Minimum standards for the protection of farm rabbits

Thank you for e-mailing me about the Report on minimum standards for the Protection of Farm Rabbits 2016/2077(INI). The Report calls on the European Commission to consider the need for higher welfare systems for rabbits and present legislative proposals on setting minimum standards. The welfare of farm animals is an issue that I have worked on since entering the Parliament in 2014. The poor standards for rabbit farming are nothing short of abhorrent and I support the recommendations in this Report. The Greens voted in favour of this Report when it came through the AGRI committee six weeks ago, and I can assure you that we will be voting in favour of it on the 14th of March when it comes before the Parliament.

Rabbits are the second most farmed species in the EU, after broiler chickens, with over 320 million being slaughtered annually. The vast majority of them are kept in barren wire cages where their natural behaviour is severely restricted. These conditions neglect Council Directive 98/58 on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes which calls on all owners and keepers of animals “to take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals under their care and to ensure that those animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury”.

Harmonised minimum standards for rabbit welfare would help to combat animal suffering. Many scientists call for legislation and state that the cage system should be urgently replaced by one which allows for the natural needs of rabbits to be better taken into account. Higher animal welfare standards will also help farmers offer ‘quality’ products, which is what EU consumers expect. In this report, the rapporteur Stefan Eck, of the GUE/NGL party, has called for minimum standards for the protection of farmed rabbits, emphasising the need for higher standards of welfare and health. The report also supports the use of the “park” system for rabbit farming. (You can see the full report here.)

As Greens, we broadly agree with the Rapporteur (Stefan Eck, GUE) and will follow his line during the votes. We support replacing the outdated battery cages with the “park” system, and support species-specific legislation, as recommended by the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), to address the serious welfare implications of current production methods. We have played a constructive role in the negotiations of the compromises, given that welfare is of a very high priority for us as a Political Group. However, for this report to take a strong stance in demanding new legislation, we also need the support of the larger groups, the EPP and the S&D groups.

Myself and the Greens have worked tirelessly against the factory farming of all animals. One detrimental side-effect of factory farming is the spread of disease and the subsequent overuse of antibiotics, which I have sought to tackle through previous legislation. This is an area of great importance to me and I will continue to work on this for as long as I am an MEP.

Along with the other UK Green MEPs, Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor, I produce ‘Making Tracks,’ a newsletter on animal welfare, which you may be interested to read here. If you would like to keep up to date with my work more generally, you can sign up to my newsletter.

With best wishes,

Molly Scott Cato

Green MEP for South West England and Gibraltar