Animal advocacy groups are planning to protest this weekend at Whole Foods Markets nationwide to oppose the retail sale of rabbit meat and to “politely” remind customers via handouts that rabbits are friendly animals often kept as pets. “Rabbits are the 3rd most popular furry companion in the US and have unique personalities, just like dogs and cats,” a leaflet from House Rabbit Society states. “They enjoy running, jumping, snuggling with other rabbits, and form deep bonds with their humans.” The advocacy groups will be asking customers to fill out comment cards opposing the sale of rabbit meat at Whole Foods and to let store managers know how they feel about the issue. In addition, a petition is posted claiming more than 10,000 signatures of people who are against the company’s retail sale of rabbit meat. A Whole Foods spokesman said the company recently began a pilot program of selling rabbit meat at certain stores in northern California, the mid-Atlantic states, the Midwest, the Northeast, the South and the Pacific Northwest because of ongoing customer demand. Stressing what it calls “a resurgence” of including rabbit meat in the American diet, Whole Foods notes that it’s a more sustainable and leaner protein option since six pounds of rabbit meat can be produced using the same amount of food and water it would take to produce one pound of beef. The company has also made efforts to ensure that its suppliers provide improved conditions for rabbits raised for meat destined for retail sale in its stores. “To meet our customers’ requests for rabbit, we needed our own set of animal welfare standards. These animal welfare standards are a direct result of a rigorous four-year process to address the welfare issues in rabbit production,” Mike Silverman told Huffington Post. Concerns about how rabbits are raised for food led to a company statement released in May setting out how newly devised animal-welfare standards were being met, noting that the company’s supplier had “set up several innovative family farms that are meeting those standards” and adding that the program was being tested in a limited number of stores in northern California and the Washington, D.C., metro area. “It was important to us to provide rabbits that were raised in better conditions than what the industry offered,” the statement reads, calling most current rabbit production conditions “grim.” Whole Foods Market’s stated animal-welfare standards for rabbits are designed to:

  • Take into account the fact that rabbits socialize in groups. While most rabbits raised for meat are kept in cages, we require group pens on solid floors with plenty of dry bedding, additional places to hide and climb, and room to forage, groom, hop, socialize and play.
  • Require that our rabbits have continuous access to drinking water, feed, roughage, gnawing blocks, tunnels and places for seclusion.
  • Ensure injured animals are treated.
  • Allow the mother rabbit time to nurse and recover before being re-bred, as rabbits are famous for their prolific breeding.

Whole Foods Market is reportedly under investor pressure to step up its game in the increasingly crowded organic food sector. The company has reduced its revenue forecast four times in the past nine months and now faces competition from retail giants Walmart and Kroger, which have recently launched into organics and offer cheaper prices and many more outlets than Whole Foods.