With the recent news that rabbit battery farming could return to Britain for the first time in 15 years, more people are thinking about rabbit welfare issues and whether rabbits are in fact an acceptable source of meat.
Most people are opposed to battery farming of any animal; there have been many campaigns recently against battery chickens and it seems a step in the wrong direction to reintroduce it for rabbits. The UK only consumes in the region of 3,000 tonnes of rabbit meat a year but with supermarkets reporting a huge increase in demand thanks to the endorsement of some celebrity chefs, this is clearly changing. However, does the public want battery farmed rabbit, or even domestic rabbit meat, at all?
There is a clear difference between battery and free range farms, the latter allowing more natural behaviour such as digging, foraging, running and hiding. However, all rabbit farms produce a lot of waste and cost money and energy to run. There is another option right under our noses, one which is a considerable (and expensive) pest to farmers; is a sustainable and organic source, all in all a very environmentally friendly option – wild rabbit. Why not use this natural resource, help farmers and produce a win-win situation all round?
For me, however, the issue of farmed rabbit goes deeper. Rabbits have been kept as pets in the UK since Victorian times and the pet rabbits in this country by far outweigh the farmed or lab research rabbits. Our domestic rabbits have moved on from their roots as a source of food and fur and deserve the same respect and treatment as cats and dogs. This is critical to improving pet rabbit welfare; until the public understands that pet rabbits need far more than a hutch and a carrot now and then, the suffering of Britain’s rabbits will only increase. Seeing them relegated once again to small cages in a battery farm can only add to the general perception that rabbits are dumb animals who are quite happy to sit still 24-7 and calmly await their fate. The truth is that thousands of pet rabbits are suffering all over Britain right now at the hands of owners who know no better; who haven’t taken the time or trouble to find out what suffering is beneath that quiet, stoical face.
Rabbits are beloved pets for many people, living free range in their homes and at the very heart of the family. But they’ve travelled a long road to get there; let’s not undo all that good work now.