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Rabbit farming: What’s allowed to kill rabbits on farms under EU 1099/2009?

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New culling strategies need to be developed to implement Directive EU 1099/2009 into husbandry practices of farmed rabbits and to improve the welfare during on farm culling of sick and crippled rabbits. New stamping out strategies need to be developed and included in Directive EU 1099/2009 to manage large-scale disease outbreaks under farmed rabbits.

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Rabbit farming: What’s allowed to kill rabbits on farms under EU 1099/2009?

  1. 1. Rabbit farming: What’s allowed to kill rabbits on farms under EU 1099/2009? Farmed rabbits are genetically not far removed from other rabbits used in laboratories or those in the wild. This means that their needs, the causes of poor welfare, and their susceptibility to disease are very similar. In particular the mortality and morbidity of farmed rabbits seems considerably higher than in other farmed animal species due to enteric and respiratory infections, and reproductive problems.Sick and crippled rabbits need to be culled on the farm and up to the date ofimplementation of EU 1099/2009 the method of choice to kill sick and crippledrabbits was a percussive blow to the head. After January 1, 2013 this method can’tbe used any as routine killing method.In 2005, EFSA reported that the mortality could be as high as 18%, due to a varietyof causes described in “The Impact of the current housing and husbandry systemson the health and welfare of farmed domestic rabbits” (EFSA-Q-2004-023). You willfind a copy of this report on www.n2gf.com.What is strange about the EFSA report is that it mentions 37 times the term“Culling” without specifying how to do that.Directive EU1099/2009 seams to haveforgotten that rabbit farming exists within Europe.Here are what EU 1099/2009 offers rabbit farmers:1. Manual methods a. Single stunning captive bolt There are two options: the penetrating method (causing bleeding) and the non-penetrating method (causing severe brain damage). Although in theory, animals can be killed using a captive bolt, it is complicated for the rabbit farmer to use. For instance, it needs 2 well-trained persons to carry out this procedure, and although the EU Directive only allows well- trained staff to carry out culling of animals, there is no vocational training institute within the EU where farm workers could learn how to use these techniques properly. Therefore, the captive bolt technique is not practical and creates severe risks of human failure with a serious impact on the welfare of the rabbits b. Heads-on electrocution Although it is described in ANNEX 1 of Directive 1099/2009, it does not specify what current should be used to electrocute rabbits. For all other animal species, this is exactly specified and until today, there is not
  2. 2. sufficient scientific research done on how to apply this technique on rabbits on the farm. For that reason, EFSA should provide at least more information before this method should be used on rabbits. Similar to the captive bolt method, 2 well-trained staff members should carry out this procedure2. Lethal injection The value of production rabbits is low, it does not justify the costs of the visit of a veterinarian to euthanize sick and cripple rabbits3. Percussive blow on the head Directive EU 1099/2009 allows this method not be used as routine methods but only where there are no other methods available for stunning4. Using gas Directive EU 1099/2009 prohibits the appliance of gas methods to rabbits. This creates serious problems for the rabbit farmer as well as for the veterinary authorities: By lack of alternatives, the farmers are forced to use the non- penetrating captive bolt technique; and case of outbreaks, the veterinary authorities have not one single technique available that is allowed by the EU to carry culling operations (stamping out procedures) to stop further spreading of diseases.In theory, the rabbit farmers seem to have options to choose, but in practice howshould he kill his sick and injured animals or during an outbreak?1. The single stunning captive bolt and by heads-on electrical method Culling the rabbit by using a captive bolt or an electrical tongs: oneof person takes out the animal out of the cage, restrains the animal by holding it firmly under his arms; a second places the captive bolt or electrical tongs on the rabbits’ head2. Call his local veterinarian and ask him to inject T61 The farmer is not allowed to provide lethal injections himself; the use is restricted to vets-only3. Put the rabbit into a gas-filled container The farmer puts the rabbit into a container filled with CO24. The smash-the-rabbits’-head method The farmerkillsthe rabbit by a percussive blow-on-the-head with a blunt stick or by take the rabbit by the back-legs and swing the head against the wall. Its illegal, but as long as the veterinary inspector is not at site, this is probably what will (continue) to happen
  3. 3. None of these methods are either practical oranimal welfare friendly, and none ofthese techniques can be used during disease outbreaks.According to the newdirective only the non-penetrating captive bolt method is allowed as routine methodfor killing animals on the farm. To apply this method, one person needs to retrainthe rabbit and another person has to use the non-penetrating captive bold device.This is not only unpractical; it is absolutely useless in case of a disease outbreakwhen all animals need to be killed on the farm.The lack of research and the absence of a cohesive structure in the rabbit industryare the main reasons for holding back the development of proper on-farm cullingmethods and the availability of culling methods for disease control purposes.ConclusionNew culling strategies need to be developed to implement Directive EU 1099/2009into husbandry practices of farmed rabbits and to improve the welfare during onfarm culling of sick and crippled rabbits. New stamping out strategies need to bedeveloped and included in Directive EU 1099/2009 to manage large-scale diseaseoutbreaks under farmed rabbits.

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