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THE RABBIT MEAT MARKET
The tonnages of rabbit meat involved in international trade are not negligible in relation to national outputs, as shown in Tables 5 and 6. Almost every country in western Europe regularly imports several thousand tonnes of rabbit meat a year, and the trend is upwards.
The biggest producer, the USSR, neither imports nor exports rabbit meat. The two biggest import markets are Italy (16 000 tonnes) and France (14 000 tonnes), followed by the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany (5 000-8 000 tonnes) and finally the Benelux countries (4 000-5 000 tonnes). Denmark and Ireland import practically no rabbit meat. In Europe outside the EEC, Switzerland imports 2 000 tonnes and Austria barely 400 tonnes. Eastern European countries do not usually import rabbit meat.
From 1972 to 1980, imports in the EEC rose from about 24 000 to over 52 000 tonnes-more than double (+ 117 percent). The share covered by intra-EEC trading remains around 5 000-7 000 tonnes. France, the Netherlands and, very recently the United Kingdom are involved in this trade of which a small part consists of reexports.
In this period China (Table 6) has increased its sales of rabbit meat to EEC countries by 228 percent and eastern European countries, especially Hungary and Poland, have doubled theirs. In 1980, China covered 48 percent of EEC imports and eastern European countries 35 percent (Hungary 24 percent). Globally, net imports at present account for approximately 12 percent of total EEC rabbit meat consumption, estimated at 420 000 tonnes.
TABLE 5.-RABBIT MEAT IMPORTED BY EEC COUNTRIES,
|France||5 915||4 827||8 775||9 587||13 809|
|China||4 811||4 142||8 112||8 579||11 711|
|Belgium-Luxembourg||3 092||3 069||4 568||4 454||5 038|
|Netherlands||1 309||1 575||2 178||2 273||2 602|
|Netherlands||983||1 407||1 758||3 132||4 132|
|German Dem Rep||325||289||11||_|
|China||190||610||853||2 618||3 599|
|Germany, Fed Rep of||4 567||5 121||4 487||4 437||5 221|
|Poland||3 080||3 130||3 299||3 310||3 032|
|Italy||9 395||12 242||13 148||16 858||15 974|
|Poland||1 699||2 122||517||1 035||765|
|Hungary||986||3 644||7 057||9 785||12 285|
|German Dem Rep||225||29||113||_|
|China||3 561||4 828||4 983||5 571||2 400|
|United Kingdom||(*)8 035||8 189||7 953||7 231|
|China||(*)||7 829||8 155||7 883||6 245|
Source: Statistical Services. EEC
* Not available
TABLE 6.-MAIN SOURCES or RABBIT MEAT FOR EEC COUNTRIES
|TOTAL IMPORTS||23 932||34 701||40 953||46 434||51 962|
|Intra-EEC trade||5 401||4 425||4 715||5 057||7 245|
|France||3 724||1821||1153||1 272||1 457|
|Netherlands||1 373||1692||2325||2 415||2 887|
|United Kingdom||55||84||472||984||1 489|
|Extra-EEC trade||18 531||30 277||36 239||41377||43 120|
|China||9 255||18 729||23 034||25 414||24 877|
|Eastern Europe||8 677||11236||12 846||15 796||18 131|
|Poland||5 288||5 829||4795||4 993||4 923|
|Hungary||1 473||4 047||7 202||10214||12 545|
Source :Statistical Services, EEC.
With the exception of the flow of rabbit meat from China to Europe, the trade outside Europe is very small. There are some Chinese exports to Japan and, in small quantities, to the United States and Canada. African countries import some 30-40 tonnes, often as fresh rabbit meat airfreighted from Europe (France' Italy). In 1980, Jordan imported a hundred tonnes.
Apart from China, the foremost exporter of rabbit meat, Uruguay is the only trader outside Europe of any significance. and it exports only about 40 tonnes.
THE MARKET FOR RABBIT SKINS
Data on skin marketing are scanty. France appears to be the main producer of raw skins, but the practice of reimportation after partial treatment rather complicates the figures. France uses 56 percent of the skins it produces, about 70 million. About 60 percent of these are poor quality skins from which only the hair is recovered ( 12-20 percent of dry pelt weight). The best quality skins are used after tanning for garments (5-8 percent) and linings, gloves, and so on.
Most other producers also market rabbit skins, but the USSR and Poland, for example, apparently make domestic use of all the skins they produce. Australia must be considered a producer, as it exports the skins of wild rabbits killed in extermination campaigns.
The main importers of raw skins are developing countries such as the Republic of Korea and the Philippines, which have low-priced manpower to do the dressing. After fairly complete processing, these skins are reexported to developed countries such as the United States, Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy.
Used mainly in textiles, the wool of the Angora rabbit forms a special sector of the international wool trade. World production is modest but the value per unit of weight is high: 40 to 50 times that of greasy wool.
Europe's share of the ever-growing world output, now estimated at 2 750 tonnes, is at present about 350-400 tonnes a year. Production is mainly concentrated in Czechoslovakia (80-120 tonnes a year), France (100 tonnes) and the Federal Republic of Germany (30-40 tonnes). A small amount is also produced in the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, Poland and Belgium. For the rest of the world, Chinese production is highest, at 1 500-2 000 tonnes a year. Japan produces 50-60 tonnes a year. Small quantities are also produced in Argentina, the Republic of Korea and India.
There is brisk trading in both raw Angora wool and the spun yarn. The main end-users are Japan, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany. The trade is characterized by regular 4-year cycles, due not to production, which is in fact regular, but to fluctuations in demand dictated by fashion.
Rabbit meat quality
Carcasses are presented in different ways in different countries. Traditionally in Italy and certain African countries, rabbits for the market are simply bled and gutted. In France until recently the carcasses were sold skinned, with the thoracic viscera, liver and kidneys, and the head and paws still covered with fur. This changed in 1980, and now the paws must be removed.
In Canada and the United Kingdom the carcasses are dressed much as beef carcasses: no head, no viscera, and of course no paws. So slaughter yields can vary greatly from one country to another. Yields also vary among breeds (Table 7), and according to age (Table 8) and diet (Tables 9 and 10). Slaughter yield improves with age: for a given carcass weight, animals with a high growth rate, receiving more balanced feed, generally have a better carcass yield. Too much roughage in the diet tends to overdevelop the digestive tract and thereby lower yield.
TABLE 7.-SLAUGHTER YIELDS OF DIFFERENT RABBIT BREEDS AND CROSSES AT 10-12 WEEKS, IN BELGIUM
|Breeds and crosses.||Live- weight||Carcass yield||Proportion of rump (legs, back) to front portion||Dissectable fat||Edible offals|
|Old French presentation||Ready to cook||(liver,heart, kidneys)|
|Blanc de Termonde|
|New Zealand White|
|Bleu de Beveren|
|BT x NZ||2.33||62.7||55.9||1.62/1||90||87|
|BT x hybrid||2.26||63.2||55.7||1.56/1||43||95|
|Calif x BB||2.14||62.8||56.1||1.52/1||100||100|
Source:Reyntens et al., 1970
TABLE8.-SLAUGHTER YIELD OF NEW ZEALAND WHITES, BY AGE1
|Age in weeks|
|Liveweight at slaughter2 (kg)||1.70||2.12||2.47||2.67|
|Carcass weight (kg)||1.18||1.48||1.76||1.93|
|Slaughter yield (%)||69.2||69.8||71.6||72.1|
Source: Di Lella and Zicarelli, 1989.
1Italian presentation with fur.-2 After 24hour fast.
Compared with the meat of other species, rabbit meat is richer in proteins and certain vitamins and minerals. However, it has less fat, as shown in Table 11. Rabbit fat contains less stearic and oleic acids than other species and higher proportions of the essential polyunsaturated linolenic and linoleic fatty acids (Table 12). The anatomical composition of the rabbit varies with age. The proportion of muscle mass to body weight remains constant: over 2 kg liveweight for a strain weighing 4 kg (adult animal). But the proportion of fatty tissue tends to increase. This ratio shows up in meat composition (Table 13).
TABLE 9.-EFFECT OF FEED TYPE ON SLAUGHTER YIELD: ROLE OF SUPPLEMENTARY BULK FEED
|Low-bulk feed||High-bulk feed|
|Straw content (%)||0 4||20 12|
|Crude fibre content (%)|
|Presentation (choice)||alone||+ straw||alone||+ straw|
|% of straw in free choice (% DM)||-||15.9||-||16.1|
|Liveweight at 70 days (kg)||1.52||1.72||1.96||1.88|
|Carcass weight (kg)||0.94||1.0||1 20||1.14|
|Slaughter yield (% )||61.4||57.7||61.3||60.6|
Source :Reyne and Salcedo-Miliano, 1981.
TABLE 10.-IMPACT OF BALANCED FEED ON SLAUGHTER YIELD OF BURGUNDY FAWN RABBITS.AVERAGE LIVEWEIGHT AT SLAUGHTER 2.2 KG
|Balanced feed||Alfalfa+maize||Dehydrated alfalfa only|
|Age at 2.2 kg (days)||78||88||96|
|Conversion rate (DM)||3.92||4.80||6.90|
|Slaughter yield (%)||63.7||59.7||56.8|
|Fattening cost for 1 kg Carcass (index)||100||89.8||123.9|
TABLE 11. - MEAT COMPOSITION OF DIFFERENT ANIMAL SPECIES.Values given per 100 g meat
Source:Adrian et al., 1981.
The proportion of oleic acid in the fat also increases with age and palmitic acid decreases.
The organoleptic properties of rabbit meat, like those of other species, are tenderness, juiciness and flavour.
Rabbit meat does not have a very strong flavour. It is comparable to, but not identical with chicken.
Tenderness varies with muscle age, and depends on changes in the proportion and type of conjunctive tissue supporting the muscle fibres. The younger rabbits are slaughtered, the more tender the meat will be. On the other hand, flavour tends to develop with age. Although little research has been done on this it is known that flavour improves with the quantity of internal fat in the muscle. In the same way, juiciness depends largely on the fat content of the carcass. The fatter the carcass the lower its water content, but the better it retains what juice it does have (Table 14).
TABLE 12.-PROPORTION OF THE PRINCIPAL FATTY ACIDS IN FAT DEPOSITS OF DIFFERENT ANIMAL SPECIES
Source:Adrian et al., 1981; Ouhayoung et al., 1981.
TABLE 13.-CHANGES IN HINDLEG MUSCLE TISSUE COMPOSITION IN NEW ZEALAND WHITES, ACCORDING TO AGE
|30 days||70 days Percent||181 days|
|Degree of maturity|
|(% of adult weight)||17||55||100|
|Proteins (N X 6.25)||18.2||20.2||21.3|
Source: Ouhayoung 1974.
Slaughter conditions, especially the onset of rigor mortis, can modify the tenderness and juiciness of rabbit carcasses.
Selection for growth rate combined with confined rearing favour the anaerobic metabolism of rabbit muscle tissue. Animals raised in rational rabbitries therefore have a higher proportion of white muscle fibre, which gives the meat a lighter colour.
In Latin countries, which are traditional rabbit consumers, customer appeal is no problem. Rabbit meat is even classified as "sought after" and is eaten on special occasions. However, it is less frequently served when a guest is invited to join the family at table. In Anglo-Saxon countries, rabbit meat is not a traditional food. It is thought of as wartime fare, conjuring up memories of food shortages. A century ago, however, tens of thousands of rabbits were imported every week from the Netherlands for the London market.
In other countries the situation varies greatly. Whereas the Koran in no way prohibits rabbit meat, production and consumption are virtually nil in most Arab countries. Yet rabbits are a traditional food in certain Maghreb countries such as Egypt and the Sudan.
TABLE 14.-WATER LOSSES FROM COOKING (GRILLING) RABBIT MEAT, ACCORDING 10 AGE AND FAT CONTENT
|Age of rabbits (days)|
|Carcass weight (kg)||1.40||1.54||1.63|
|Kidney fat (% carcass)||1.5||2.2||3 4|
|Loss from cooking hind leg (%)||30.9||27.6||27.3|
|Loss from cooking back (%)||34.1||30.9||30.8|
Source: Fischer and Rudolph, 1479.
In Mexico, rabbit meat was almost unknown, but an advertising campaign boosted consumption. A reverse example is offered by Greece. A rational development programme of large-scale commercial production was implemented in mainland Greece in the late 1960s with relative success in technical terms. But marketing made no real headway as Greeks were not in the habit of eating this meat. There had been no advertising campaign to promote it so consumers did not buy it. Paradoxically, on the island of Crete, consumption is 4 kg per person per year.
The only religious bans concern Jews (consumption in Israel nil) and certain Hindu sects (general ban on eating meat). Formerly there was also a religious ban in force in Japan which forbade the eating of meat from four-legged animals. When rabbits were introduced into Japan in about 1350 by a Dutchman, the meat was sold as chicken. In modern Japan rabbit meat is eaten, though the total amount is still modest (750 tonnes from domestic production plus 3 000 tonnes imported from China).
In the 1981 INRA-FAO survey of 64 developing countries reporting on the development potential for rabbit production in their countries, 70 percent thought it possible and only 22 percent considered that social customs would not favour it. The remaining 8 percent were against it for religious or other reasons.
Rabbit meat consumption is much easier to develop where people are already used to eating widely different kinds of meat, as from hunting. This would be generally true of black Africa. Peoples with monotonous diets will find it harder to accept this new product. However' the example of Mexico, with its traditional diet of maize and kidney beans, shows that a well-planned development campaign can do much to promote necessary changes in eating habits.
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