A leap in the right direction for Europe’s farmed rabbits

The welfare problems created by ever-increasing intensification of animal farming are affecting a surprising array of species. The following invited article about those impacts on rabbits, and key recent developments in the campaign to protect them, was authored by James West, Senior Campaign Manager at our partner organisation Compassion in World Farming

At Compassion in World Farming one of our flagship campaigns is End the Cage Age: we are aiming to eliminate the farming of animals in cages throughout the EU. I am delighted to share that this campaign took a positive hop forward for rabbits at the end of January, following a vote by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.

Members voted in favour of a report, which is backed by many scientists, which could result in the protection and improvement of the welfare of Europe’s 320 million (1) farmed rabbits. This is potentially huge news and is the closest we have come to securing new legislation for Europe’s farmed animals in over a decade, so it is vital for us to keep the pressure up on Europe’s decision makers and ensure progress on this issue.

Currently, over 99% of rabbits farmed for meat in the EU spend their lives confined in tiny, barren cages. There are very serious welfare issues affecting rabbits in these systems. The floor space and height is often so restricted that caged rabbits are frequently unable to move around and adopt normal postures such as lying stretched out, sitting and standing with their ears erect, turning around comfortably or even taking a single hop.


Figure 1. Farmed rabbits in a barren cage

Unfortunately, the amendment that would have included the introduction of species-specific legislation did not pass. We will battle on in the drive for this legislation in the plenary session in March.

However, the Agriculture Committee voted in favour of many recommendations within the report, including EU member states needing to encourage rabbit farmers to phase out conventional battery cages and replace them with higher welfare but affordable alternatives, such as park systems.

Compassion has exposed farmed rabbits’ terrible plight over the years through undercover investigations and achieved mass media coverage for two investigations, one in 2012 and one in 2014, helping to raise awareness of this cruel trade.

Last May we presented a 600,000 signature-strong petition to Europe’s Agriculture Ministers, calling for an end to the farming of rabbits in cages, and recently we asked children throughout the EU to send in rabbit drawings of how they believe rabbits should be kept. Unsurprisingly, these are pictures of rabbits outdoors, featuring vast green, grassy fields with words such as ‘freedom’ and ‘no cages’ strewn across them. We delivered these drawings to MEPs ahead of last Wednesday’s vote urging them to vote in favour of the report.

We will continue to lobby MEPs in the coming weeks and push for legislation, and the other recommendations within the report. This has brought farmed rabbits to the forefront of the public and political agenda, and now that they are on the agenda, we intend to keep them there.

1. Estimated FAOSTAT figures for 2010-13