Earlier this summer Whole Foods decided to launch a pilot program that put rabbit meat on its store shelves at select locations across the country, but the move isn’t sitting well with animal lovers. Over the weekend, animal advocates and dozens of rabbit rescues took part in a nationwide day of action in an effort to get customers to ask the store to stop.
In a statement, Whole Foods claimed the move was in response to customer demand for rabbit meat:
For many years, lots of customers have requested that we carry rabbit. But first we needed to ensure the rabbit we sold would be consistent with WFM’s high animal welfare standards. As most rabbit production is grim, we set out to develop our own set of animal welfare standards, which began a rigorous four-year process to address the welfare issues in rabbit production. As we have done in the past, our hope is that our standards will be a model for industry change.
Unfortunately for Whole Foods, animal advocates can see through it’s thinly veiled attempt to humane-wash rabbit meat, which has led to calls to stop by individuals and dozens of organizations, which have signed on to a letter to asking the store to reconsider.
It’s not that bunnies are worth saving from dinner plates and soup bowls because they’re super cute, even though they obviously are, or that they’re more important than the billions of other animals we raise and ruthlessly slaughter for their flesh every year. There are many other problems with the move to raise and kill a breed of rabbit we keep as pets that have both animal lovers and rabbit advocates reeling.
Sure, you can already get rabbit meat, but compared to other types of meat available it’s relatively rare. One of the biggest problems with Whole Foods’ program is that it’s setting a dangerous precedent by making this the first time a major grocery store chain in the U.S. has put an animal that most of us consider a pet on its shelves in an attempt to popularize it and make a profit, which animal advocates believe will help start a cruel trend by creating a demand for another animal product that most people really had no interest in.
It’s kind of an odd move, considering the store banned the sale of live lobsters in 2006 because, well, the experience is not very nice for lobsters. It took a task force to figure out that lobsters aren’t inanimate objects and that no matter how many changes they made to the supply chain to improve welfare, or their quality of life, they couldn’t make it something they could live with calling humane.
Oddly enough, the store now wants people to believe that it can make mass rabbit meat production humane. The company spent an entire four years agonizing over how to make it nicer to keep and kill a smart, sensitive, social and loving species, after all. However, the House Rabbit Society breaks it down to show there’s not really much difference in the store’s new standards and how meat rabbits are typically raised anyway.
Both males and females can still be isolated if necessary, females can still be bred every 30 days, rabbits will still be torn from their social groups and babies (fryers) will still be killed when they’re 10-12 weeks old.
Aside from trying to make “new” standards for care, there’s not much Whole Foods can do to ensure the humane treatment it’s promoting either. According to the House Rabbit Society, two of its current suppliers are located in Missouri and Iowa – both of which have ag gag laws – who source their rabbits randomly so there’s no way to vouch for where they came from in the end.
Meat rabbits are also classified as poultry and are excluded from the basic protection other livestock animals are afforded under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which means they get no federal protection from abuse and are subject to any state laws that may or may not exist to protect them from inhumane slaughter practices, which are left out of the store’s humane guidelines.
Even though Whole Foods says it will have a USDA inspector (which isn’t required for rabbit meat), they won’t be there to ensure rabbits don’t suffer when they’re being killed, only that the meat is safe.
It’s beyond disappointing to see a vegan/vegetarian friendly retailer that offers an array of cruelty-free products for caring consumers cave to the alleged demands of a few who want to see even more animals raised and killed every year for a product we don’t need. Hopefully more customers will express their disappointment, than the “lots” of customers who supposedly asked it to start selling rabbit meat.
Please sign and share the petition asking Whole Foods to abandon this pilot program and commit to protecting rabbits by keeping them out of its stores.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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