Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters

 

Inside a Rabbit Slaughterhouse: Cloverdale Rabbit Company

Located in Hollister (San Benito County), Cloverdale Rabbit Company is the second largest commercial rabbit meat slaughterhouse in California. Reaching 'slaughter age', meat rabbits are transported long distances from all areas of California, Oregon and Washington in overcrowded cages to Cloverdale.

Typically, Cloverdale processes 1,200 rabbits per week (manually killing at a rate of 100 rabbits per hour). According to the American Rabbit Breeders Association, rabbits arriving at Cloverdale usually weigh between 4.5 and 6 pounds. At this facility, cervical dislocation is administered to meat rabbits prior to decapitation. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that cervical dislocation is humane for rabbits weighing no more than 2.2 pounds. Therefore, Cloverdale is not using a viable stunning method.

Investigative Findings at Cloverdale

In 2006, East Bay Animal Advocates (EBAA) documented conditions at Cloverdale Rabbit Company. EBAA documented a series of animal welfare concerns (caged confinement; unsanitary living conditions; denial of veterinary care for sick rabbits) at Cloverdale:

Visit One
Under metal overhangs, the rabbits were housed in two doubled-side rows of wire holding cages. The stocking densities ranged from six to eleven rabbits per cage. Each cage was no wider than 1.5 feet. The vast majority of the cages had a high number of rabbits enclosed. As the stocking density increased, the rabbits had greater difficulty moving around. There was a strong ammonia odor from the rabbits’ urine and an accumulation of fecal waste below the cages. The bottoms of the cages were layered with cobwebs and rabbit hair. Rabbits in the cages were observed sneezing. The wiring of the cages was corroded. Some of the cages were poorly rigged—denying rabbits stable, level footing.

Visit Two
Located next to the holding enclosures, rabbits were left in the property truck's multi-tiered cages overnight exposed to rain. Nearly half of the cages on the live-haul truck were full. The rabbits were without food or water. The rabbits on the higher levels of the truck cages were defecating and urinating on the rabbits caged below. The rabbits on the truck could not moving around or lie comfortably. There were several loose rabbits circling the truck as well. In the nearby holding cages, high stocking densities of dirty holding cages were observed along with a pungent ammonia odor. A vast majority of the rabbits’ pelts were stained by urine and cage rust.

Visit Three
There were approximately ten rabbits housed in the entire holding cages area. The rabbits were held in several cages. Some of the rabbits were sneezing. One of the rabbits had several wounds on its ears and a blood-stained pelt. Another rabbit’s rear was caked with feces.

Visit Four
The condition of the holding cage area was identical to Visit One and Two. One rabbit had large abscesses on one of its hind legs and middle of its back. The rabbit could not use its back leg to move around.

Post Investigation

On April 11, 2006, EBAA submitted a formal animal cruelty complaint with the San Benito County authorities for further investigation of Cloverdale. Now, Hollister Animal Services monitor Cloverdale practices on a regular basis. 

Industry Overview

Defined as
multi-use animals, rabbits are raised for a wide variety of American markets, including pet sales, pelt trade, laboratory research, show circuits and food production. (1) The various rabbit sectors work in conjunction with each other.

Today, metropolitan grocery stores and high-end restaurants are the chief retailers of commercial rabbit meat. (2) Rabbit meat is also sold via the Internet (msn.com and amazon.com).

Americans consumed between 8 and 10 million pounds of rabbit meat annually (3). Each year over two million rabbits are raised and slaughtered for their meat across the country (4).

Breeding & Grow-Out Operations

For breeding purposes, does (female rabbits) and bucks (male rabbits) are individually housed in wire cages. (5) Social deprivation is a chief welfare concern in breeding adult rabbits. In the meat industry, each doe delivers 5 to 8 litters per year. (6) Typically, females rebred 14 to 28 days following the preceding litter. (7)

The rigorous pregnancy cycle is physically taxing on the mother rabbit and her kits (baby rabbits). The USDA reports that “mortality when the kits are in the pre-weaning stage can be up to 40 percent.” (8) Baby rabbits, known as kits, are weaned at an early age – resulting in sickness and trauma. After 18 months, breeding females are culled like ‘spent’ hens in modern egg production.

Pat Lamar, the President of the Professional Rabbit Meat Association, reports: “
The rabbit meat industry operates much the same as the poultry industry in the classification of meats.” (9) Fryer rabbits are in high demand on the American market. (10) Post-weaning, kits are live to group grow-out cages until they reach ‘slaughter weight’.

The living conditions of meat rabbits in the grow-out phrase are akin to the living conditions of chickens in battery-cage egg production. Fryers are group-raised in wire cages for
their 56 - 70 day lives. (11) The natural lifespan of a rabbit, in contrast, is approximately ten years.

The
White New Zealands and Californians are the most common breeds used in the meat sector. (12) Both breeds are known for “fast growth and high dressing percentages.” (13) As well, these medium-sized breeds are more marketable to processors who can profit from the sale of white pelts and by-products (i.e. brain and blood serum) in the fur and research sectors respectively. (14)

High stocking densities of cages are a common feature of modern rabbit meat operations. (15) “Controversy over the confinement rearing of social species of livestock (calves, poultry, swine) has been a primary welfare issue. Although little attention has been focused on rabbits, it is reasonable to assume that the same complaints of space restriction…are tenable,” researchers at
South Dakota State University report. (16)

“Rabbits are sensitive to the ammonia fumes created by their urine and the more densely packed the rabbits are, the more likely they are to develop medical problems related to concentration.” (17)

The Food and Agriculture Organization further determined “that the stress of cramped quarters…can contribute to ill health, including diarrhea and respiratory illnesses.” (18) Group confinement of rabbits can also frequently result in fur-plucking and ear-biting. (19)

Live-Haul Transport

Reaching market weight, meat rabbits are transported long distances via multi-tiered flatbed trucks. “The transport of rabbits to processing facilities can pose welfare questions similar to those raised for other livestock species. Separation, caging, crating and handling practices, mixing, food and water deprivation, noise, temperature, humidity, and other environmental changes are all variables that affect the physical and psychological welfare of animals.” (20)

Rabbit processing plants are few and far between. “
Many growers are forced to ‘ship’ their fryer rabbits to the nearest processing plant, which may be several states away. Very few rabbit processors are able to hire ‘route men’ to pick up fryer rabbits, resulting in the rabbit meat industry being highly dependent upon volunteer ‘Bunny Runners,’” states Lamar. (21) A ‘Bunny Runner’ is a rabbit meat producer who hauls the fryers of other producers to the nearest processing plant. (22)

Slaughter & Inspection

Known primarily as a backyard industry, American rabbit meat production is largely unregulated by federal authorities.
Meat rabbits are not protected by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The inspection of rabbits is not mandated by the Federal Meat Inspection Act or Poultry Products Inspection Act. (23) The regulation of meat rabbits falls within the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration.

According to USDA’s Animal Disposition Reporting System, rabbits are grouped with poultry for reporting purposes. (24)
Merely 20 – 25 percent of rabbit slaughterhouses are inspected by the USDA. (25)  “Rabbit slaughter facilities come in and out of production, and since 1985 there never been more than eight USDA-inspected facilities.” (26)

Rabbits are
slaughtered by either cervical dislocation or blunt-force to the skull. (27) “The preferred method is dislocation of the neck. The rabbit is held firmly by the rear legs and head; it is stretched full length. Then with a hard, sharp pull, the head is bent backward to dislocate the neck. The rabbit can also be struck a hard, quick blow to the skull behind the ears. A blunt stick or side of the hand is commonly used to incapacitate the rabbit. After dislocation or stunning, the rabbit is hung by one of the hind legs above the hock joint. The head is immediately removed to allow complete bleeding.” (28) At processing facilities, the optimal slaughter rate of rabbits is 100 per hour. (29)

The American Veterinary Medical Association says cervical dislocation is a humane stunning/killing procedure only if a rabbit weighs less than 2.2 pounds. (30)  Fryer rabbits are marketed at 4 – 6 pounds; thus cervical dislocation is not a viable method during rabbit slaughter. (31) “In larger animals the muscles are much thicker, making proper cervical dislocation difficult to do correctly." (32) Brain electrical activity is present for 13 seconds after cervical dislocation is performed. (33)

Lamar explains that “guidelines for the processing of rabbits intended for human consumption are often confusing and not well understood, even by the individual USDA and/or state facility inspectors. This unique limbo status of the rabbit has resulted in problems in the way of rabbit processing plants, since USDA inspection of rabbit meat is merely a very expensive option and without the government subsidization as provided for the processing of beef, pork and poultry.” (34)
 


Number of Alternative Livestock and Gamebirds Processed for Meat in Ontario 

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/alternat/facts/info_processed_stat.htm  

Author: Brian Tapscott - Alternative Livestock Specialist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 06 June 2003
Last Reviewed: 18 October 2007

In Provincial Plants (P), Federal Plants (F) or Provincial & Federal Plants (P+F)
except where noted

 

Livestock Species

Year

 

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

1998

1997

 

Fallow Deer (P)

302

275

330

335

683

495

358

409

399

386

 

Red Deer (P)

676

939

702

756

844

517

304

214

149

134

 

Elk (P)

1210

726

1762

706

336

245

189

546

28

11

 

Unspecified Deer (P+F)

81

645

1,398

360

360

2121

NA

1797

3197

1598

 

Total Deer & Elk (P+F)

2269

2585

3,892

2157

2223

3378

851*

2966

3773

2129

 

Bison (P+F)

459

443

285*

218*

168*

108*

98*

149

117

187

 

Llamas

55

18

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

Wild Boar (P+F)

206

275

401

417*

358*

504*

458*

1191

3295

988

 

Emu (F)

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

362

1308

4027

 

Ostrich (F)

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

0

0

151

 

Unspecified Ratites (P)

320

692

1,014

1,699

1467

1925

2824

4581

5721

2547

 

Total Ratites (P+F)

320

692

1,014*

1,699*

1467*

1925*

2824*

4943

7029

6725

 

Rabbits (P)

178,862

192,410

200,102

222,205

230,348

246,621

248,945

262,311

342,206

317,022

 

Pigeons (P)

97,640

81,217

85,662

99,580

112,965

125,338

116,461

79,694

86,784

57,317

 

Quail (P)

1,390,480

1,219,991

1,138,235

975,581

982,543

440,842

667,704

591,190

650,996

591,228

 

Pheasants (P)

1,779

3,330

3,753

3,361

3865

79,035**

78,576**

6986

9023

11,497

 

Partridge (P)

23,173

11,068

18,237

23,778

22,786

22,061

21,386

14,180

19,806

19,090

 

Guinea Fowl (P)

1,647

2,161

1,397

1,062

6089

3598

6750

439

2014

540

 

NA-not available
*includes only the number processed in provincially inspected plants
**includes birds from one federally inspected plant
 

Alternative Livestock on Canadian Farms - Statistics Canada, Agriculture Division 

Table 8            Rabbits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

% change

from 1981

% change

from 1986

% change

from 1991

% change

from 1996

% change

from 2001

 

1981

1986

1991

1996

2001

2006

to 1986

to 1991

to 1996

to 2001

to 2006

British Columbia

Number of animals

27,652

29,582

32,373

20,598

17,757

8,613

7

9

-36

-14

-51

 

Number of farms reporting

1,076

1,091

989

910

264

341

1

-9

-8

-71

29

 

Average number per farm

25.7

27.1

32.7

22.6

67.3

25.3

5

21

-31

198

-62

 

                               

Full table:

Statistics for 2008 "Rabbit Supply Canada" from Agriculture and Agri Food Canada PDF

Rabbit Supply - Canada 2011, Canada 2013

Rabbit Supply - Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada Statistics

No laws to protect Canadian livestock rabbits

Livestock bylaws and rabbits, Surrey, BC

Canada's red meat and livestock industry at a glance…2015

Canada’s red meat industry includes beef and veal, pork, lamb and mutton, goat, rabbit, horse, as well as venison and bison. The red meat industry had annual shipments worth $19.4 billion in 2015.

Read more from Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada

Canadians Killed More Than 750 Million Animals For Food in 2015

June 25, 2014 What? The Humane Slaughter Act is Not Being Enforced?

Comment: In 1958, Congress passed The Humane Slaughter Act, to require animal welfare improvements in US slaughterhouses. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) exempts poultry from its enforcement of the law, even though birds represent more than 8.8 billion of the 9 billion animals slaughtered annually in the United States. Because USDA refuses to protect them, most birds are subjected to abuses that would warrant cruelty convictions under federal law if cows or pigs were the victims. You really have to see poultry slaughter to believe it, but as just one example, USDA records indicate that almost a million chickens are boiled alive every year when they miss the neck-slicer and go, fully conscious, into the water bath that is used for feather removal. (Source: Washington Post, March 3/14) The Act has severe limitations.

Information on the Humane Slaughter Act

Rabbits are also exempt and unprotected from The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, such as it is. In many states, there are no state protections for these intelligent, social beings, either. Animals are not resources, and have a right to live free of human use and oppression. Humane slaughter is an oxymoron coined by humans in an attempt to justify actions that are unjustifiable.

5 depressing facts about Canada’s exports

May 11, 2015 Jason Kirby, Macleans

It’s no secret Canada’s export picture has been grim for some time now. Earlier this month when trade statistics were released for the month of March, they showed Canada suffered from a $3-billion trade deficit—the gap between the value of the stuff we sell to the world, and what we buy. It was the widest deficit in Canadian history, and while it was overwhelmingly due to low oil prices, it reinforced the ongoing challenges Canada faces when it comes to selling its goods abroad.

The mounting trade deficit aside, it’s in the nitty gritty of what we sell to the world, where it goes—and where it doesn’t—that Canada’s export shortfall is most glaring. Drawing on data from Industry Canada’s trade online trade statistics, here are five sad facts that show we have a lot of work to do.

1. Canada exports more furry animals than automobiles to China.

In 2014 Canada recorded $160.7 million in exports of “fur-bearing animal and rabbit production” to China, one of the fastest growing countries in the world, compared to $158.5 million worth in “automobile and light-duty motor vehicle manufacturing.” We’re not knocking rabbit farmers, but one industry employs 117,000 people, the other, not so much.

Full article http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/5-depressing-facts-about-canadas-exports/

Read more: USDA Classifies Rabbits as Poultry; rabbit production in the EU; Codes needed; Australia