AWI's Humane Husbandry Program Expands; Rabbits Hop onto the Scene

Every year in the United States, over nine billion farm animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered for food. The vast majority of these animals must endure months, or even years, of intensive confinement and grossly inhumane conditions. Federal and state anti-cruelty laws inadequately protect farm animals and, in some cases, specifically exclude them. Furthermore, husbandry standards that are not truly humane are emerging from industry groups and agricultural organizations that are less concerned about animal welfare than they are about capturing the higher prices customers will pay for products marketed as humanely raised. Therefore, in a continuing effort to reduce unnecessary pain and fear inflicted on farm animals, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is expanding its husbandry program by developing humane criteria for all farm animals.

The impetus to expand the husbandry program is not only AWI's successful pig program but also the growing number of requests AWI receives from farmers and retailers for humane criteria. This presents AWI with an unprecedented opportunity to influence how farm animals are treated. In addition to humane criteria for pigs, AWI has already completed standards for rabbits. The interest in rabbits came about when a regional meat manager for a national grocery chain contacted AWI for such guidelines. When none were found, AWI developed them. Among other provisions, AWI rabbit standards require that the animals are weaned at a natural age, have bedding, and are allowed to run and burrow. In America, over six million rabbits are raised for meat. The majority, if not all, of these animals are confined in barren, elevated wire-mesh cages frighteningly similar to the way in which laying hens are kept in factories. As is common in animal factories, does (female breeding rabbits) are forced to reproduce at many times their natural rate, and young rabbits are prematurely weaned causing additional stress to the doe and her young. Does and bucks (male breeding rabbits), in confinement operations, are isolated in solitary cages while the young are often overcrowded. In developing humane husbandry standards for rabbits, AWI seeks to provide a humane alternative to the inhumane practices commonly used when rabbits are raised for meat.

All AWI standards are developed in conjunction with farmers and scientists; address all stages of life; and delineate on-farm, transport, and slaughter requirements. Two distinguishing characteristics of all AWI criteria are that the animals are allowed to behave naturally, and that each farm is a family farm on which the family or a family member owns the animals, depends upon the farm for livelihood and participates in the daily physical labor to manage the animals and the farm. Furthermore, AWI is calling attention to and will not endorse dual production systems-operations that raise some animals humanely and subject other animals to cruel, factory conditions. By the end of the year, humane criteria will be available for dairy cows, laying hens, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and beef cattle.

Educate family and friends about humane husbandry and only buy products from independent, humane family farms. Tell restaurant and grocery store managers you will not buy products from factories.

To learn more about rabbits you may wish to read Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature by Susan E. Davis and Margo DeMello. Available July 2003, ISBN: 1590560442, Lantern Books, $20.00, 320 pages.