The company started selling rabbit meat in the summer of 2014 in a trial at a number of its California stores. However, there was an immediate backlash from organisations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the House Rabbit Society, which organised protests outside 40 stores, urging consumers to boycott the company until it stopped selling the meat.
Earlier this year leaked USDA documents were published, revealing welfare concerns on one of the rabbit farms supplying Whole Foods Market. Inspectors noted issues such as rabbits that were caged overnight in cold weather with no access to water.
Animal welfare standards
Rabbit advocates say Whole Foods decision to offer rabbit meat didn’t tally with the chain’s own stated animal welfare standards of “no crates, cages, or tethers”.
In an interview with television network NBC, Mary Schaff, founder of Save-a-Bunny rabbit rescue, said: “They were not following humane standards. We’re thrilled that Whole Foods has decided to stop the sale of rabbit meat. We wish it had come sooner.”
The retailer published a statement on its website, defending its standards and explaining the decision to stop selling rabbit. “We were pleased to have worked with a small group of farmers to create a rabbit growing system that met our quality standards, unlike any other in the industry. However, the pilot ultimately revealed the sales volume did not justify the continuation or expansion of the pilot to a national program. We expect all remaining product will be sold-through by January 2016.”