Today, the EP Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development has overwhelmingly supported the own initiative report by Stefan Eck MEP (GUE/NGL, DE) on minimum standards for the protection of farmed rabbits. The adopted report calls on the European Commission to draw up a road map towards financially sustainable minimum standards for the protection of farm rabbits, which should contain measurable milestones with regular reporting.
The first milestone should consist of guidelines containing good practices that establish animal welfare rules for rabbits, in cooperation with all those involved in production and other stakeholders in the rabbit farming sector. This should be followed by a Commission recommendation containing, where appropriate, proposals for a common EU approach, in particular with regard to rabbit health, welfare and housing. AnEU recommendation is an instrument of indirect action aiming at preparation of legislation in Member States, and differing from a Directive only by the absence of obligatory power.
The Rapporteur Stefan Eck regretted the fact that a compromise amendment asking for specific EU legislation was rejected by a very slight majority ( 22+, 21-). He announced that his Group will retable it for the vote in plenary.
The AGRI-Committee has upheld the rapporteur’s other requests of gradually phasing out conventional battery cages and replace them with more animal welfare friendly housing systems, and to reduce the use of antibiotics. It is suggested to use rural development funding to cover the added costs related to more animal welfare friendly housing systems.
Over 320 million rabbits are annually reared and slaughtered in the EU, making it the second most farmed terrestrial species in the Union. Most rabbits are kept in intensive farming systems, mainly in barren cages where each individual animal has no more space than an A4 sheet of paper. This severely restricts their natural behaviour, as also highlighted by an EFSA report in 2005 on the impact of the current housing and husbandry systems on the health and welfare of farmed domestic rabbits .
Most Member States lack specific legislation for the keeping, breeding, and fattening of rabbits but the outcome of this vote highlights that it is now imperative to phase out barren wire cages in rabbit farming, and to make the conversion to alternative methods of rabbit farming, such as park systems that provide for sufficient space per rabbit and where rabbits can be kept in groups.
Eurogroup for Animals and its member organisations are pleased about the outcome of the vote in the AGRI-Committee but regret that a clear call for species specific legislation was not upheld. We hope though that the House will support this call during the plenary vote, which is currently scheduled for Thursday 2 nd March 2017.
The initial goal of the Eck report to be a step stone towards the introduction of species specific legislation aimed at concretely improving the welfare of rabbits in the European Union should not be watered down with vague commitments. In the long term, this will also help rabbit farmers to better market their produce.