CEI LogoRabbit Calicivirus Disease, Iowa, April 2000

Impact Worksheet


Summary

The first reported occurrence of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease in the US was confirmed on April 7, 2000. The disease occurred in a backyard rabbitry of 27 pet rabbits in west central Iowa. The origin of the outbreak is unknown.

The value of the rabbit industry in the US is estimated at $25 million a year. This includes a $15 million value for rabbits raised for research purposes and $10 million a year from the sale of rabbit meat and pelts. These estimates do not include rabbits which are pets or show rabbits. The US exported small amounts of live rabbits, rabbit meat, and furskins in 1999, for a combined value of $1.7 million. Most live rabbits went to Canada, while meat and furskins were exported to numerous countries. According to VS-NCIE, some reaction from importing countries should be expected, even if the situation remains contained. While US rabbit products may not be totally banned, some countries may ask for certification that the products came from RCD-free premises.

If Iowa remains the only state in which the virus is found, the impact on the domestic industry will be small. Iowa has only 3% of the US’ rabbit farms with 1.4% of the inventory. Thus, the supply of rabbits for meat, pelts, or research will not be significantly diminished. There are no major rabbit slaughter plants in Iowa, nor are there substantial numbers of research facilities using rabbits. Of the total number of rabbits used in research in the US, about 2% are used in Iowa.

How extensive is the situation?

An outbreak of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD) occurred beginning March 9 in a backyard rabbitry of 27 pet rabbits in west central Iowa. The affected rabbits are Palominos and California Whites. As of April 6, 25 of the 27 rabbits have died. As a control measure, the remaining 2 rabbits will be euthanized. At present, the outbreak appears to be confined to this single premises. There have been no introductions of rabbits onto the premises in the last two years. August 1999 was the last time rabbits left the farm and returned. At this time, the origin of the outbreak is unknown and investigations are continuing.

Background Information on Rabbit Calicivirus Disease

Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD), also known as Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD) of rabbits, is considered to have first appeared in China in 1984 and is now endemic in much of the world including most of Europe and countries in Asia and Africa. In the Western Hemisphere, the disease has been endemic in Cuba since 1993 and is suspected to exist in Bolivia. In Mexico, an outbreak occurred in 1988 with the disease eradicated by 1992. In 1995, as a result of a laboratory accident in southern Australia, the virus escaped and killed 10 million rabbits in 8 weeks.

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Rabbits of the genus Oryctolagus are susceptible to RCD. This includes most show, pet, and laboratory rabbits. Wild rabbits in the US, such as the cottontail and jack rabbit, are not of the genus Oryctolagus and are not susceptible to RCD. An exception to this is a population of rabbits of the genus Oryctolagus that live on the San Juan Islands, Washington. Humans and other mammals are not affected by RCD.

RCD is a highly contagious virus and up to 90% of affected animals may die. The disease progresses rapidly, with death occurring approximately 1-3 days after initial infection. The virus is hardy and disease can be transmitted by contact with infected rabbits or their excreta, rabbit products (meat, furskins, offal), insects (mechanical transmission), rodents, and contaminated objects, such as cages, feeders, and clothing. Rabbits surviving infection can become carriers of the virus and spread disease to other rabbits. Killed virus vaccines to protect domestic rabbits have been developed in Europe and used in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The development of several recombinant vaccines has been reported in the literature.

Background Information on the U.S. Rabbit Industry

The value of the rabbit industry in the US is approximately $25 million a year. This includes a $15 million value for rabbits raised for research purposes and $10 million a year from the sale of rabbit meat and pelts. These estimates do not include rabbits which are pets or show rabbits. The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) has over 35,000 members throughout the US, Canada, and other countries; however, they estimate that only one in ten people who own or raise rabbits are members of ARBA. Approximately 90% of ARBA members breed rabbits for exhibition or are commercial raisers with up to several thousand animals. The other 10% own one or two rabbits as pets.

In 1997 there were 13,320 farms with rabbits in the US, with a total inventory of 530,189 rabbits. Since farms are defined as premises with $1,000 or more in agricultural sales, these inventory estimates may include rabbits kept as pets. Texas had the largest number of rabbit farms, while California had the largest number of rabbits. Iowa had 3% of the nation’s rabbit farms and 1.4% of the rabbit inventory. (Appendix A)

Source: American Rabbit Breeders Association; USDA Fact Sheet; USDA,NASS - 1997 Census of Agriculture

Rabbits used in scientific research

Almost 300,000 rabbits were used for research in 735 facilities during 1999. Based on data from Animal Care inspections, at any one point in time these facilities house a total of almost 70,000 rabbits. The current trend is that the number of rabbits used in research is on the decline. Between 1973 and 1999, the largest number of rabbits used in one year was in 1987, when over 550,000 rabbits were used, and the smallest number of rabbits used in research in one year was in 1999. Rabbits are used in basic scientific research, for potency studies of vaccines and bactrins, and for the production of polyclonal antibodies for use in diagnostic test kits.

Of the total number of rabbits used in research in the US, about 2% are used in Iowa. The state with the largest number of rabbits used in research is California, with 18% of total US research rabbits, followed by Pennsylvania (13%) and New Jersey (8%). (Appendix A)

Source: APHIS, Animal Care

Dealer, breeders, and exhibitors

There are 136 facilities inspected by USDA, Animal Care that are dealers or breeders of rabbits (Appendix A). In these facilities are approximately 84,000 rabbits. These dealers/breeders sell rabbits wholesale. Animal Care does not inspect dealers/breeders that sell animals directly to the public or those that sell less than $500 worth per year. An article written by the ARBA Commercial Department Committee indicates that the majority of rabbit breeders do sell directly to the customer rather than to stores. The value of individual live rabbits varies greatly. A top quality breeding rabbit can be worth as much as hundreds of dollars or as little as $25. There are 2 breeders and 3 dealers located in Iowa, with about 1,450 rabbits.

In addition to breeders and dealers, at last inspection there were about 2,500 rabbits owned by 351 licensed exhibitors (Appendix A). California, at 37, has the largest number of exhibitors with rabbits; Iowa has 12 exhibitors.

Source: APHIS, Animal Care; "The Pet Rabbit Market" ARBA Commercial Department Committee (http://revolution.3-cities.com/~fuzyfarm/Pet-rab.htm)

Meat production

In 1998, almost 800 million rabbits were slaughtered worldwide, producing over 1 million metric tons of rabbit meat. There are four federally-inspected slaughter facilities in the US that slaughter rabbits. They are located in Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, and Oregon. Slaughter of rabbits also takes place at other, non-federally inspected facilities. As can be seen in the following table, the plant in Arkansas slaughters by far the greatest numbers of rabbits. These four plants together accounted for less than 0.04 percent of world production of rabbit meat. The world’s leader in rabbit meat production is China, with 31% of total production.

Byproducts from slaughter which can be marketed include pelts, rabbit brain powder, and blood serum.

Rabbit Slaughter Data by State

State

Number slaughtered

 

FY 1998

FY 1999, 1st quarter

Arkansas

227,737

70,068

Oregon

88,793

25,310

Florida

6,862

 

Maryland

1,463

 

Total

324,855

95,378

Source: USDA, FSIS

Fur and Wool

The demand for domestically produced rabbit pelts is very small in the US. Imported pelts can be sold at much lower prices than what it costs to produce and tan the hides domestically. One exception to this is the market for Rex rabbit fur pelts, which are very high quality and sell for a wholesale price of approximately $13 per pelt. The rabbit wool industry is very much a small niche market, primarily selling to spinners, knitters, and yarn shops. A single rabbit can produce anywhere from 8 oz. to 3 pounds of wool per year, which sells for $2 to 4 per oz.

Source: United Nations FAO

Regulatory Status of Rabbits

Currently rabbits are not classified as livestock in the US. Rabbits are covered under the Animal Welfare Act administered by APHIS, Animal Care.

What are U.S. exports and imports of live rabbits/hares and rabbit/hare products?

Exports

The US exports small amounts of live rabbits, rabbit meat, and furskins as shown in the table below. The total value of US exports of rabbit products, especially rabbit furskins, appears to be highly variable from year to year. The specific countries receiving these exports of live rabbits or rabbit products from the US varies from year to year as well. The quantities of US exports of rabbit meat accounted for 2.1% of world exports in 1998 and 3.4% of world exports in 1997. US exports of live rabbits in 1998 accounted for 1.7% of world exports and 2.3% of world exports in 1997.

In 1999, 58,835 rabbits or hares were exported, with 98% going to Canada. The remaining 2% were exported to Japan, United Kingdom, Philippines and Belgium. For frozen or fresh rabbit/hare meat, the top five countries receiving US exports in 1999 were Greece, Philippines, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Japan. The top 5 countries receiving US exports of raw rabbit/hare furskins in 1999 were South Korea, Hong Kong, Italy, Canada, and Japan. In 1999, tanned or dressed rabbit/hare furskin exports went to Canada, Ukraine, and Nicaragua.

U.S. Exports of Live Rabbits/Hares, Rabbit/Hare Meat, and Rabbit/Hair Furskins, 1997 - 1999

Year

Live Rabbits/Hare  
(number)

Rabbit/Hare Meat 
(fresh & frozen)

Rabbit/Hare Furskins 
(raw & tanned)

 

Quantity
(number)

Value
(US $)

Quantity
(kg)

Value
(US $)

Quantity
(number)

Value
(US $)

1999

58,835

216,000

519,636

556,000

36,353

937,000

1998

35,806

172,000

971,090

977,000

16,862

277,000

1997

48,212

257,000

2,235,758

2,152,000

185,897

5,199,000

Source: United Nations FAO, World Trade Atlas

Data on US state exports of rabbit products are only available by value in dollars, and not by quantity of material exported. The state is that from which movement originated and is not necessarily the state in which the product was grown or manufactured.

Exports of Rabbit Meat and Rabbit Skins by State* for 1998 and 1999

 

Rabbit Meat,
Fresh or Frozen
Value (1000 $)

Rabbit Furskins,
Raw & tanned
Value (1000 $)

State

1998

1999

1998

1999

Arkansas

 

26

   

California

163

45

31

3

Colorado

 

20

   

Florida

268

35

6

14

Georgia

23

156

90

 

Illinois

59

   

5

Louisiana

53

76

   

Missouri

 

13

   

New Jersey

45

53

 

46

New York

192

 

8

33

North Carolina

 

28

   

Oregon

     

4

Pennsylvania

 

5

   

South Carolina

14

12

   

Texas

10

   

27

Virginia

9

10

   

Washington

 

3

 

806

Wisconsin

   

4

 

Other

57

74

139

 

Total All States

977

556

278

938

* State from which movement originated; not necessarily where product was grown or manufactured

Source: World Trade Atlas, U.S. State Exports

Imports

From 1997 through 1999, over 99.5% of all live rabbits imported into the US came from Canada; the remainder came from France. Imports of rabbit meat came primarily from China, and small amounts came from Canada, New Zealand, and the UK. The largest numbers of furskins came from Belgium, Spain, France, Argentina, and Chile.

US Imports of Live Rabbits/Hares and Rabbit/Hare Products, 1997 - 1999

 

Live Rabbits/Hares
(number)

Rabbit/Hare Meat
(fresh or frozen)

Rabbit/Hare Furskins
(raw & tanned)

 

Quantity (number)

Value
(US $)

Quantity
(kg)

Value
(US $)

Quantity
(number)

Value
(US $)

1999

56,160

655,000

304,358

657,000

4,127,424

1,935,000

1998

23,426

542,000

291,039

494,000

3,915,440

1,878,000

1997

26,443

500,000

701,610

1,388,000

5,554,208

3,333,000

The US also imports other products of animal origin, where the type of animal is unspecified, from several countries with RCD. Large suppliers to the US of "animal products chiefly used as food for animals or as ingredients in such food" include New Zealand, Australia, and China. These 3 countries combined exported over 37 million kg of this product to the US in 1999, valued at $19.5 million. China and New Zealand are also among the top US suppliers of "animal products not elsewhere specified or included, unfit for human consumption". The US imported about 330,000 kg of this product from these 2 countries in 1999, worth $770 thousand. Because China is by far the world’s leading rabbit producer, with 31% of the world’s rabbit meat production, it is possible that these unspecified animal products imported from China contain rabbit offal.

Source: World Trade Atlas; UN- FAO

Conclusions

The US exports small amounts of live rabbits, rabbit meat, and furskins. In 1999, the total value of these exports was $1.7 million. Most live rabbits go to Canada, which does not have RCD. It therefore appears likely that US live rabbit exports would be impacted should the situation escalate.

Exports of rabbit meat and furskins go to many different countries, some of which have RCD and some of which do not. According to VS-NCIE, some reaction should be expected, even if the situation remains contained. While US rabbit products may not be totally banned, some countries may ask for certification that the products came from RCD-free premises.

If Iowa remains the only state in which the virus is found, the impact on the domestic industry will be small. Iowa has only 3% of the US’ rabbit farms with 1.4% of the inventory. Thus, the supply of rabbits for meat, pelts, or research will not be significantly diminished. Since there are no major rabbit slaughter plants in Iowa, processing capability will not be impacted either. Only 2% of all US rabbits used in research are used in Iowa, therefore the potential to impact research would also be minimal.

As compared to segments of the livestock industry, the rabbit industry in the US is quite small, its value estimated at $25 million per year. However, this estimate of value does not take into account several factors. Rabbits are an important laboratory animal used in research programs; therefore, disruptions in the supply of rabbits could hamper research projects. Another factor this estimate does not take into account is the value, both monetary and emotional, of the pet and show rabbit industry.

If you have questions or would like to comment on this worksheet, please contact Judy Akkina at (970) 490-7852 or Chris Kopral at (970) 490-7819.

Appendix A - Establishments with Rabbits

State

Farms with Rabbits
(1997)

Research Facilities1 (1999)

Breeders2
(1999)

Dealers2
(1999)

Exhibitors2
(1999)

 

No. farms

No. rabbits

No. facilities

No. rabbits used

No. farms

No. rabbits

No. dealers

No. rabbits

No. ex- hibitors

No. rabbits

Alabama

127

3,544

9

2,045

2

67

3

86

6

14

Alaska

20

911

           

1

4

Arizona

56

1,670

5

892

   

1

5

2

17

Arkansas

235

24,559

6

1,657

   

1

67

6

31

California

517

94,953

115

50,541

2

24,400

4

3,539

37

175

Colorado

328

4,444

11

1,479

   

1

26

3

43

Connecticut

61

4,866

9

2,882

   

2

18

14

65

Delaware

21

306

6

4,241

   

2

7

1

11

Dist. of Columbia

   

8

1,290

           

Florida

266

17,038

9

1,491

3

756

5

712

8

91

Georgia

120

3,571

13

12,191

   

1

70

8

56

Hawaii

27

158

1

59

       

3

18

Idaho

214

5,085

3

80

   

1

30

4

10

Illinois

370

7,900

26

9,377

   

4

21

12

102

Indiana

357

9,345

13

2,678

1

23

3

17

10

75

Iowa

393

7,325

13

5,853

2

720

3

732

12

97

Kansas

275

4,168

7

1,607

   

8

61

5

23

Kentucky

391

6,558

4

1,708

       

3

12

Louisiana

121

5,857

6

2,706

2

169

1

6

2

6

Maine

97

3,400

3

182

       

4

38

Maryland

167

3,186

32

11,409

   

2

56

3

22

Massachusetts

95

10,247

47

11,495

1

3,934

1

457

7

30

Michigan

640

10,316

20

5,126

1

127

2

28

14

100

Minnesota

501

12,364

15

4,469

       

9

70

Mississippi

104

6,255

4

255

1

800

1

250

   

Missouri

481

27,350

19

4,711

3

2,000

7

260

13

83

Montana

162

1,632

4

632

       

1

2

Nebraska

192

2,187

10

3,465

       

1

2

Nevada

41

839

1

92

   

2

19

6

76

New Hampshire

79

1,072

4

369

       

3

13

New Jersey

181

3,237

30

23,038

1

680

3

2,194

4

16

New Mexico

123

2,308

4

44

1

13

   

3

8

New York

523

24,467

53

7,014

3

493

6

148

27

274

North Carolina

201

6,088

16

10,273

1

1,300

3

29

6

37

North Dakota

99

981

3

6

     

300

3

60

Ohio

728

14,091

29

20,023

   

4

59

8

137

Oklahoma

382

9,861

9

446

   

2

155

4

46

Oregon

480

26,201

8

680

1

5,500

4

9

4

13

Pennsylvania

605

27,075

43

37,027

2

26,080

6

1,935

22

101

Puerto Rico

   

4

68

           

Rhode Island

26

300

5

335

           

South Carolina

132

15,619

4

470

       

1

3

South Dakota

110

3,517

4

223

1

10

   

7

51

Tennessee

420

26,598

10

1,692

1

2

   

2

5

Texas

1,134

45,762

43

18,279

4

1,860

12

427

32

217

Utah

135

5,219

8

620

       

3

48

Vermont

65

2,571

2

127

1

545

1

369

   

Virginia

242

5,305

10

4,333

   

1

8

4

19

Washington

335

10,241

11

3,099

1

2,000

1

1

2

11

West Virginia

169

3,750

3

134

   

1

150

2

4

Wisconsin

687

14,855

11

4,505

1

496

2

32

19

150

Wyoming

85

1,037

2

26

           

Total

13,320

530,189

735

277,444

36

71,975

101

12,283

351

2,486

1 The number of rabbits is the number that was used in research in 1999

2 The number of rabbits is the inventory at last inspection

Sources: Farms with rabbits (columns 2 and 3) from USDA, NASS, 1997 Census of Agriculture;

All other data from USDA, APHIS, Animal Care