How Rabbits Can Save the World (It Ain’t Pretty)

With no religious taboos against consuming bunny meat, the animal may be a key ingredient in the fight against hunger. It also can be raised grain-free.

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David McNew / Getty Images

A desert cottontail rabbit forages near a desert marsh in Morongo Valley, Calif., April 11, 2007.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that rabbits reproduce at a rapid rate. But did you know that rabbit meat is kosher, halal and acceptable for Hindus who decline beef for religious reasons? All of that is good news for the world-wide war on hunger—if bad news for bunnies.

Dr. Steven Lukefahr has been an avid advocate of rabbit-raising ever since his parents showed him how to raise them for the family dinner table as a young boy. He has spent his career touting rabbit as a solution for protein-energy malnutrition in the developing world. Rabbits, Lukefahr points out, are easy to raise, procreate, er, like rabbits , are relatively disease-free, more easily digestible than some other proteins, are low-fat and have a pleasant taste. While wild rabbits are a little gamier, domestic rabbits taste—okay–a lot like chicken and can be adapted to a wide variety of international culinary tastes.

(MORE: Think Twice Before Putting a Pet Bunny in an Easter Basket)

“There are no known taboos against eating rabbit,” Lukefahr says. Eating it during Lent was even condoned by Pope Gregory I who proclaimed in the year 600 that rabbit meat was not meat at all. According to Harvard‘s Broad Institute, the papal proclamation led to a boom in cuniculture (rabbit-raising) in France‘s monasteries. No wonder the rabbit still has a role on the kitchen tables of France, Italy and Spain, the southwestern region of Europe that is the birthplace of the modern, domestic rabbit.

But perhaps the most important element in popularizing rabbit production is that the animals can be raised on a grain-free diet. In a world of rising prices and increasing demand for grain, the ability to raise a good protein on garden forage is a plus in poor countries. Lukefahr’s first two-year rabbit project was in Cameroon in 1983 under the auspices of Heifer International and rabbit is now on the family menu in that Central African country.

An agriscientist at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in South Texas, a stone’s throw from one of the icons of the protein world, the legendary King Ranch cattle empire, Lukefahr recently spoke about his latest work at a meeting of the World Rabbit Science Association at the 10th World Rabbit Congress. It was held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, a country that is high on the rabbit production list. Both small farmers and large production facilities feed the Egyptian demand for rabbit meat which is less expensive there than chicken sold in community markets.

Lukefahr reported to the association on the success of the Haiti project, underwritten by the U.S.-funded Farmer to Farmer Program. Following the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, many Haitians moved out of their devastated capital and back into the countryside, relying on small holdings to grow vegetables. Using a local crossbreed rabbit suited to the Haitian climate, the project has helped increase cuniculture. “Ten females and one male can produce around 200 offspring per year,” Lukefahr says. “That’s enough to provide high protein meat for the family and have some left over to sell at the local market.”

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Over 1,700 Haitian rabbit producers now maintain some 1,250 rabbit facilities, Lukefahr says, which are home to 32,650 breeding rabbits. The program has grown by 142% in the last two years and has helped increase family income by an average of $19.95 a month per family with some producers seeing as much as $200 a month in income from meat sales, a significant boost in a country where the average annual family income is $1,700.

Back at the Texas rabbit ranch, Lukefahr has been working on another symbiotic solution for rabbit production in the developing world — the harvesting of sweet potato leaves and vines to serve as rabbit food in warm climes where the tubers flourish. Over the last 10 years, Lukefahr also has visited Southeast Asia where there is a rising interest in rabbit production as Asian bird flu—incubating among commercial and family farming–has caused alarm in some communities. “China is the world’s biggest rabbit producer,” Lukefahr says, emerging as a major player in the last 20 years along with Indonesia and Vietnam.

In the U.S., rabbit meat has not been a feature on most family dining tables since World War II when the animals munched on Victory Garden scraps and later landed on the table while other meat products were diverted to the troops.  “But on the cooking channels and with chefs rabbit meat has taken off,” Lukefahr notes, adding that he believes the economy likely will prompt more and more families to consider raising rabbits.

In Oregon, Camas Davis, a food writer and founder of the Portland Meat Collective is seeing that trend unfold. The collective offers classes in rabbit slaughter and butchering techniques, focusing on utilizing the whole animal. About half the participants come in for economic reasons or because they want a sustainable protein — rabbits feed on grass, their manure is a great addition to the vegetable garden and their meat is a healthy protein. Plus, as Davis points out, unlike chickens, ducks or goats, they have escaped the bureaucracy. In Portland, backyard farmers are limited to two chickens and/or one goat, while rabbits “have slipped through the cracks.” The same goes for federal regulation, Lukefahr notes, and the Department of Agriculture does not list rabbits as livestock — hence the lack of firm numbers on rabbit production in the U.S. and the lack of red tape governing production, a status favored by some rabbit farmers.

The other half of the students at the collective are foodies, Davis says. “A lot are coming in to explore what they deem to be an exotic protein.” For her part, Davis, who trained in the culinary arts in France, domestic rabbit meat is rather bland and she adds flavor by cooking rabbit in duck fat. “It’s a mild meat and in line with how Americans eat their meat,” she says. To that end, rabbit meat would seem perfect for the American diet, low-fat and without gamy flavors, but the biggest barrier to its popularity, is the image of the furry bunny (a word Lukefahr shuns). Davis says the collective gets the most negative comments online about upcoming classes when rabbit is on the menu. The collective’s rabbit supplier was even targeted by animal activists who stole his rabbits last February. And so, if the rabbit doesn’t become the solution to the world’s protein needs, it can thank Disney, Beatrix Potter and the Easter Bunny.

MORE: Zero-Gravity Bunnies?

52 comments
lizs
lizs

These days people see animals an no more than food. They have a right to live. Rabbits are very sensitive and intelligent.. Also to raise them on a large scale would cause them suffering. As humans we are supposed to have compassion and a conscience.

LauraMatear
LauraMatear

Rabbits are NOT kosher. 
Deu 14:7

Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the cloven hoof; as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore they are unclean unto you.

FrancoRios
FrancoRios

In the real bunny world, rabbits feed the world. Rabbits were carried by sailors and soldiers everywhere to feed travelers. Rabbits occupy the lower part of the food ladder in the wild. They have been domesticated to provide food, fur, and wool.

Rabbits are a multipurpose animal. We need to embrace the rabbit for what it is. To ignore its role as a food animal is to deny its very reason for being.


Have a good day!

Beesknees
Beesknees

Rabbits are not Kosher.  Do your fact checking!

celticrusader
celticrusader

Well first of all i like to say that simply stopping eating them is not the solution as these animals are pests at the extreme in various parts of the world ...example...australia , but the fact is the have to be culled as they cause roughly 1 billion pounds worth of damage a year over here in the UK to farming land...so why not eat what needs to be culled , i dont let any go to waste that i shoot, the process is called management not eradication... although i'm sure some need the latter.

To those who do like to make comments about how can we eat them, shoot them and maybe we should leave them alone...you clearly do not know the whole truth or have failed to look into the reasons for doing so in any of the above....but then i guess you are willing to wear makeup ,eyeliner ,cologne, perfume, lipstick or the various other products while shopping and buying more leather shoes, jackets or what else makes you feel good about yourself as i'm sure your onesided opinion is that you don't contribute to any animal mistreatment or death...........yeah right!


my comments are not guided at an individual person or a particular sex.

Empiezaporclick
Empiezaporclick

Rabbits are halal, but not kosher. Adventists and jews won't eat it. The advantage of making non-edible weeds become edible meat, though, is undeniable. It is small, so you could have many and regulate population depending on how much feed you have for them. And you can give away couples or find shelter for some in case of need. You can't do that as easily with a cow and a bull. They are fertile every day, unlike so many mammals. But you can't live off rabbits only- it will cause starvation due to the lack of fat.

MaheshGam
MaheshGam

i agree with many things. especially about the idea of becoming a vegetarian in order to feed the growing population. raising rabbits as a food source is as common as chicken nowadays. but if we look rabbits as a main source it would result in mass killings of rabbits. whatsoever i am not against killing animals. but i think we can and should look for better solutions rather than killing bunches of rabbits as the solution. and below is an article which describes a bit more about saving the world. read it and leave a comment. 

http://www.worldtransformation.com/save-the-world/

LucyP
LucyP

If we’re looking for a way to feed the world’s growing population and reduce dependence on grain, going vegan is a much better idea than eating bunnies. Aside from the fact that all animal protein is a potent cancer-promoter, feeding precious crops to any animal and then eating that animal’s flesh is an inefficient use of resources. It would be far healthier and more sustainable to feed vegetables to directly hungry humans, rather than funneling large amounts of nutritious plants through animals in exchange for a small amount of their (unhealthy) flesh.

ShwetalShah
ShwetalShah

The endless debate on veg and non-veg continues since ages. But words of wisdom must caution those who do not fear ACT against its CONSEQUENCE. You may not believe something but you never know what outcome it gives. Nature has rewarded you a lot with its infinite species, but day on day you are playing with mother Nature and harming its interests on a huge scale - under the pretext of being MODERN and ADVANCED society. Its a fact that you are the sole sufferer of your own Acts - whether you accept it or deny - you gather enough evidence to prove guilty in the Court of Nature... hence the short learning would be to show love to such innocent pets rather than just trying to prove that they should be killed with LOVE !!!  A cloud on the lining does not mean that the sun has vanished, and so will the cloud of your ill acts when moves on - you will be be facing the Heat of mother Nature in form of Tsunamis, wild Fires, Quakes and what not..  Truth prevails in its own form - it is just a matter of Time..  really feel sorry for those who have commented Rabbit as meal for Hindus !!! I salute their Depth of knowledge for Hindu faith..

hopperhome
hopperhome

Rabbits are slaughtered at 6 to 12 weeks old before they reach reproductive age similar to veal. Why should we promote meat eating in the world particularly of animals millions of people consider pets. There are 2 to 4 million rabbits kept as pets in the US alone. House rabbits are popular pets housed in a house just like a cat or dog. They are the 3rd most popular mammalian pet in the US, UK and Canada. They can be litter trained, click trained, learn their names, are affectionate, and bond for life with people. But humans will eat anything. Less than 84% of the meat rabbit operations are inspected in the US. Rabbits are prone to many diseases and parasites. However, in some countries they are regularly consumed. However, as pet ownership is on the rise in these countries so is the opposition to eating them. Now as a civilized society we want to promote eating rabbits as food. This is going backwards and objectifying rabbits as food again. Rabbits as a traditional food are no better than poaching puppies or boiling cats. The so-called meat rabbits like New Zealands, Californians, Dutch make the best pets. No difference except one ends up on a plate. Many "meat" rabbits are now pets. A gorilla from a zoo in Erie PA, Samanatha, was awarded a certificate as a compassionate pet owner of a rabbit. A Dutch rabbit lives with the gorilla as a companion. So even a gorilla knows rabbits are best suited as friends, not food. What does that make us?

CorinneLuckfieldFayo
CorinneLuckfieldFayo

@hopperhome Rabbits are NOT the 3rd pet in the US, AVMA website, they are like 7 or something. Those who don't eat meat whatever, but many disagree and enjoy meat so you do your thing leave the rest of us alone to do our thing. As far as popularity of pet rabbits, AVMA est 6 million in 07 down to 3.2 million in 2012. And again NOT NOT NOT 3rd pet in the US. Those who oppose using rabbits as anything other than pet you can't change the facts to suit your needs. Rabbits have ALWAYS been used as both meat and pet. The rabbit re$cuers keep telling us that so many pet rabbits end up in shelters-although they don't ever give out numbers or the "stats" they quote come from nowhere, but if so many are ending up in shelters then it is logical that they do NOT make good pets and we should shuffle them over to food so as to keep most out of the shelters. We keep hearing they are 3rd most euthanized, although again no numbers no proof and when I check w/ these mythical shelter stats I find out nobody has numbers. You know you can't have it both ways, you can't have an overpop crisis and say they are great pets and shouldn't be used for meat.


As far as commercial rabbit meat farms, they are the very definition of a small family operated farm, so now that is wrong, I thought it was the "factory farms", nothing ever pleases animal rights fanatics. :( ARAs give out lots of propaganda, lies, misinformation, very very little fact. I mean why trust them w/ anything? Their agenda is to turn everyone "vegan". Listening to info from ARAs would be like going to the KKK for info about minority issues.

schenwow
schenwow

rabbits are pets. why would people eat rabbits?! will you eat your dog? geez respect for rabbits please

FrancoRios
FrancoRios

@schenwow It's science. Rabbits are food. Look at the food chain. Rabbits occupy the lower level. That's the reason they exist is to be food for other animals.That is why people eat rabbits all over the world.

rhinokitty
rhinokitty

Rabbits are not halal, they eat their own poop. The poop is called a "cecotrope" and is distinct from the regular pellet most people are familiar with seeing.

prairedog422
prairedog422

Rabbit is not kosher at all. It does not have split hooves but rather paws.

Vs
Vs

Reconnecting with where your food comes from and how it is raised would drive most to eating rabbit. I take pride in knowing that the meat I put on my table was raised humanly and is not loaded with antibiotics and hormones. Happy chicken produce great eggs and happy rabbits make great meat.

frokn
frokn

I have eaten hundreds of wild rabbits and a few domestic ones. I prefer the wild rabbits. There is nothing wrong with eating rabbits, despite what animal activists believe. Humans are designed to consume animal meat, even though they are designed to eat more fruits and vegetables at the same time.

northbud
northbud

Rabbit meat IS a high protein, low fat source of meat, but not as psychologically acceptable to the average human palate as beef, pork, and fowl.  But if you've ever watched the documentary Food Inc., you'd never buy "industrially" produced beef, pork, or fowl again! Insanely cruel husbandry practices! And, industrially raised meat products are sick products as the animals don't get the natural bacterias from the soil they need to be healthy bodies. I've read all the comments so far on this topic; I agree with some, disagree with others. Humans have evolved as omnivores. We all need both plant and animal food sources. We need animal fats to balance our hormone production, and we need plant foods for fiber and vitamins. Going vegan may be a noble cause to prevent exploitation of animals, (which I agree is abomnible) but we NEED animal protein and fats in our diet. The burgeoning human population has brought on this industrial scale of insane meat production, and there's not much we can do about how the industry is evolving. Long gone are the days of Joe Farmer raising a pasture fed cow and a pig and a few chickens each year for his own consumption. But, back to rabbits. I don't believe rabbit meat will ever become popular enough for rabbit raising to come to the same industrialized mayhem as the other meats consumers crave. 

And, just another thought about low fat, high protein meat...all the indigenous peoples of North America, for 10's of thousands of years,  hunted bison, caribou, seals, whales. All high fat meats. If an Eskimo population couldn't get these meats, and had to live on (plentiful) low fat fish, they got sick and died off. In the Southern realms where an agrarian lifestyle supplemented hunting, they got sickly without the meats they were accustomed to having. WE NEED MEAT! Having said this, I definitely don't agree with the industrialization of mass meat production. So, where do we, as such a huge population, find the happy medium between what we need/want and a much healthier way of producing it?

chrisb3rry
chrisb3rry

Save the world by going vegan instead of eating pets.

JaspersMom
JaspersMom

Aside from the cruelty involved, inevitably, when you raise animals in cages, they escape (e.g. nutria in southern America) and often wreak havoc on the eco-system. So I maybe we shouldn't be so quick to get all excited about the "explosive" growth of rabbit farming.

DoreenHannes
DoreenHannes

First of all, rabbit is NOT kosher. Nothing with paws is.

 However, the meat is highly nutritious (if raised properly) and quite filling, it just doesn't have fat which is an issue that people can disagree about all day, but I will state that animal fat is good for you, and not having that fat is why there can be "rabbit starvation".  It's very high in protein. As for some of the issues brought up by other posters, herbivore manure is the best fertilizer to keep your veggies growing, rabbit manure is a manure of extreme benefit for the land. They can be grown on what can be gathered in most temperate climates and do, indeed, breed like rabbits. If you raise them on hay alone, they will not be as prolific as on pelleted feed, but they will still way out produce home pasture/mama raised non supplemented poultry in meat amounts versus input (hay, water and mineral salt). I know people will disagree, but I don't really care, rabbits should NOT be raised on the ground as that is where they pick up worms and they can transmit those to people. Also, a dominant doe will kill the other does kits, so you do not want to raise them in communal housing. The bucks in such a situation will castrate each other, so it's just not a good idea.

 As for saving the world...That's a pretty grandiose statement. It is a good small holder, low input meat source. That is, IF you do not care about whether or not it is kosher. And the furs are very, very warm.

 During the "Great Depression" rabbit was a deeply appreciated and fairly available meat. My father had to leave the paws on when he sold his to the local grocery to prove it wasn't cat.

DonnaW
DonnaW

Most rabbits are vegan, work together for the common good, and are smart, playful and compassionate living beings.  Instead of eating them, humans might follow their example. THAT might save the world.

JamesThomasTutenJr
JamesThomasTutenJr

The author is mistaken. Rabbit is not kosher. Leviticus  11:6 , "And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. 

Accountanseas
Accountanseas

Or you could, you know, not eat meat, not waste space and food raising meat to eat, and just feed more people more nutritiously that way.  I mean, if you were serious about addressing world hunger.

FuzzyPotato
FuzzyPotato

"And so, if the rabbit doesn’t become the solution to the world’s protein needs, it can thank Disney, Beatrix Potter and the Easter Bunny"

Funny, I thought Bugs Bunny was owned by your parent company Time Warner, not Disney.

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

This article seems to completely leave out the most important issues regarding rabbit as food.

Pounds of actual edible meat produced per pounds of food required to produce it.

Cost of food per pound of meat.

Length of time, space, housing and care required from birth to harvesting.

And modern commercial chickens are remarkably optimized for the above considerations.

Other issues while not insignificant can probably be solved on a commercial basis such as housing and processing, but the above considerations are the most important for a commercial harvest of meat.

I do realize that not needing grain is significant, but that is true for cattle, goats, sheep, Tilapia and many other species as well, so it comes down to cost of food per pound and with a rabbit you end up with a lot of fur and bones per pound and they are not very big and require complex processing per pound of meat.

To me it seems that the only conditions it might be superior to existing solutions is for isolated and specific small scale operations such as villages or families for whom small scale husbandry is all that is practical.

GlobalCitizen
GlobalCitizen

No religious taboos, but certainly ethical taboos for people who are not actually starving and/or have other options. The solution to many problems in the world - certainly the modern western world - is for most people to just avoid animal products.

pendragon05
pendragon05

As a bunny owner, that will not happen with me - sorry

whisky87proof
whisky87proof

Rabbit as a staple meat is probably not a good idea, it is not very nutritious at all, ever heard of the term rabbit starvation?

DawnPanda
DawnPanda

Rabbit starvation occurs in populations where forage is lean, and the "rabbits" in question are wild.  It requires calories to digest proteins, and the starving people surviving solely on wild rabbits did not have the calories needed for their bodies to metabolize the ultra-lean meat.  Domestic rabbit, properly maintained on an adequate diet, is low fat, but not fat-free.  Even a starving person would derive enough calories from the very readily-metabolized fat to then metabolize the proteins.