Fluffy rabbits with snow-white fur are popular pets in the Philippines, but they could also become an alternative protein source in the Southeast Asian country as the price of pork skyrockets.
Philippine agriculture authorities are reportedly considering rabbit as a substitute to pork as the country’s supply continues to dwindle, though it remains unclear if anyone is jumping at the idea.
Pork is a staple in the Filipino diet and usually cheap. Some world-famous Filipino dishes such as adobo (marinated pork or chicken meat in soy sauce and oil) and ultimate drinking food sisig (a dish made from pig ears and other parts), are difficult to imagine with other meats, especially rabbit.
But the price of pork has risen in recent months due to a combination of challenges that include African Swine fever (ASF), a highly contagious and deadly disease among pigs that has created historic global shortages in major markets such as China.
The Philippines was also hit hard by culls that occur in the aftermath of outbreaks. In 2019, ASF wiped out hog stocks in the Philippines and several outbreaks were reported in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic early into 2020. Though experts say ASF does not affect humans, it severely disrupts the supply chain and price points of one of the world’s most consumed products.
As a result of culls, the price of pork in the Philippines rose to as much as $8.5 per kilo, representing a more than 50 percent increase in Metro Manila. Many Filipinos rendered jobless from the pandemic could not afford the higher rates. This created an opening for the revival of an older plan to farm rabbits for food.
Last week, Philippine agriculture secretary William Dar said the country is serious about exploring all options, that rabbit meat is rich in protein and is “like chicken.”
Artemio Veneracion, Jr., president of the Association of Rabbit Meat Producers, told VICE World News rabbit meat was first introduced in the Philippines during World War II, but only recently has it seen more commercial success on the market.
“Secretary Dar’s recent pronouncement is partly influenced by our talks with him the week before,” Veneracion said, adding that they are securing support from the government to institutionalize standards on the raising and slaughtering of rabbits.
“Our rabbit meat industry is at par with that of other Asean countries. Our organization works with the government and the academe to make the industry lively and perhaps lower the price of the meat so more people can try it,” he added. Veneracion also argued that rabbit is healthier than pork and chicken.
Though it’s still early days for the rabbit idea, at least one agricultural industry group said it favored the idea, even if it cautioned that it would take time to persuade Filipinos to make rabbit a regular part of their diet.
“Some of our members have seen success in raising rabbits for food,” Jayson Cainglet, a spokesperson of Samahang Industriya ng Agricultura, told VICE World News. “But, perhaps it will take a while given the food is cultural. It would depend on the market’s appetite if it’s feasible or not.”
There would also need to be more rabbit farmers to make the meat’s price competitive with chicken and pork over the long run.
For now, dishes featuring rabbit meat can be tried in some speciality restaurants in Manila, Pampanga and Cebu. In the central city of Cebu, there’s a restaurant that serves bunny lechon (coal roast) instead of the traditional roasted pig.