Thomas Buchmann turns the radio on, opens the door and calls out a cheerful greeting. 1500 sets of bright pink eyes and long ears perk up. The boss is here. The radio is important, he tells us, so the rabbits know what’s going on. If he just walks in, they all jump nervously. He talks of them just like his pets – and each box looks like someone’s back yard rabbit setup. 28 bunnies hop around in an airy open space, one third of which is covered in clean fresh straw. There’s a raised platform for them so they can play and chase each other around. In the back there’s a covered raised box with straw if they want to retreat a bit. Everything possible is done for their comfort and pleasure.
This isn’t a petting zoo. It’s a rabbit meat production unit in Switzerland, where customers demand that their rabbit meat is produced in animal friendly ways. When they eat rabbit, they want to know that the rabbit had a happy life. They can be assured of that if their meat comes from Buchmann’s farm.
“Quality is defined by what the customer wants and is prepared to pay for,” Thomas says. He thinks that there probably isn’t much real difference between Hungarian rabbit meat and Swiss rabbit meat, but the difference is in the perception of the Swiss consumer. Some time ago a Swiss TV consumer program showed pictures of Hungarian rabbit farms where the rabbits are kept in small wire cages with hardly room for two rabbits to lay down side by side. Swiss consumers were outraged and the two largest grocery chains in Switzerland at least temporarily suspended all rabbit meat imports. That did wonders for domestic rabbit meat demand.
Robert often says that we in the West are at the top of the Maslow pyramid. (See “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs” for an explanation of this theory of the hierarchy of the needs of humans.) Most of the people we work with in Zambia are at the bottom – their energy is needed to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families. There’s not much discussion in Zambia of how food is produced. The issue is to produce it. The average life expectancy is only 38.6 years in Zambia (see http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/). Canada’s is 81.2 years. That alone gives a whole difference perspective on the meaning and value of life.
The peak of the pyramid is self-actualization, where so many of us in the First World countries are. Our basic needs are met, and we are more concerned with fulfilling our whole potential. As we care about ourselves, we also care more about the environment around us, including the animals we produce for meat.
And that’s a good thing, I guess.