2012: Factory farming’s best kept secret
In 2012, our team visited rabbit farms in France, Spain and Italy - where more than three quarters of all rabbit farming in the EU takes place. What they found was suffering on a huge scale. And, as our 2014 investigation into rabbit farming revealed, these terrible conditions are not limited to just these three countries.
Appalling suffering was documented; rabbits kept in tiny, bare wire cages, unable to move freely or express their natural desires to dig or hide. Rabbit faeces were built up under the cages – piled up to knee-height in places. And there were bins – full of dead rabbits.
Watch the ground breaking footage
Please be aware this video contains scenes of a distressing nature.
The eyewitness account of an investigator
Warning: some people may find this account distressing
The lid of a bin was opened and inside was a mass of dead rabbits, no more than a few weeks old.
This was my first experience of an intensive rabbit farm and it came as a shock.
I was on a rabbit farm in a region of Spain well known for farming rabbits. The farm was ramshackle and just about standing up. Unlike some of the more industrial units I’d visit later into this investigation, this place was part open-sided, with plastic sheets used instead of concrete walls. Wire mesh cages were strewn about the place and guard dogs barked continuously in the hope of actually getting fed.
Part-exposed to the sun were rows of battery cages, not dissimilar to those previously used for egg laying hens which are now banned across the EU.
Bundles of white fluff were spilling out from the wire mesh of one barren battery cage but on closer inspection I could see it was 8 baby rabbits. The next cage was the same and the next...in fact; there was cage after cage crammed full of baby rabbits.
Dripping urine and rabbit faeces had built up underneath the cages.....mounds piled up knee-high in several sections and they looked like they’d not been cleaned out for weeks.
Dust and grime were everywhere – coating the fixtures and hanging down from the roof as if this was some kind of ghost farm – abandoned and forgotten. The owners just didn’t care.
Looking up from underneath the cages, I saw hundreds of tiny paws standing on bare metal wire – there was not one element of comfort for these poor rabbits. These were battery cages at their most barren. There was nothing in here to stimulate their interest, but even if there was, there would be no space for them to stand a chance of behaving more naturally.
Some looked weak and if I was to come back in a few days I would probably find them in a bin with the others.
This rabbit farm was the worst of the worst – it was the dirtiest and most squalid of factory farms I’ve ever visited and the suffering was appalling. Sadly things weren’t much different on my visits to rabbit farms in France and Italy, where I documented more of the same. It’s a filthy business in more than one way.
This isn’t farming, it’s ‘stamped for approval cruelty’ on an industrial scale.
We must stop the suffering
Since this investigation has taken place, Compassion has identified humane alternatives to farming rabbits in cages. Yet, as this and our 2014 investigation show, rabbit farming in Europe still has a long way to go.
Over 330 million rabbits are farmed in the EU every year for meat, and over 99% of them spend their short lives confined in cages. That is why Compassion has launched its biggest campaign yet: the campaign to End the Cage Age.
Compassion believes that if rabbits are to be farmed then we have a responsibility to ensure that they are kept in humane farming systems. All farm animals should be allowed to live a life free from pain and mental distress, and be able to express their natural behaviours.
Keeping thousands of rabbits in small, barren cages is completely unacceptable and we must stop the suffering of all Europe’s rabbits. We banned the barren battery cage for hens and now we must do the same for rabbits.
Rabbit meat available in the UK that is not labelled from a higher welfare system is almost certainly inhumanely farmed. Please tell your friends not to buy it and help us spread awareness by sharing our campaign with your friends, using the links below.
How you can help
Currently, rabbits have no species specific protection under EU welfare laws and have been left out of an important part of the 2013 EU slaughter regulations. This means these animals are totally vulnerable to the kind of horrific treatment we witnessed during our investigations. Take action now:
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2014: The biggest secret of the Cage Age
During the summer of 2014, Compassion in World Farming’s Investigation Unit went undercover to visit 16 rabbit factory farms in 5 countries – Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Poland and Cyprus.
Rabbits have not been domesticated for very long compared to other domesticated animals. The ancestor of both farmed and pet rabbits is the wild European rabbit we still see today.
Investigations: our code of conduct
All Compassion investigators follow a code of conduct.