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From the Dodo, July 1, 2014

by Margo DeMello

Whole Foods, the grocery chain of choice for countless vegetarians and vegans, has recently decided to start carrying rabbit meat for the first time in their Northern California stores, along with stores in a few other markets.

After House Rabbit Society and other rabbit rescue groups called for a boycott of Whole Foods, the company responded, saying that rabbit meat has been eaten for a long time, is lean, and their customers want it.

Of course, many animals may fit that definition, but it’s hard to imagine that Whole Foods would begin selling other animals’ bodies simply because people have eaten them for a long time, they were lean and because people want to eat them.

The company also noted, however, that there are no federal standards for humane treatment of rabbits, which is certainly correct. Rabbits are typically raised in cramped and filthy conditions for the nine to ten weeks that they will live until they are slaughtered, but, because they are considered “poultry” by the USDA, are then slaughtered without the benefit of stunning first, since they, like chickens and other birds, do not deserve that basic mercy, as they are exempt from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

While Whole Foods notes that they have developed standards to allow these rabbits to have a slightly better standard of life before they are killed, the company does not mention anywhere how the question of slaughtering the rabbits who come into their stores will be handled.

In any case, as House Rabbit Society points out, rabbits are now America’s third most beloved companion mammal, right behind dogs and cats. While that certainly should not privilege rabbits over, say, cows, pigs or chickens, it does make one question the idea of adding this animal, or really any other animal, to Whole Foods’ meat cases at the exact same moment in time when Americans are eating less meat than they have in decades, and when rabbits in particular are transitioning from “meat” to “pet.”

It makes Whole Foods’ choice seem less about “health,” “protein” and “customer choice,” and more about adding to the company’s bottom line at a time when meat profits may be on the decline.

And it makes me wonder–since the company is already known as the go-to destination for vegetarian and vegans who buy their fake meats, fake cheeses, and other non-meat options, why not simply invest in more of these products, rather than risk alienating such a large and devoted clientele?

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