Meet Your “Meat” Rabbit

» September 7th, 2014


As you may have heard, Whole Foods is establishing a pilot program to sell rabbit meat. Take a moment and read the company’s welfare standards here and you’ll quickly realize that the rabbits can be produced under conditions very close to industrial circumstances. For example, “Although outdoor access is not required . . . .” And so on.

Interestingly, the welfare regulations outlined in the link above abruptly end when it comes to slaughter methods. Transport is covered: “Transport must not exceed 8 hours.” But nothing about the killing itself. This omission should raise a red flag. Surely, the “harvesting” is regulated, right?

Nope. Rabbit meat falls under state inspection. In Texas you can apply for an inspection exemption. For example, here’s this  from the Texas Department of Health Services: “Anyone that raises poultry or rabbits, and slaughters 10,000 birds or rabbits (or combination thereof) per year or less may opt to apply for a Grant of Poultry Exemption instead of a Grant of Inspection.  These products may be sold on the farm or through locations other than the farm.” Other states allow the same (how many I’ve not yet researched).

Whole Foods in general relies on Temple Grandin’s regulations to ensure the following:

  • Healthy condition of animals upon arrival
  • Calm, efficient unloading procedures
  • Animals handled with patience, skill and respect
  • Clean, well-designed facility ensuring quiet movement of the animals
  • Appropriate flooring to ensure the animals’ stability
  • Stringent stunning efficacy requirements

Again, though, note that there’s nothing on process of slaughter itself. To discover if there were any regulations regarding how rabbits were dispatched, I searched around the extension agency literature. Here’s advice from an undated Texas A&M report:

“The preferred method of slaughtering a rabbit is by dislocating its neck. With the left hand hold the animal by its hind legs. Place the thumb of the right hand on the neck just behind the ears, with the fingers extended under the chin. Push down on the neck with the right hand, stretching the animal. Press down with the thumb. Then with a quick movement, raise the animal’s head and dislocate the neck.”

A recent Mississippi extension agent recommends this:

“The rabbit is held firmly by the rear legs and head; it is stretched full length. Then with a hard, sharp pull, the head is bent backward to dislo- cate the neck. The rabbit can also be struck a hard, quick blow to the skull behind the ears. A blunt stick or side of the hand is commonly used to incapacitate the rabbit. Both methods quickly render the rabbit unconscious.”

To be sure, there are rabbit slaughterers out there who really want the slaughter to be done properly, because if you screw up, you know, the meat won’t taste very good. warns:

“Any stress during the butchering process can result in the release of adrenaline and other endocrine hormones associated with the animal’s flight response. These hormones negatively affect the flavor of the rabbit meat, and will toughen the meat.”

It then instructs you how to kill a rabbit with a broomstick.






10 Responses to Meet Your “Meat” Rabbit

  1. Teresa Wagner says:

    My God. That’s it. No more Whole Foods for me.

  2. John Maher says:

    The photos appears to show a wild rabbit. The farmed rabbits are New Zealand Whites and are about twice the size.

    An NGO on which I serve Companion Animal Protection Society helped organize the protest in LA at the West Hollywood Wholefoods and I helped a bit with a colleague here in NYC at the Union Square Whole Foods.

    To revisit the ghost of blog posts past, I say that even under (despised) analytic philosophy, the paradox of farmed rabbits is more acute and contradictory than the “Why do humans eat Cows but love dogs?” chestnut because the obvious differentiation is one of of treating likes alike based upon an intra-species line as opposed to a bovine/canine divide. I personally fail to grasp the claimed difference.

    • James says:

      Could the difference be in the breeding (as you suggest)? And if not, then it’s in the mere label, which is something we do all the time, and is even more disturbing. As in, black teen challenging authority=criminal/white teen challenging authority=adolescent.

      • John Maher says:

        Interesting point but I doubt it. NZ Whites are also the familiar pet rabbit sold in pet shops where I have not yet drafted a Companion Animal Retail Sales Ordinance prohibiting such sales. Same sub species, dual instrumental use.

        Your analogy brings up the issue of “intersectional oppressions” familiar to sociologists and is worthy of a separate JMcW blog post pondering and considering its implications rather than my pontificating in this little box.

  3. Jan says:

    So Whole Foods doesn’t sell more than 10,000 birds or rabbits in all of their many stores? Slaughter is intended to kill the animal. Quickly, without stress preferred but the animal is still dead. People are queasy about that, even knowing that to go from a seemingly acceptable life to meat means they will die.

    • James says:

      I have no idea how many rabbits WF sells. What I do know is that there are no industrial “rabbit farms” as of yet, so the 10,000 figure allows most if not all producers off the regulatory hook. I’m well aware that slaughter kills an animal, and has no other intention. I think people know how an animal becomes food, but what they are queasy about is the moral implication of that process.

  4. Elaine Livesey-Fassel says:

    One of the tunes/songs I remember from childhood ( in Britain) was ‘Run rabbit,Run rabbit, run,run,run ,dont let the farmer get his gun,gun,gun….’ and thus negatively impressed with this visual, even as a child, I would henceforth refuse to eat this animal. That’s what inspired my early consciousness on the topic that consumes US here.

  5. Thanks for the great post, James. We’ve actually done some research into the slaughter methods used by Whole Foods’ processors and you can read about it here:

  6. Kristina Labart says:

    Dear James,

    I am a member of the Swedish Animals’ Party, which was established in the beginning of this year.
    Next Monday September 14th is election day in Sweden. In order to do something concrete for the Animals we need to get seats in the Parliament.
    Our Number One candidate is Jonas Paulsson, who introduced “Meat Free Mondays” to Sweden.
    The biggest problem seems to be that not even some vegans and members of Sweden’s biggest Humane Society (ca 230 000 members) seem to think the party is an alternative to be taken seriously.
    What would you say to these vegans and animal lovers.

    My Best wishes


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