The Welfare Of Rabbits During Transport
It’s relatively well-known that the transportation of animals to slaughter is a major stressor and a serious animal welfare concern. On the animal welfare side, advocates note that just because animals are headed to slaughter, it doesn’t mean their welfare can be compromised, while the animal consumer / industry side notes that stress before slaughter can actually negatively impact the quality of meat. For rabbits being transported to slaughter, the situation is grim: in the E.U., there are no space allowance limitations for rabbits; what’s more, there are few studies concerning rabbit welfare during slaughter. Though animal advocates can likely imagine that rabbits experience a great deal of stress in open sided trucks during transport, there is little data to rely on.
The purpose of this study was to identify parameters that “could represent an objective measurement of the rabbits physiological response to different transport conditions.” The researchers focused on glucose blood concentration and cortisol levels, as they “represent the most indicative and easiest parameters to be studied for the assessment of stress levels.” They studied 364 rabbits raised on a “home-managed farm” with a complete production cycle of about 500-700 breeding rabbits and 20,000-30,000 rabbits sent to slaughter per year. The rabbits each had about 600cm², and mean temperature in crates ranged from 18.7 °C in winter and 27.8 °C in summer. The farm was located about 220km from the slaughterhouse, and mortality during transport varied from 5-7%. The researchers found that stocking density “can induce significant differences in the cortisol and glucose response.” Regardless of the season, both parameters studied “were significantly higher in rabbits transported with a lower area availability.”
Though the use of rabbits for food is relatively minor as far as agriculture goes, for farmed animal advocates, the study shows that animal transport is a very important issue and worth keeping a close watch on.