EU urged to improve lives of 340 million rabbits raised for food

European Parliament directive reveals rabbits are 'kept in old-fashioned cages' that leave a space per animal 'that is less than the area of two ordinary A4 sheets of paper'

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The European Parliament has urged lawmakers to improve the lives of 340 million rabbits raised for food in Europe every year.

Independent MEP Stefan Eck tabled a law on rabbits that calls for the animals to be protected in the same way as pigs or chickens raised for meat, which was quickly approved by the Parliament in Strasbourg. 

"There are regulations for pork, veal, and poultry chickens, but nothing at all for the protection of rabbits," he said.

Mr Eck joined the European Parliament as a member of an animal rights party and spoke passionately about the plight of rabbits.

He argued in his directive that rabbits are "kept in old-fashioned cages" that leave a space per animal "that is less than the area of two ordinary A4 sheets of paper."

The directive is not a law but effectively a plea to the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to take action to protect the animals. 

The directive also stated rabbits "are extremely sensitive animals and can suffer from a wide range of welfare problems and diseases caused by inappropriate breeding conditions, including fatal viruses, respiratory diseases and sore hocks from sitting on wire-mesh cage floors."

However, the European Commission denied there was a need for rabbits to receive the same special treatment as other farm animals.

"The Commission does not consider it appropriate to propose an initiative on the welfare of farm rabbits," said Consumer Affairs Commissioner Vera Jourova at a debate on the topic.

She said rabbit production in the EU "is essentially concentrated in a few member states mainly Italy, Spain and France", and therefore should remain a national concern.

Additional reporting by agencies