Charity plea over rabbit farming

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RABBIT meat could be coming from animals reared in cages tighter than those being outlawed for hens, according to campaigners.

Their arguments have prompted a would-be rabbit farmer to consider going free-range, to meet consumer concerns – and also, he believes, to avoid the need to get permission for his plans for sites including Fiskerton, near Newark.

A boom in rabbit meat consumption is thought to have started a lot of backyard enterprises. More than 30 MPs signed an Early Day Motion last year calling for DEFRA to investigate. And the MP who initiated it has been promised a meeting with farming minister Jim Paice.

Philip Kerry of T&S Nurseries, based at Grantham, Lincs, wants to farm rabbits for meat and fur on one of his company’s plant nurseries, at Fiskerton, North Notts. He plans to use their expertis e in hydroponics – growing crops without soil – to produce cheap feed.

But when it emerged that Mr Kerry had half a dozen similar planning applications in progress, animal welfarists came forward to object. They said there were no effective rules in place, anywhere in Europe, to guarantee decent minimum standards for rabbits. And Mr Kerry has put the whole project on ice while he looks into free-range production.

He said this week: “Some people prefer free-range poultry and I am sure there is a similar market for rabbit. Also, if I do not need a barn, I do not need planning permission.”

Angelique Davies, UK spokeswoman for a charity called Four Paws, said: “We would like everybody who might buy rabbit meat to be conscious of the risk of supporting the worst kind of factory farming.”

Four Paws is waiting for replies to a letter to all of the big supermarkets asking about their buying policy. One of the few to reply so far is Waitrose, which told the Yorkshire Post: “The rabbit we sell is wild. It is sourced by a specialist game supplier from controlled shoots on English parks and estates.”

A DEFRA spokesman said rabbits were covered by British law on animal welfare in general, requiring protection from suffering, and by the Farm Animal Welfare Act, requiring rabbit enclosures to be “of sufficient size to allow the rabbits to move around without difficulty”.

Adrian Sanders, Lib Dem MP for Torbay, proposed the stalled Early Day Motion calling on the government to “make key information on the UK rabbit farming industry publicly available and to ... phase out the keeping of farmed rabbits in cages and make detailed provisions for their welfare”. He is due to meet Mr Paice with his evidence. He said this week: “The regulations are woefully inadequate and are not enforced. The fact that rabbits will still be kept in barren battery cages, long after these will be banned for keeping hens, highlights the point.”