On 25 October, Compassion played host to a conference in Rome entitled “Rabbit farming: new solutions from animal welfare”.
The event focussed on the current state of rabbit farming in Italy and the opportunities that may result from adopting higher welfare, cage-free systems.
Speakers at the conference included representatives from the Italian Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, together with the president of Assoavi – one of the main rabbit producer associations in Italy, an Italian cage-free rabbit farmer and German wholesaler BreFood, who produce higher welfare rabbit meat.
Until a few years ago, Italy was the market leader in the European rabbit industry, but today the country is suffering from increased imports, and competition from Spain and France in particular. During the discussions it emerged that the Italian rabbit sector was facing a difficult time and that positive change was needed.
In Italy, the vast majority of farmed rabbits are reared in barren battery cages where the animals have little space to move, to raise up on their hind legs or even lie down. These systems seriously affect the welfare of rabbits and make it impossible to meet the growing demand of consumers that increasingly consider animal welfare as an essential part of food quality.
Presentations given by BreFood and the Italian rabbit farmer demonstrated that cage-free alternatives do exist and that higher welfare rabbit farming can be sustainable on a commercial scale.
By investing in higher welfare systems the Italian rabbit industry can emerge from its current crisis, but for this to be successful the cooperation of the whole supply chain is needed, from the Ministry of Agriculture to civil society, together with producers, manufacturers and supermarket retailers.
Elisa Bianco, Compassion’s Food Business Manager in Italy, said: "To have so many key participants from the rabbit industry at the conference was a very important indicator. The Italian rabbit sector is going through a difficult time so it’s critical now to choose the right way forward - to invest in systems that are future-proofed and that meet the growing consumer demand for higher welfare food.
The shift we have seen in the egg industry is reflective of the attitudes of consumers who do not wish any animals to be caged for the production of food. We hope the rabbit industry follows suit by investing in cage-free systems for rabbits that will be fit for the future.”