The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published a report scientific opinion on health and welfare of rabbits farmed in different production systems, highlighting the detrimental impact conventional cages have on the lives of farmed rabbits.
According to the report, the welfare scoring of conventional cages is the lowest among the six production systems of rabbit farming, for both meat and breeding rabbits. The main negative aspect of conventional cages revolves around their size which deprives rabbits of free movement and the performance of natural behaviours.
In 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on minimum standards for the protection of farmed rabbits and asked EFSA to provide a scientific opinion to facilitate the implementation of the resolution.
Despite EFSA issuing recommendations on improving conventional cages to enriched cages - by increasing their size and/or adding structures (e.g. platforms) as well as reducing stocking density – it is worth noting that enriched cages obtained the second worst welfare score for growing rabbits, and intermediate welfare impact scores for reproducing does and kits. As with conventional cages, restriction of movement was identified as the most severe welfare issue.
“We urge producers to avoid investing in enriched cages. They are a short-sighted solution which does not alleviate many of the important welfare concerns”, said Emma Slawinski , Director of Campaigns and Communications at Compassion in World Farming. “Consumers are increasingly rejecting products which derive from caged farm animals, as the example of laying hens has demonstrated. Sustainability is the future, cages are the past.”
Alternative farming systems are already available and, when well-designed and managed, floor pens, outdoor and organic systems have higher welfare potential.