EUROPE has taken the first step towards banning cage-farming of rabbits, with MEPs voting to support a report calling for the practice to go the same way as battery hen production.

Rabbits are the fourth most farmed animal in the world, with an estimated 340 million rabbits slaughtered annually, most after being finished in wire cages where their natural behaviour is severely restricted.

The report adopted by MEPs calls for higher welfare standards for rabbits and concrete EU legislation that would ban the use of cages. Responding to the result, Green Party MEP Keith Taylor said: “This is great news for millions of rabbits across Europe and a great example of how the EU can take a lead on animal welfare.

"Greens have always opposed factory farming and as the Green Party's Animals spokesperson, I wholeheartedly welcome the result of today's vote. The report prioritises putting an end to the inhumane conditions in which rabbits are kept and eradicating the other problems associated with intensive rabbit rearing. The current system leads to the spread of disease and the subsequent overuse of antibiotics," said Mr Taylor.

“Rabbit farming is relatively small-scale in the UK, but the fact that the European Parliament has voted to end the cage age serves to highlight the key role EU membership has played and continues to play in raising the welfare of millions of farm animals in Britain and across the EU.

“The closer the relationship the UK maintains with the EU, retaining animal welfare and wildlife protections through single market membership, the better the outcome for British animals," he added. "Animal advocates across the UK must continue lobbying the UK government to ensure the current legal protections, for all species, offered by European Union membership are maintained and strengthened.”