Breeding in conventional cages does not ensure the welfare of rabbits, concludes the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in a series of three scientific opinions on rabbit breeding, published on Thursday, January 9th. The main obstacle to their natural behavior, according to EFSA, is the restriction of movement, while leporids love to run, jump and frolic. The European Agency highlights other problems associated with cells: the inability to hide and the violation of rest.
Rabbits are the second species bred in Europe, after broiler chickens, in terms of the number of animals. European production (second in the world after China) is 83% concentrated in Spain, France and Italy. Every year in France, 29 million individuals are bred for food, 99% of them grow in wire cages without any adaptations. In ordinary cages, a height of 35 cm does not allow the animal to stand on its hind legs – an instinctive reflex characteristic of rabbits. They are under 600 cm2 headroom (slightly smaller than an A4 sheet). Alternative farms are very marginal, with only a dozen organic farms (outdoors) registered in France.
While rabbits are subject to general protection standards that apply to all farm animals, there are no sector-specific European or French regulations that, for example, set a maximum density, e.g. c This applies to broilers, chickens – laying hens or pigs. In March 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Commission to pass a law to phase out cage-farming of rabbits. The EFSA was then brought in to provide a scientific opinion on the living and slaughter conditions of these animals.
In a copy returned two years later, the European agency calls for cages to be enlarged and “enriched” (through adaptations that allow rabbits to express their natural behaviors, such as hiding or jumping). EFSA believes that organic outdoor farms provide the best conditions for animals. In a message regarding the logging, the agency is concerned that “Electrical stunning of animals cannot[ne] do not always make them unconscious, causing pain and stress”, and suggests indicators and corrective actions. In general, EFSA calls for a better statistical review of rabbit breeding conditions in order to be able to monitor the sector.
In addition to housing problems, rabbit production is experiencing a very strong intensification. Rabbits reach slaughter weight in 70 days, with growth from 38 to 45 g / day. Females have a very stable litter rate, giving birth to about ten babies per litter and inseminating between 11 and 18 days after each birth. They reform in a year, if they do not die earlier (breeders have a mortality rate of about 30%). In general, this sector has a high mortality rate, around 20%, as rabbits are fragile animals whose chance of infection is exacerbated by the high densities they are exposed to.
“Rabbit farming is in crisis and more and more farms cannot find buyers, explains Amélie Legrand of Compassion in World Agriculture (CIWF). In France, we have a very significant drop in consumption. We must develop alternatives that bring back consumers who refuse this type of meat. » The Association believes that, in addition to the biological model in the open air, intermediate systems of collective parks or large enclosures with better soil and burrows for shelter should be encouraged.
Together with 170 other non-governmental organizations, the CIWF launched a “European Citizens’ Initiative” demanding a ban on the use of cages in all types of farming, which has collected more than a million signatures and is due to be the subject of a response from the European Commission. Without waiting for European regulations, several countries passed specific legislation for the rabbit sector, such as Austria or Belgium which banned cages, or Germany and the Netherlands which set standards governing density and comfort.
In France, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume has been overseeing for months that measures “strong” will be taken in relation to the welfare of farm animals. But so far, only two measures have been announced – a halt to the pounding of male chickens and a ban on live castration of piglets – which have left the animal rights association unsatisfied. According to the ministry, other provisions will be announced immediately before the agricultural show at the end of February.