Crammed into battery cages and suffering in horrific conditions, these beautiful white rabbits may be destined for pet food bought by unsuspecting consumers in the US and abroad.
They will never see daylight or forage on grass, instead they will spend their lives painfully on wire floors – sometimes alongside the carcasses of dead cage-mates – in order to let their waste fall through to a pit below them.
Many have had their ears chewed off, their bodies covered in ulcerating sores, rock from side to side to relieve the pain from bleeding, ulcerated paws.
Appalling cruelty found
Evidence of appalling standards of rabbits raised in factory farms are the result of undercover investigations conducted by international animal welfare groups Compassion in World Farming, Four Paws International and the French organization L214.
During the summer of 2014, their undercover investigators visited 16 rabbit farms in 5 countries – Italy, Greece, the Czech Republic, Poland and Cyprus.
What they found was appalling cruelty, unimaginable suffering, a glimpse into the miserable lives of more than 330 million rabbits slaughtered every year for their meat.
They witnessed widespread fungal infections that left fur falling off and ulcerating sores on their skin. An investigator reported that so much white fur was falling from the rabbits in some rearing sheds that it looked as though it had been snowing:
“The walkway looked like fresh snow – except it was rabbit fur – a white carpet, save for decomposing rabbits and an army of flies marching over them.
Many of the farms were filthy – fixtures and fittings were coated in dust, grime and fur. Dead baby rabbits were left to rot on top of their cage…Or they would lie motionless in the waste pits below, coated in droppings that fall through the wire mesh of the cage.”
Newborns are often left to fall through the sharp metal bars on the floor of their cramped hutches, where they are left to starve to death and die in the sewage pits under their cages:
“The small babies have their heads knocked against a cage edge. Sometimes the hit doesn’t kill them and they slowly die in the garbage. We’ve found bunnies alive in the feces pit under the cages.”
Little pink toes
An investigator shared her fear for the future for rabbits:
“My heart sank as I looked down at a bundle of new-born rabbits at the front of their mother’s cage. Their little pink toes twitched as they slept. Were they dreaming? With their eyes yet to open for the first time, they had no idea where they were or what lay ahead of them. Looking around the factory at the vast sheds filled with hundreds of miserable rabbits I could see their future only too clearly; a life defined by extreme confinement.”
Pet food industry’s response
Typically, the pet food industry’s responses were bereft of feeling or a sense of responsibility.
Nestle Purina said it had instigated an audit of all its suppliers. The results of which are unlikely to ever be made public.
Mars Petcare said it was “really concerned” about caged farming and added “as a precautionary measure we will reassess the situation with our rabbit suppliers and will make any changes necessary”.
Michael Bellingham, of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association in the UK, said:
“If there is evidence that poor welfare is commonplace, rather than being an isolated incident, then our members are committed to work with their supply chain to look at how best to improve farmed rabbit welfare,”
Adding, that the association will investigate the matter further, but he pointed out that,
“No rabbit or any other animal is specifically reared and slaughtered for pet food. Pet food manufacturers use ingredients that are surplus to the human food chain. Any rabbit meat in pet foods is a by-product of rabbits raised for human consumption. It is estimated that the pet food industry uses 10-20% of the total rabbit meat imported in to the UK.”
Assurances of audits and a reassessment of their suppliers are positive steps, however if the pet food manufacturers do not act on their findings or make public the results of their audits, their statements are but hollow assurances meant merely to placate the public.
There are no animal welfare laws that protect farm animals, they are raised in secret, hidden from public scrutiny. There are no EU-wide laws against intensive farming of rabbits, and the vast majority of more than 330 million rabbits slaughtered every year in Europe for their meat live in the type of battery cages that were outlawed for chickens in 2012.
Although the investigation involved farms in Europe, pet food manufacturers in the US. source rabbit meat suppliers all over the globe.
And more and more Chinese rabbit meat producers are entering the world market, and their products are increasingly finding their way into the global marketplace. Rabbits on farms in China are also kept in cages, leading to the same sorts of problems for the animals with which we are already familiar with in Europe.
How ethical is pet food?
Pet food is no more or less ethical than any meat-based product on the market, whether for man or animal. Most meat based products are based on the systemic abuse of animals who are raised in concentration camp like factory farms.
Concentrated feeding operations are, essentially, a form of legal torture where animals spend their entire lives enduring a life of suffering and pain. Raised in squalor, forced to live on top of their own waste, choking on the fumes produced by the vast accumulation feces and urine, combined with the stench of the decaying remains of dead cage mates, where open sores, festering wounds, broken bones, and disease are a way of life. There is no comfort to be had in those places, no kindness, no warmth, just the constant din of the deafening cries of pain and terror.
What is critical to realize is that the rabbits in this story are no different from the millions of other unfortunate animals – chickens, pigs and cows – that are forced to endure live lives of abject misery in factory farms across the globe.
Sadly, the pet food industry helps prop up factory farming by using meat and by-products from animals all too often kept in the most appalling conditions.
The hidden cruelty in pet food
The pet food industry needs to look closely at the ethics involved in the ingredients they may be using, they must do more to support higher welfare farming and label their products clearly so consumers can make an informed choice about what they buy.
One way for consumers to make ethical choices is to look for products with Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved labels. Unless a manufacturer has third-party certification verifying humane welfare standards, you can assume the animals used in your pet food lived a tortured life.
You have the power to create change
I think that pet parents would be absolutely mortified if they knew that the food they were feeding their cats and dogs was linked to such horrific cruelty and that their cat or dog was being fed on the misery of another.
It’s something many of us don’t consider, and most would certainly rather not think about, but inside nearly every bag and can of pet food lies an animal welfare tragedy.
If we buy pet food with rabbit meat or any other meat or poultry that is not certified humane, then we may be unwitting participants in helping support the inhumane practice of factory farming.
What you can do
- Call on manufacturers to stop using caged rabbit meat in their products and only use ingredients that are farmed in high welfare systems.
- Don’t buy any pet food with rabbit meat, unless the rabbit meat comes from countries that have banned cage rearing of rabbits, e.g. Austria.
- Only buy meat that was raised using Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane farming methods.
- Sign the petition telling UK retailers to stop using imported caged rabbit meat in pet food.
- Sign the petition to make farming rabbits in cages illegal.
- Join the campaign to End the Cage Age.
WARNING: The footage in these videos is extremely disturbing and difficult to watch, but if you have ever bought pet food with rabbit meat in it, I urge you to be brave and watch it as painful as it is. We must not avert our gaze simply because it is too painful to look at, because without awareness we cannot know why we need to make humane choices when purchasing pet food.
NOTE: I was prompted to write this story after reading several news articles in UK publications about the abuses on rabbit farms linked to pet food. Although the reports were published on September 24, 2015, the investigations occurred in 2014.
Additionally, it is unclear to me why the news articles and the investigations focused on the link between rabbit farming and pet food, because typically animals are raised for human consumption and the by-products from that are diverted to animal feed/pet food.
Despite these questions, once having seen the reports, I could not ignore it. I must emphasize, that regardless of when the investigations occurred, that intensive farming (concentrated animal feeding operations) for all animal species is horrific, whether it be for rabbits, poultry, pigs or cattle.
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