WASHINGTON — Bunny lovers are upset over Whole Foods’ decision to start selling rabbit meat in some of their stores.
Groups like the House Rabbit Society held a nationwide day of action against the chain on Sunday, organizing protests outside of stores across the country.
There is an online petition with more than 15,000 signatures asking the chain not to sell rabbit meat, saying the animals are pets and not meat.
The chain says they started the pilot program selling rabbit meat in their stores because shoppers have been asking for the meat.
The Washington, D.C. area is one of only two areas in the country where the program is in effect. Rabbit meat is also for sale in Northern California.
A company spokesman tells the Daily Beast they are sensitive to the issue, and realize rabbit meat won’t appeal to everybody.
The Tysons Whole Foods says they sell fresh rabbit meat that is on display in the meat case. The Whole Foods in Tenleytown and Rockville say they only sell frozen rabbit meat.
The chain says in a news release that there was a four-year process to develop their own set of animal welfare standards.
“It was important to us to provide rabbits that were raised in better conditions than what the industry offered,” reads the news release.
Those standards include not keeping the animals in cages, ensuring the animals have continuous access to drinking water and food, that injured animals are treated and that mother rabbits are given time to recover before being re-bred.
The Daily Beast points out that there is a long tradition of eating rabbit in the United States and that the meat was even considered a patriotic food during World War II.
While selling rabbit meat is new for Whole Foods, the Balducci’s market in Bethesda has been selling rabbit meat for years.
“I’ve been with the company for 17 years, and ever since I’ve been with the store and we’ve always carried it,” says John Grande, supervisor of the meat department.
Grande says the McLean and Alexandria locations also sell rabbit meat.
On Wednesday morning, there were only a few rabbits available at the Bethesda Balducci’s, but Grande says they usually sell and there would be more coming in at the end of the week. He adds that rabbit meat is more popular during the holidays.
“During Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’re bringing in maybe 12 or more. Maybe 18 a week, and they sell,” he says.