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The Racket Over Rabbit: Whole Foods’ Newest Meat Causes a Furor

by Jed Oelbaum
August 22, 2014

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

Rabbits, known for their long, floppy ears, soft fur, and losing races to turtles, have long been a dietary staple in many parts of the world. About six pounds of rabbit meat can be produced with the same resources it takes to produce a single pound of beef, and Modern Farmer recently pondered whether rabbits could become the new “super meat.” Rabbits are abundant; they breed like…well, rabbits, and while to some, rabbits are beloved pets and family members, to others (bobcats, Elmer Fudd) they’re the perfect prey—dumb, delicious little sacks of meat, marbled with juicy fat, and defenseless in the lean and hungry sights of a salivating carnivore.  

In the United States, for some reason, eating the fluffy little critters has never really caught on in a big way, and Whole Foods Market’s recent decision to start selling rabbit at their meat counter has outraged many bunny loving pet owners. Rabbits have risen out of the livestock pool, they argue, and have now achieved coveted “pet” status—you wouldn’t eat a kitten, or a greyhound, would you? The rollout of the rabbit pilot program has sparked a weeklong string of passionate protests at Whole Foods locations all over the country. The natural foods retailer, for its part, has cited customer demand as the reason for stocking the meat, and claim they’ve been searching for years to find rabbit farms that meet their high ethical standards. But groups like the House Rabbit Society, an international animal welfare organization, oppose any and all bunny consumption, and took to the streets to distribute leaflets and win over consumer hearts and minds.

But even if comparing the dull, impersonal company of a rabbit to that of the noble canine, or clever cat may seem ridiculous, rabbits (bizarrely classified as “poultry” by the USDA) are not covered under the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act, leaving them vulnerable to cruel factory farming practices. If companies like Whole Foods are truly serious about their commitment to ethical sourcing, more meat eaters switching to rabbit could be a serious boon for the environment, and just plain feed more people.

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