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21 Sep 2004 17:07
Rabbit roasts and bunny burgers could be the food of the future for poor South Africans, according to a team of researchers from the University of the Free State.
In a paper released at an Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa conference that began in Somerset West on Tuesday, they said the animals are a cheap and easy-to-raise form of low-cholesterol protein.
They also said blind taste tests they conducted showed people prefer it to beef.
The researchers, led by dean of agricultural sciences Professor Herman van Schalkwyk, called for an “intensive information campaign” to create awareness of the advantages of rabbit meat.
They said this is particularly important considering that almost half of all South Africans live below the poverty line.
In the taste test, 86 students and staff members at the university who were asked to rate four unidentified and lightly fried meats put mutton at the top of the list, followed closely by chicken, rabbit and then beef.
“The results suggest that rabbit meat has as good a chance of being purchased as any other meat type if its ready availability in the market can be assured,” the researchers said.
“However, the widespread acceptance and consumption of rabbit meat will still be hampered by lack of knowledge about its numerous production, income and nutritional advantages.
They said that in other parts of the world, rabbits have a long history as a source of food; that the ancient Romans, known for their love of good living, regarded rabbit meat as the finest from any four-footed animal; and that it is today unusual to find a menu without rabbit meat in a French household.
“During the second and third centuries AD, rabbits were not only acclaimed for their pleasant flavour but there was a perception that they could cleanse the blood and skin, increase beauty and prolong youthfulness,” they said.
While rabbit meat contains significantly less cholesterol than the other types of meat such as beef, pork, mutton and chicken, it has comparable protein and calorie contents, the researchers said.
Rabbits can be raised successfully on a very cheap diet of vegetable and kitchen waste, lawn mowings, leaves of fruit trees and weeds, which makes rabbit production an attractive investment for poor rural households.
Rabbit production has also been found to be more cost-efficient than the production of fresh chicken meat and pork, and rabbits are such rapid breeders that they could theoretically produce more than 11 litters a year.
However, the reality is that some societies do not recognise it as an agricultural livestock for human consumption, preferring rather to treat it as a pet.
This obviously has implications for the design of public and research policy to improve nutrition and tackle problems of food insecurity.—Sapa
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