Rabbit Advocacy Network has argued that Whole Foods Market (WFM) is not being truthful when their representatives claim that the reason they are selling rabbit meat is because of customer demand. After six months of rabbit meat sales, RAN has yet to see this demand, nor has WFM produced any documentation whatsoever to indicate how many people have asked for, or are buying, rabbit meat. Instead, the company is simply shipping dead rabbits to their stores in the following regions: Northern California, North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, South, Florida, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and the Washington, DC metro area.
Whole Foods’ goal is to create a brand new demand, where one did not exist before, for rabbit meat in the United States.
In 2007, the last year for which this information is available, almost one million (979,563) rabbits were slaughtered at USDA-inspected facilities in the United States. (The actual number of rabbits slaughtered for meat would have actually been higher, since USDA-inspection is voluntary. There could have been another half a million or so rabbits who were raised and slaughtered by small growers who killed their own animals and did not want to pay for USDA inspection.)
In comparison, 74 million cattle, 84 million pigs, and almost 9 billion chickens were slaughtered for meat that year. Clearly, rabbit represents a very tiny market in the United States; they are raised and slaughtered at just .01% the rate of chickens.
But what would happen if Whole Foods Market, the largest and most profitable natural food retailer in the United States, and the eighth largest regular grocery store in the country, were to succeed in their quest to make rabbit meat even a fraction as successful as chicken meat is? What if the majority of Americans not only became used to seeing dead rabbits in the meat case, but started bringing home rabbits on a weekly basis?
What if even half of Whole Foods’ seven million customers who shop at the company’s 367 stores brought home a rabbit each week instead of a chicken?
In order to meet this demand, 182 million rabbits would have to be slaughtered per year–that’s over twice as many as the number of pigs who already lose their lives per year in the United States. In order to produce that number of rabbits, the conditions under which the rabbits are raised would have to become much more intensive than they already area; rabbits raised in China for meat are raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) with 10,000 rabbits. That would have to be the minimum size in order to meet the new demand.
Clearly, there would be no such thing as “humane standards” in such a scenario. In order to raise that many rabbits to feed that many people, the rabbits would be fed a steady diet of antibiotics, would be confined to commercial wire cages until slaughter, and would be killed in the most expedient fashion.
Is this the kind of future that we really want?