Scientists’ report on welfare of farmed rabbits

07 March 2017
Download: The Welfare of Farmed Rabbits in Commercial Production Systems - A Scientific Review February 2017.pdf | Size (4.33MB)
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A new scientific report has found that “current legislation does not adequately address the welfare needs of rabbits within existing farmed systems”.

The independent report reviewing ‘The Welfare of Farmed Rabbits in Commercial Production Systems’ was written by researchers from the University of Bristol and commissioned by Compassion in World Farming. It comprises an independent review of the scientific literature on rabbits, incorporating knowledge of their natural behaviour and biology in the wild, and studies of their welfare in European production systems.

Campaigning for rabbit welfare

The vast majority of Europe’s rabbits are confined to barren wire cages, so restricted they are unable to even take a single hop. Rabbits have been at the forefront of Compassion’s campaigning efforts for many years, and are part of our landmark campaign to End the Cage Age in Europe.

Row of inboxes in EU parliament with petition inside

Children's drawings delivered to MEP inboxes

Our undercover investigations exposed their terrible living conditions and we showed EU citizens’ support of our call for change, presenting a 600,000 signature-strong petition to Europe’s Agriculture Ministers and delivering hand-drawn pictures of rabbits from Europe’s children to all 751 MEPs.

The European Parliament is beginning to listen: a report by German MEP Stefan Eck , calling for minimum standards for Europe’s rabbits, has been backed by the Agriculture Committee in a vote that took place in January 2017. We are now pushing for MEPs to vote in favour of Stefan Eck’s report in the plenary session of the European Parliament (scheduled for 14th March 2017), calling on the European Commission to bring in legislation to ban the use of cages across the EU.

The scientific report on ‘The Welfare of Farmed Rabbits in Commercial Production Systems’ has been hand delivered to all MEPs; science shows them that improvements in standards are long overdue.

What’s more, we’ve put up billboards in Brussels which remind MEPs to vote on the 14th March to End the Cage Age for rabbits.

Consensus from scientists, vets and producers

Compassion in World Farming is pushing for legislation that will ensure that rabbits have a life worth living. And we are not alone:

  • Professor David Morton, leading rabbit welfare expert and former member of the EFSA Scientific Committee, also urged MEPs to support Stefan Eck’s report. In his letter, he concluded “rabbits are being (ab)used as biological units of meat production and not sentient beings as required under EU legislation. Rabbits lag behind the welfare standards that we now have adopted for many of the other farmed species. Consequently, legislation should be passed to phase cage systems out. As alternative systems already exist which are producing rabbits in higher welfare conditions, the EU Commission and Member States should be supporting the uptake of more modern husbandry systems and the producers who are using them and encouraging others to follow suit”.
  • The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) is an umbrella organisation of veterinary organisations from 38 European countries. They have written their recommendations in a report to MEPs and telling them that “rabbits are sentient beings and need to be treated accordingly. They, like other intensively reared animals, require legislation to protect their health and welfare”.
  • Prominent welfare scientists have sent letters to MEPs, urging them to vote for rabbit legislation: Professor Andrew Knight (University of Winchester), Dr Richard Saunders (Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund), Professor Emeritus Bo Algers (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) and Dr Laura Dixon (Scotland’s Rural College) are among those who offer their support.
  • Forward-thinking producers are also supporting the move away from cages; the cooperative Terrena state: “With its New Agriculture initiative, the cooperative Terrena aims to define a farming model that addresses societal concerns - one that is more respectful of humans and animals while remaining economically viable. It is within this context that we are currently developing an innovative farming model for rabbits in collective parks, which will progressively replace our current cage systems. We are indeed convinced that the park system for fattening rabbits is an asset in terms of animal welfare and societal acceptability. Today, they are used for specialised production due to economical limitations, however we hope to make parks a farming model in the future.”

The support for Europe’s rabbits is growing, and the upcoming vote is the closest we have come to securing new legislation for Europe’s farmed animals in over a decade. Join us to help End the Cage Age and improve welfare for millions of rabbits.


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We are not alone in thinking that rabbit farming systems need to improve.

In 2016, eminent Professor David Morton stated that “rabbits are being (ab)used as biological units of meat production and not sentient beings as required under EU legislation… legislation should be passed to phase cage systems out”.