia Zootecnica Consortium-continues to escape the radar and attention of Italian politics, however. As to Coldiretti itself, which should be its first promoter. To ensure transparent information to consumers on the origin of meat of all animal species when served by communities (restaurants, eateries, fast food and take-away, canteens, catering). And safeguard sustainable animal husbandry 4.0 in Italy.

Rabbits stay in cages

Much ado about nothing. The conditions under which rabbits are kept, still crammed into A4-sized cages, do not change one iota. But in the presence of animal-rights campaigns-such as those of CIWF Italy, which campaigns to eliminate the use of cages in burrowing farms (4)-the vaguest anticipation of changes ‘dropped from above’ still inspires the vigorous roar of rabbit breeders.

Marta Strinati

(1) See statements by the Lombardy councillor for agriculture at Statements from Coldiretti Piemonte, at
(2) See footnote 1
(3) The deputies are Golinelli, Gagnarli, Bubisutti, Cadeddu, Cillis, Coin, Del Sesto, Gallinella, Gastaldi, Liuni, Lolini, Lombardo, Maglione, Alberto Manca, Parentela, Sarli, and Viviani. V.
(4) The European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the Cage Age,’ initiated by CIWF and registered by the Commission in September 2018, will end on September 11, 2019, and has already collected 1.2 million signatures. More than 200,000 more than those needed for Brussels to consider the people’s initiative regulatory proposal

Marta Strinati

Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".