Rabbit breeding, EFSA opinion and industry crisis

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Breeding rabbits for meat must change. The most common cages are too small and cause suffering to the animal. It is therefore necessary to improve them and expand their size. Thus concludes the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Dealing a severe blow to an already shrinking industry. According to Ismea data, consumption of rabbit meat decreased significantly in 2019 (-17%), compared to the previous year. (1)

The protest of rabbit breeders

Already last summer, as we had reported, farmers had initiated ‘preemptive’ protests. Supported by Lombardy’s councillor for agriculture, Fabio Rolfi, they denounced the government’s animalist drift and the alleged arrival of guidelines on the welfare of breeding rabbits that would increase production costs.

The guidelines, last summer, were just a guess. In contrast, EFSA was already working, at the behest of the European Parliament, on a scientific opinion on animal welfare in rabbit farming to update the previous opinion, which dated back to 2005. And 15 years later, on 9.1.20 experts from the European Food Safety Authority delivered their conclusions on the subject. (2)

Animal welfare campaigns in rabbit farming meanwhile continue. Back in 2016, with its ‘Courage Rabbit’ campaign, the LAV (Anti-Vivisection League) documented the suffering of these caged animals and started a petition drive to even ban the consumption of their meat. With the goal of obtaining its legal status as a companion animal, on par with dogs and cats. However, this proposal was not followed up.

The cages of shame

The Campaign End the Cage Age by Compassion In World Farming (CIWF), on the other hand, has garnered wide support. In fact, it was the signature collection organized by CIWF, the leading NGO committed to the welfare of food-farmed animals that forced the European Parliament to address the issue and mandate EFSA to issue a scientific opinion.

The conditions of caged rabbits are now found to be intolerable. The animals, confined in reticulated cages detached from the ground and as small as an A4 sheet of paper, cannot move. They injure their legs and get sick. And even the most virtuous supply chains in Italian animal husbandry – such as those organized by Coop Italia, with its ‘Alleviamo Salute’ program – have so far failed to exclude the use of antibiotics in rabbit farming. Although WHO, in its report 29.4.19 on antibiotic resistance, stressed that ‘thereis no time to waste.

Notes

(1) V. ISMEA – Rabbit Markets Report. Update to week no. 52 December 16 to 29, 2019

(2) Søren Saxmose Nielsen, Julio Alvarez, Dominique Joseph Bicout, Paolo Calistri, Klaus Depner, Julian Ashley Drewe et al. Health and welfare of rabbits farmed in different production systems. Scientific Opinion EFSA Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) 2020. https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2020.5944

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".