Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Rabbits - raised for fur, wool, meat, and vivisection
Rabbits are raised for four distinct production markets, none of them overlapping: fur, wool, meat, and vivisection. The UN clearly reports that no fur is retrieved from meat slaughterhouses, where it is discarded or used for fertilizer. Usually described in terms of shipping weight, the worldwide population of farmed rabbits exceeds one million metric tons and yields more than a billion pelts, principally from China. In France alone, 70 million are killed every year for their fur.
The Rex strain of rabbits, bred specifically for their fur, are factory farmed in small hutches less than a meter square that are meant to hold 6–8, but usually 12 are crammed in together. Like chickens or mink in battery cages, rabbits are doomed to spend their short lives caged in huge, endless sheds. At 6–7 months, they will be decapitated and bled, or their throats will be cut, or their necks will be broken. Rabbits have a natural lifespan of 10–13 years.
The preparation of rabbit pelts for the fur trade is highly labor intensive, but it still requires expertise in handling. In spite of this fact, the UN (through its Food and Agriculture Organization) promotes rabbit husbandry as suitable for developing countries only because rabbits are prolific and breeding stock is cheap. The small pelts are matched into bundles and shipped to manufacturers for garments, gloves, hats, linings, and lap rugs. It takes 30–40 rabbit pelts for a coat. Rabbit fur is a major component of the trim industry and is used for collars and cuffs in outerwear, dolls, toys, and novelty gifts. Fur trim alone is thought to be a half-billion dollar industry.
The Angora rabbit is farmed in highly intensive factory farms and its wool is used to produce very fine yarn for knitwear like sweaters, baby clothes, mittens, as well as for wool-blend textiles and hats. The value of Angora is 50 times that of sheep wool.
These rabbits are kept in semi-darkness because they are albino. Their living conditions, long sets of hutches with wire-grid floors, are very similar to the housing encountered on industrialized mink farms. Units of 200 to 1,000 hybrid does are reared in three or four-story tiers of cages, in buildings with artificial lighting and ventilation. Rabbit farming is a labor-intensive enterprise, requiring a degree of skill and training from the workers, and therefore it has high production costs. UN agencies, like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), promote rabbit farming as a good industry for underdeveloped countries because rabbits breed quickly and provide inexpensive protein. This applies more to farming rabbits for meat or fur, which are completely distinct businesses. The FAO has spent over 10 years supporting the concept of backyard rabbitries as examples of sustainable development with extensive programs in 10 countries in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Most of these projects have been failures. As far as Angora production is concerned, rabbit hair farms are financially highly risky.
France, once the leader in the production of Angora yarn, is no longer able to compete in world markets, in spite of killing 70 million rabbits a year for its meat trade. Italy, which is reported to be the largest consumer of rabbit meat for the table, is in a similar position. Both countries, nonetheless, import a great deal of Angora for textiles and clothing. Today, about 90 percent of production comes from China, followed by Chile and Argentina.
In France, rabbit hair is pulled, not sheared, which is traumatic for the rabbits, producing shock. This technique requires expertise in handling and can take an hour for each animal. Plucking causes considerable pain when the timing is not precise. Outside of France, most rabbits are shorn every 90–100 days, with hand scissors or electric shears. Some rabbits can yield a satisfactory amount of quality hair for 8–10 years, yet the highest quality comes from does at 6–9 months (at which point they are usually killed). In China, with its annual production of 20 million rabbits, they are generally slaughtered quite young, after the second or third clipping. In Asia, 50–70% of the cash return for each animal is gained from the hair; the balance is drawn from the export trade of rabbit meat to Europe.
Comment: All of us have the power to force change. If there wasn't a demand there would be no business. In Ontario, Canada there are 725 registered rabbit breeders, a shocking statistic. (2007)