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Life behind bars: the plight of Europe's rabbits

News Section Icon Published 08/03/2016


Europe’s rabbits are in peril. Each year, hundreds of millions of these creatures are made to endure unbelievable suffering inside squalid factory farms. Sounds more like medieval torture than 21st-century farming, right? If only that were true.

Imagine living your entire life in a cage that’s barely bigger than you. There’s no room to move about or stretch, no sunlight or fresh air, and no change of scene – it’s just you, the bars that incarcerate you, a debilitating monotony and the stench of ammonia filling the air, from piles of waste mounting up on the factory floor below.

Unbelievably, this is how 330 million rabbits are forced to live every year in Europe – in the name of progress and productivity. It’s a barbarity we’re campaigning to end, with your incredible (and growing) support.

Real life for rabbits

Rabbits might be popular pets, but they also happen to be the second most farmed animal in Europe, after chickens. Of those that are farmed, a staggering 99% are kept in cages, leaving them unable to stand upright with their ears up, dig or hide, hop, skip or jump, or perform any of their other natural behaviours.

To keep them alive just long enough to get to slaughter, these sensitive animals are dosed up with five to seven times more antibiotics than factory-farmed chickens and pigs, which is quite something. All in all, it’s a shocking business, brought about – as with all factory farming – by a focus on production (in this case, for meat) above all else.

Our biggest petition 

In 2014, we launched our rabbit campaign as part of a wider campaign to End the Cage Age, which aims to bring all caged animal farming in Europe to its knees in the next ten years.

We decided to focus on rabbit farming first because of the cruelty that characterises much of the industry, from the mind-boggling numbers of animals affected to the disgusting conditions and high mortality rates inside factories. We felt strongly that it was something people needed to know about, talk about and make a stand against.

And our instincts are proving right. So far, 600,000 of you have added your names to our petition, making it our biggest ever!

A cause to care about

So why is our rabbit campaign, in particular, attracting so much attention, given that all our campaigns aim to make life better for the planet’s billions of factory-farmed animal species?

Is it because our investigation video is so shocking, with its hard-to-swallow close-ups of rabbits experiencing constant stress, discomfort and disease? Is it because many of us have an attachment to these creatures that harks back to our childhoods, when we had a pet bunny or made fictional friends of Peter Rabbit and Bugs Bunny? Or is it down to a broader societal shift in the form of a growing movement of people who find this sort of mass animal cruelty simply unacceptable?

Whatever it is (and it’s probably all these things combined!), the important thing is that people are sitting up, listening and taking action, and that’s fantastic news for rabbits.

A growing movement

In February, we made the leap year the focus of our rabbit campaign on social media, with celebrities and artists – including the much-loved children’s book illustrator Anita Jeram – presenting hand-drawn pictures of rabbits along with the slogan: “I’ve taken the leap for rabbits. Will you?”. In an incredible show of support, hundreds of you got involved with likes, comments and shares and our petition grew by 100,000 signatures in less than a month.

Only a few months before this, at the end of 2015, we launched our Good Rabbit Award, which publicly recognised food company BreFood for rejecting battery cages in favour of a higher-welfare system for the 1.2 million rabbits it produces every year. Such a development is yet more evidence of our changing times.

Thankfully, rabbit factory farming is now well and truly in the public consciousness. When faced with the sheer horror of animal cruelty on this appalling scale – which, until now, has remained largely behind closed doors – people cannot help but feel disgusted.

What next?

Although we won’t call our campaign a hopping, skipping, jumping success until every barren battery cage for rabbits has been outlawed, it’s certainly gathering momentum fast. And when it comes to creating change, snowballing impetus and engagement is key – especially if we’re to end a global menace like factory farming.

As James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator, so rightly said in the build-up to the British election in May 2010: “In a campaign, momentum matters.”

To date, 600,000 of you have registered your extreme dissatisfaction with the way Europe’s rabbits are being treated and want the EU Commission to take action. That’s a very big number, and it would be foolish for the powers that be to turn a blind eye.

But we’re not stopping there. Our campaign is just taking wing and we want to see it grow bigger and more powerful still. After all, what could help Europe’s rabbits more than our ceaseless compassion and commitment to the cause, en masse?

Right now, millions of rabbits are suffering in cages. Every one of us has the power to reject this way of farming and call for better. Every single voice helps.

Have you signed our rabbit petition? Add your name to help make Europe’s policy-makers sit up, listen and improves lives for rabbits everywhere.


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