Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Easter Is No Holiday for "Meat" Rabbits

Humane Society of the United States
Factory Farming Campaign April 7, 2006

For millions of Americans, rabbits are a cherished part of our families. Living in homes as beloved companions and family members, they show us affection and provide us with joy. These intelligent, social, and playful animals form incredibly close bonds with other rabbits and their human families. Their personalities and preferences are as distinct as those of any cat or dog—they can be active or laid-back, affectionate or grumpy, rambunctious or quiet.

Rabbits even hold a place in the fabric of our culture. Each springtime, the Easter Bunny makes his highly anticipated visits to millions of American homes, and has become an ubiquitous icon treasured by children and adults alike.

Yet each year in the United States, approximately 8.5 million rabbits are raised and slaughtered in ways that would shock any compassionate person. These rabbits live and die in ways that draw a shocking contrast to the compassionate regard with which Americans treat rabbits in their homes. A new investigation by East Bay Animal Advocates (EBAA) documents this treatment, revealing terrible conditions at one of California's rabbit slaughter plants, including intensive confinement in wire cages, unsanitary conditions, and denial of veterinary care for sick rabbits.

Inhumane, But Not Unusual

The conditions spotlighted by the investigation are not unusual in the rabbit meat industry. Many of the industry’s approximately 200,000 U.S. producers keep animals in restrictive cages similar to conditions endured by most of the country's egg-laying hens. As many as six baby rabbits can be crowded into a wire enclosure that affords each animal the same amount of floor space as a sheet of legal-sized paper. Such intensive confinement can cause mobility problems, spine deformation, sores, and infections.

After birth, baby rabbits are often weaned early, causing stress and sometimes health disorders and illnesses such as pneumonia. Once separated from their mothers and moved into cages, the young rabbits—called "fryers"—languish for approximately 9 to 10 weeks, at which point producers typically load the rabbits into trucks and ship them long distances for processing at one of the few rabbit slaughterhouses in the country.

During slaughter, commercial processors may attempt to first stun rabbits by breaking their necks. However, it is difficult to stun "meat rabbits" effectively this way, because they are too large to handle easily. Rabbits are slaughtered using a number of other inhumane methods, including having their heads struck with a piece of iron pipe, having their necks cut before being hung up to be "bled out," and by decapitation. Many smaller breeders slaughter rabbits themselves and may even shoot them with pellet guns or break their necks by standing on a broom handle laid over rabbits' necks.

Little Protection from Abuse

Few protections exist for the millions of rabbits raised in confinement for meat each year. Only a small fraction of the approximately 200,000 U.S. rabbit producers are federally inspected, and USDA certification is currently on a voluntary basis.

Rabbits also lack protections from inhumane slaughter practices. In 1958, Congress passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) to address concerns about abusive slaughter practices. The HMSA requires that "cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock" be slaughtered in accordance with humane methods. However, the USDA does not interpret the HMSA to include rabbits. Commercial processors are left subject to state laws, many of which exclude common agricultural practices, no matter how abusive.

Battery Bunnies

by Mark Hawthorne (This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of Satya Magazine.)

Despite being one of the most popular companion animals in the country, rabbits are among the most exploited. Domestic rabbits – cherished for their playful, gentle natures – are skinned for their fur, blinded to test cosmetics, bred for show, drugged in the name of science, clipped for wool products, pulled out of magicians’ hats, killed in vivisection labs, sold as food for pet snakes, and raised and shipped by breeders motivated only by profit. To add insult to all this injury, we chop off their paws and tout the rabbit’s foot as a “good luck” charm.

But the exploitation doesn’t end there. A 2002 rabbit industry report by the USDA suggests that 8.3 million rabbits are raised and slaughtered each year in this country to be served in restaurants and sold in grocery stores. Recent media coverage asserts rabbit meat is a growing U.S. industry, especially in southern states. With members in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, the Tri-State Rabbit Growers Association was formed in 2003, and its goal is to become an economic force in the food industry. “It’s alarming to see the growth of rabbit meat production in the South, where heavy development of chicken meat currently exists,” says Christine Morrissey, whose organization East Bay Animal Advocates (EBAA) investigates the rabbit-meat industry. “Like chicken, rabbit meat is gaining popularity as an alternative to red meat.”

The rabbit-meat industry has learned from the inhumane practices of the poultry and egg industries, often keeping animals packed in small wire battery cages that afford each rabbit the same amount of floor space as a sheet of legal-sized paper. Such confinement can cause a host of health problems, yet sick rabbits are routinely denied veterinary care. EBAA’s recent investigation of a processing facility in California found rabbits living in overstocked, unsanitary conditions, and a subsequent medical examination on several of these animals revealed respiratory and skin infections, diarrhea, and urine burns.

“Meat” rabbits are sold live to commercial processing plants, which market them to retail groceries and restaurants. Although a processor may first attempt to break a rabbit’s neck prior to slaughter, rabbits raised for their flesh are generally large and difficult to handle; consequently, rabbits are killed using a number of other cruel methods, including a blow to the head, decapitation, and by cutting their throats.

With intense competition from China, which exports frozen rabbit meat at low prices, commercial rabbit-meat groups in the U.S. are struggling to improve the supply, consistency, and market outlets for rabbits, according to the USDA. (Neither the Professional Rabbit Meat Association nor the Rabbit Industry Council would comment for this article.)

Do Rabbits Have Feathers?

In July 2005, the Humane Farming Association (HFA), Animal Rights International, and the Animal Welfare Institute placed a full-page advertisement in The New York Times criticizing the USDA for classifying rabbits as “poultry” to give them the same protection as chickens and turkeys – which is to say none whatsoever. By grouping rabbits with poultry, the USDA avoids including them in the 1958 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which the USDA interprets as excluding poultry. Among other things, this means that rabbits may be fully conscious while being slaughtered. The clever ad – it depicts three young rabbits above the headline “Please help these chickens” – details some of the suffering rabbits endure, including struggling to survive as they’re skewered with meat hooks.

“The Animal Disposition Reporting System clearly classifies all rabbits as poultry,” says Gail Eisnitz, Chief Investigator for HFA and author of Slaughterhouse. “In addition, all edible rabbit products are stamped with the mark of inspection that is used on federally inspected poultry products.” The USDA’s Animal Disposition Reporting System divides animals into two groups: livestock and poultry. It defines livestock as large animals and poultry as “chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, capons, rabbits, and other,” with a footnote explaining that because rabbits and poultry are nearly the same size, it is common practice to slaughter rabbits in poultry establishments; therefore, to simplify reporting from inspectors, rabbits are grouped with poultry.

Unfortunately, the USDA seems reluctant to discuss the issue. Although I could never get anyone at the agency to definitively answer my question “Are rabbits protected under HMSA?,” I did get a reply to my query about how they classify them. Rex Barnes, Associate Deputy Administrator of Poultry Programs for the USDA, attempted to clarify the matter by emailing this response: “While we do not classify rabbits as poultry, rabbit quality standards and grading are organizationally operated in the USDA, AMS [Agricultural Marketing Service], Poultry Programs.”

Humane Protection for All

Whether or not the USDA regards rabbits as poultry, agribusiness certainly treats them that way – the nine billion chickens raised and slaughtered each year in this country suffer unimaginable cruelty. In November of 2005, the Humane Society of the United States and EBAA filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging the USDA’s exclusion of poultry from HMSA. When reminded how evasive the USDA can be about the status of rabbits and their protection under HMSA, Jonathan Lovvorn, Vice President of Litigation for HSUS, isn’t surprised. “USDA is being purposefully vague,” he says. “They’re playing a definitional game with us, and that’s at the heart of our lawsuit against them.”

The combination of inhumane treatment and increased efforts to market their flesh clearly spell bad news for rabbits. Ironically, their popularity on dinner plates coincides with an increased appreciation for these animals as companions who form deep bonds with their human guardians. Like dogs and cats, rabbits are full of personality and thrive indoors. Yet we would be appalled to see Fido or Fluffy on the menu. Why should Thumper be any different?

Comment: Millions of rabbits are kept in intensive confinement and inhumanely slaughtered annually. One way to bring attention to this issue is to network with other animal activists and speak out. Lobby government for change, contact the media, and if rabbit is being served at a restaurant you know of, ask that it be removed.

January 15, 2012 The story of 18 rabbits liberated from Portland meat collective

April 14, 2012 California backyard butcher charged

April 4, 2012  Globally, rabbit farming has nearly doubled in the last 20 years (dates unreferenced) and has become much more intensive. There are no EU laws specifically protecting rabbits and these vulnerable animals have been ignored in an important part of the new EU slaughter regulations coming into force in 2013. They are completely defenceless against inhumane practices and cruelty. And, meat from rabbits kept in filthy, inhumane conditions is being sold across the UK and Europe.  Not only is it barbaric, you put yourself at risk if you eat it.

A recent investigation by Compassion in World Farming revealed high levels of suffering, and conditions so detrimental to their welfare that more than 15% of them die. All crammed together in tiny, barren wire cages. It’s shocking and cruel. Please be a voice for these gentle creatures. They need you. Laws must change – in Europe, Canada, and around the world.  


December 4, 2012 Take action against backyard slaughter


October 16, 2015 Hundreds Of Animals Rescued In Biggest-Ever Animal Cruelty Raid

Comment: It would be better for all of society if these sadists were put to death. When will we find the inherent immorality of such crimes intolerable? When will we be moved to put an end to these atrocities once and for all?