Rabbit Farming in the UK

Stephen Wiggins Article 5 Comments

Due to a loop-hole, if rabbits are bred for meat in the United Kingdom (UK), when the rabbits are slaughtered for meat and derivative products, then the rabbit pelts (fur products) can also be sold as a by-product. However, this is clearly an ambiguous grey area, where rabbits could potentially be bred for slaughter for their  fur/derivative products (and not for meat) – how is this regulated with any degree of transparency (Note: fur farming was banned in the UK in 2003)?

Fur Free Britain” Petition, RSPCA/Humane Society International, March 2021

Demand a ban on all fur sales in the UK!” Petition, Four Paws, March 2021

Refuse Planning for an Intensive Rabbit Farm in Rutland,” Change.org

Refuse planning for intensive Rabbit Meat Farm in Amersham,” Change.org

T&S Rabbits” currently runs four rabbit farms in the UK:

T&S Rabbits is a family business based at various locations throughout the UK. The rabbits are reared on a free range [sic] basis & are principally fed a diet of grass, hay and herbs” – T&S Rabbits

[Update] “Investigators find appalling conditions at [T&S Rabbits] rabbit farm – help object to more sites now,” Animal Aid, 1 April 2021:

 

The owner/spokesperson for “T&S Rabbits” is Mr Philip Kerry, whose company, “T&S Nurseries” was dissolved 21 September 2010.  It remains unclear:

  • which entity (or entities) owns “T&S Rabbits” as this is not a standalone listed UK company?;
  • how is “T&S Nurseries” (dissolved 2010)/Mr Philip Kerry still associated with applications for new rabbit breeding facilities?

[Update] Note: The applicant’s Rutland “Access Statement” para 9. (dated 11 December 2020) states “A Rabbit breeding enterprise has also been established upon the site and has been operating for approximately 5 months” – how is that possible without prior-permission/local authority approval, and which entity owns/runs this operation and for what purposes (pets, vivisection, meat, fur….?);

[Update] ‘The Warren’, Turlowfields Lane, Atlow, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 1PZ, 31 May 2021 – Image courtesy of Rabbit Farm Resistance UK

 

It should be noted, that in 2011 it was reported that “Philip Kerry of “T&S Nurseries” [despite the company being dissolved in 2010] in Grantham, Lincolnshire” was involved in:

“Planning applications for at least six rabbit battery farms have been lodged with local authorities across the UK.

The intensive farms, which would be the first for rabbits in the country in 15 years, have been proposed at sites from Nottinghamshire to Cornwall. Each facility would house up to 1,100 animals in wire cages stacked three high in windowless barns. The rabbits would be sent to slaughter for their meat at 12 weeks old” – “Rabbit battery farms could return to UK,” The Guardian, 29 April 2011

See the source image

These intensive, cruel and barbaric 2011 proposals were not seen through – Kerry relented after public backlash and had to adopt more ‘free-range’ practices/proposals (with outdoor mesh enclosures evident).

T&S Rabbits, ‘The Warren’, Turlowfields Lane, Atlow, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 1PZ – Animal Aid investigation, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th March 2021

T&S Rabbits, ‘The Warren’, Turlowfields Lane, Atlow, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 1PZ – Animal Aid investigation, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th March 2021 – “…our investigators found rabbits in barren individual hutches, unable to socialise and with no free access to the outside.”

However, the intent (and not to mention moral/ethical compass Kerry has displayed in the past) has not seemingly diminished the ambition to breed and slaughter more and more rabbits for commercial gain in 2021 and beyond.

Why does this matter, after all pigs [in abusive intensive farming], sheep, cattle are reared in captivity for slaughter, why not rabbits? Because there is a need to curtail such operations and the risks they present (not to mention the potential cruelty inflicted in intensively breeding animals/wildlife for commercial gain).

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare within any environment (captive environments included), is more than just making animals’ ‘comfortable’ with supplies of food and veterinary health care to hand (which would be a vast improvement in some intensive farming facilities of course). This general animal welfare concept is encapsulated within the “Five Freedoms” (Bramwell 1979):

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;
  •  Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper environment and company of the animal’s own kind;
  • Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental and physical suffering;

How will these freedoms (a moral/ethical obligation) be accommodated within the proposed facilities, compliance overseen and by whom [Animal and Plant Health Agency and the required local authority?] – when the business model suggests producing up to 10,000 rabbits per year for meat/fur industry when a given site is running at full capacity in three years plus from start-up?

“T&S owner Phil Kerry expects to sell 700 pelts and accessories a year at each new facility, plus 2,000 “oven ready” meat packs.

Some 2,800 rabbits would go live to wholesalers and 700 would sell as pets or to breeders and home farmers” – “Ricky Gervais slams rabbit farm plans that could see 30,000 slaughtered each year,” The Mirror, 21 March 2021

How are/will the rabbit stock be slaughtered – is it/will it be humane? On site/off site (and associated traffic)?  How is/will waste be disposed of, both from every day accumulation of rabbit droppings etc., the ‘left-overs’ from natural attrition (‘fallen stock‘ rabbit deaths) and the slaughtering process?

Note:  The new sites proposals are in Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and near Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so any run-off contamination could pollute precious wildlife habitat, not to mention blighting the area with agricultural buildings.

Demand

Also, where is the market demand for such intensive rabbit farming (meat and fur products etc.), especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and successful campaigns to remove intensively farmed rabbit meat from supermarket shelves in the UK?

Kerry/”T&S Rabbits” trying to stimulate increased demand for farmed rabbit meat for their own commercial gain seems to run counter to stated supermarket/buyer preferences.

Disease

COVID- 19 (SARS-CoV-2) is a zoonotic disease, where the virus source is the direct result of exploitation of wildlife/animal stock for commercial purposes (Ref: “WHO Points To Wildlife Farms In Southern China As Likely Source Of Pandemic,” NPR, 15 March 2021). What risk assessment has been done to ensure the proposed intensive rabbit farming facilities do not pose a human health risk in the handling, slaughter (including local run-off of waste in the immediate environment) and consumption (human and/or pet food) of the rabbit derivative products from such a facility?

Mink farming is thankfully being shut-down because of the concerns raised regarding zoonotic diseases and human health risks  (“AFTER CORONAVIRUS-OUTBREAK, DUTCH PARLIAMENT VOTES TO SHUT DOWN MINK FARMS,” Four Paws, 18 September 2020).

[Update] “There are also food hygiene rules [eg. Food Standards Agency] that need to be complied with; however, one of the exemptions is that small establishments that produce rabbit meat are exempt from various EU/FSA regulations provided that less than 10,000 packs of meat are produced per annum, and that sales are localised i.e. supplying meat within the county of origin and neighbouring counties” – “Rural Worker’s Temporary Dwelling Appraisal,” (para 2.2) Reading Agricultural Consultants on behalf of T&S Nurseries, December 2020 – so no approval envisaged before human consumption.

So, it seems an inexplicable risk at this time to then blindly accept proposals to expand rabbit farming in the UK when the risks of zoonotic diseases within such intensive breeding facilities and their potential, devastating impact have been made so obvious across the globe. There is also no mention of vaccinating the proposed (or existing) rabbit stock against the fatal, incurable diseases Myxomatosis, viral hemorrhagic disease (VHD and VHD2, or Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV)) with the potential for these current viruses (and mutations) of known rabbit diseases to infect wild/captive bred populations and potentially impact human health [Note: currently known strains do not represent a risk to human health]:

The virus [RHVD] is believed to have jumped from domestic rabbits or farms into wild populations..” – “The deadly plague that could devastate the US rabbit population,” The Guardian, 15 July 2020

Note: The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) lists “Infection with epizootic haemorrhagic disease virus” – meaning detected infection in all species (including rabbits) is a reportable issue.

Intensive breeding of rabbits is likely to act as a reservoir/incubator for diseases/mutations, the risks of which are not covered, or adequately prepared for in the applications, or within the UK in general (as intensive, commercial rabbit breeding is not (thankfully) a widely accepted and established business model in the UK):

[Update]  “A new study by scientists in the Netherlands and published on the preprint server bioRxiv in August 2020 shows that the severe acute respiratory coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) can infect rabbits, which opens the door for possible circulation in rabbit farms and another potential source of animal to human SARS-CoV-2 infection. This finding calls for urgent research on the prevalence of the virus in farmed rabbits” – “Rabbits susceptible to SARS-CoV-2: Red flag for potential virus reservoir,” News Medical Life Sciences, 30 August 2020

[Update] “One of the limitations of rearing free-range rabbits commercially is the risk of bio-security breakdowns as there are several diseases that can destroy a flock over a very short time period” – “Rural Worker’s Temporary Dwelling Appraisal,” (para 2.2) Reading Agricultural Consultants on behalf of T&S Nurseries, December 2020

There is no such thing as a 100% secure captive rabbit breeding facility – with the potential for escapees (intentional, or otherwise) to infect wild species and/or ingress of predators potentially carrying transmissible diseases, or acting as a host for disease transmission outside of the breeding facility:

[Update] “A recent report of SARS-CoV-2 infection in free-living mink in the vicinity of a mink farm in the USA is a case in point, as escaped animals provide a potential pathway to the infection of wild mink in the area” – “Assessing the risks of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife,” APHA Science Blog, 12 March 2021

T&S Rabbits” have proposed in the past selling surplus/exploited ex-breeding stock as pets – where is the potential for disease transmission controlled in such ‘trade’ proposals?

Conclusions

The proposed expansion of commercial, intensive rabbit breeding in the UK is an unwelcomed spectre (no matter the ‘caring’ image such businesses seek to portray) – public opinion (petitions and planning Objections) clearly does not support such expansion and potentially a slide into more deplorable, profit driven battery farming practices as advocated in the past by Kerry.

……the Humane Society reporting that 72% of the British public would support a UK ban on the import and sale of animal fur” – “Fur Free Britain,” RSPCA/Humane Society International, March 2021

Further Reading

Inside the Dark World of Rabbit Farming,” Sentient Media, 21 June 2021

Thousands fight plans for ‘rabbit slaughterhouse’ in North Derbyshire,” Derbyshire Times, 21 May 2021

Oppose Gruesome Rabbit-Butchering Facility Plans in Derbyshire,” PETA

We Are All In At The Cull,” Nature Needs More, 6 March 2021 – “…..One of the things that these culls have in common is that farmers have no insurance to cover these disruptions to trade, because, in the main, insurance companies won’t cover animal production…….In Denmark alone, the government will give mink farmers up to US$4 billion compensation, after a nationwide cull was undertaken, amid coronavirus fears.”

Television star and animal rights activist Ricky Gervais joins thousands of people to sign a petition against plans for a rabbit farm at Rutland Water,” Grantham Journal, 23 March 2021

Rabbit farm proposed for site near Mylor, Cornwall,” County Gazette, 16 March 2021

Assessing the risks of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife,” APHA Science Blog, 12 March 2021

Refuse Planning for an Intensive Rabbit Farm in Rutland,” Change.org, March 2021

Coleshill rabbit farm faces backlash from people living in the area,” BuckinghamshireLive, 26 February 2021

No appetite for rabbit farming in the UK,” Animal Aid, 26 February 2021

The deadly plague that could devastate the US rabbit population,” The Guardian, 15 July 2020

Rabbit Farm Resistance UK

Caring for rabbits,” DEFRA, 15 October 2015

Suddenly it’s Britain’s trendiest food. But read on and you may never want to eat rabbit again,” 16 October 2014

Rabbits and poultry combined on proposed farm,” Farmers Weekly, 1 August 2011

HUGH’S RECIPES TURN SOUR AS BATTERY RABBIT FARMS RETURN,” The Independent, 23 October 2011

Residents fear rabbit farm plan in Nottinghamshire,” 14 April 2011

Codes of Recommendations for the welfare of livestock: Rabbits,” DEFRA, 1999

Comments 5

  1. Tor Bailey

    Hi Stephen, a huge thank you for collating all of this information about the concerning situation with rabbit fur and meat farming across the UK by the T&S Rabbits/ T&S Nurseries/ BCH UK Ltd. It is quite a complex situation to follow, and your information will be very useful in helping those less aware of the situation, to piece things together. Very grateful to you for featuring the Animal Aid investigation into the Atlow site.

    If people would like to object to the plans for Rutland and Amersham, Buckinghamshire, we have detailed information available on the Animal Aid website. We also link to Change petitions by excellent grassroots rabbit advocacy group ‘Rabbit Farm Resistance’ who have done so much to raise awareness of the proposals:
    https://www.animalaid.org.uk/stoprabbitfarms/

    We also have a press release available on the webpage for any journalists who would like to cover the issue and are happy to answer any additional questions they may have.

    Many thanks,

    Tor
    Animal Aid

    1. Post
      Author
  2. Graeme Stanley

    Hi Stephen, many thanks for your investigation into rabbit farms run by T&S especially with reference to the farm close to me on Turlowfields Lane, Atlow. How on earth this abomination was given planning permission I do not understand and the fact that it is called “The Warren” must be some sick individuals idea of a joke. I would like to know if there is any possible way in which this “fur farm” under another name can be shut down. Perhaps there are groups locally who, if made aware of what is going on, would be happy to take more positive steps.

    1. Post
      Author
      Stephen Wiggins

      Hi Graeme, Animal Aid conducted the covert investigation at the Turlowfields Lane site – if you e-mail Animal Aid, then they may well have contact with local campaign groups they can put you in contact with to apply pressure for this abhorrent rabbit meat/fur farm to come under increasing scrutiny and have its ability to ‘legally’ operate shut-down – E:[email protected]

      The actual operating company that runs the Turlowfields site (and other rabbit farms perhaps) remains opaque. If you are a local resident to Turlowfields, then perhaps you can make an official enquiry to the local council seeking past inspection/compliance records etc. on the grounds of the bio-security risks and potential for such rabbit farms to act as a COVID reservoir for example and potentially negatively impact human health? Keep me posted!

    2. Post
      Author
      Stephen Wiggins

      Graeme, In case you have not seen it, there is a gathering (co-ordinated by Rabbit Farm Resistance UK) planned for Monday, 31 May 2021 at Atlow – see you there!

      https://www.facebook.com/events/317195803147680/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%2252%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22%5B%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22share_link%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22share_link%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A%7B%5C%22invite_link_id%5C%22%3A1119969895180510%7D%7D%5D%22%7D

Leave a Reply to Tor Bailey Cancel reply