Because in practice, farmed rabbits get sick, old or cannot be used for scientific testing (up to 1/3 of all farmed test animals cannot be used because they don’t fit the test profile), they have to be killed, either at the slaughterhouse (meat production) or on the farm facility. Up to January 1, 2013, using a high concentration of Co2 killed the rabbits.

That process was declared illegal, after the introduction of EU Directive EU 1099/2009 that only allows the following techniques to kill rabbits:

• Penetrative captive bolt device
• Firearm with free projectile
• Percussive blow to the head
• Lethal injection

All these techniques require an intensive contact between animals and operators. In case of an outbreak, using labor-intensive techniques need to be avoided, based on costs and the risks of spreading through human intervention. So what are the options: A new technique needs to be introduced to the European Food Safety Authority EFSA of the scientific committee of DG SANCO.

However sympathetic the scientific committee thinks about the need to develop a new technique for large-scale killing of rabbits, the industry has to take the initiative to present a complete science-based report, that is conducted according to Guidance on the assessment criteria for studies evaluating the effectiveness of stunning interventions regarding animal protection at the time of killing.

The Panel on Animal Health and Welfare was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the use of carbon dioxide for stunning rabbits. Specifically, EFSA was asked to give its view on the findings of the study performed by the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain) and the Animal Technology Centre CITA-ITAVIA “Estudio sobre la valoración mediante parámetros técnicos y de manejo del sistema de aturdimiento con gas CO2”. (red: “Study on the assessment by technical parameters and system management with CO2 gas stunning.”).

The answer was not at all satisfactory for the rabbit industry: As a first step, the type of study, critical variables, experimental design, data collection and analysis and reporting methods needed to supply scientific evidence that the use of CO2 is an acceptable alternative for the stunning of rabbits were defined. These criteria were then applied to the study.

The submitted study was not adequate for a full welfare assessment of the alternative method studied because it does not fulfill the eligibility criteria and the reporting quality criteria defined, according to the opinion of the committee. Follow this link to se the entire report. The rabbit industry has to raise sufficient funds to bring forward a complete report, ticking all the boxes, to enable EFSA to review the killing method proposed. First after EFSA is convinced that the proposed method is an improvement, the technique is accepted, meaning that in line with EU 1099/2009 all criteria like training & certification described in EU 1099/2009 need to be in considered as well.

Why is this so significant? Let’s assume that the rabbit industry would like to use the Anoxia method for killing rabbits. The method needs to go through the entire EFSA procedure before it can be applied within the rabbit industry. That would be the best option, but it still include going to the entire process of approval.

This makes it so hard to introduce better and more animal welfare friendly techniques like the Anoxia method to be applied within the EU. The rabbit industry is relatively small, but they have to fulfill the rules within the directive, if not, it will be the end of this industry if they do not come up with a solution that is validated and approved by EFSA.

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