The European Parliament on Tuesday urged Brussels to help improve the lives of 340 million rabbits raised for food in Europe every year, mainly in cramped cages.
"There are regulations for pork, veal, and poultry chickens, but nothing at all for the protection of rabbits," said MEP Stefan Eck who tabled a law on rabbits that was easily approved by the parliament in Strasbourg.
The beret-wearing Eck, an independent from Germany, joined the European Parliament as a member of an animal rights party and spoke passionately about the plight of rabbits.
A rabbit in Europe is "kept in old-fashioned cages" that leave a space per rabbit "that is less than the area of two ordinary A4 sheets of paper," his directive said.
The directive is not a law but effectively a plea to the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to take action to protect the rabbits.
Rabbits "are extremely sensitive animals and can suffer from a wide range of welfare problems and diseases caused by inappropriate breeding conditions, including fatal viruses, respiratory diseases and sore hocks from sitting on wire-mesh cage floors," said the directive.
The European Commission denied that there was a need for a special treatment for rabbits as exists for other farm animals.
"The Commission does not consider it appropriate to propose an initiative on the welfare of farm rabbits," said Consumer Affairs Commissioner Vera Jourova at a debate on the topic.
She said rabbit production in the EU "is essentially concentrated in a few member states mainly Italy, Spain and France", and therefore should remain a national concern.