Rabbit rescue groups are protesting Whole Foods' decision to sell rabbit meat.

AUSTIN – Whole Foods Market's decision to carry rabbit meat in some of the chain's stores isn't sitting well with bunny advocates.

The company said consumer interest in the product led the company to establish welfare standards for its suppliers and a pilot program in which the meat is sold in select stores nationwide.

“For many years, lots of customers have requested that we carry rabbit. But first we needed to ensure the rabbit we sold would be consistent with WFM’s high animal-welfare standards,” the company explained in a May news release. “As most rabbit production is grim, we set out to develop our own set of animal-welfare standards, which began a rigorous four-year process to address the welfare issues in rabbit production.”

But groups such as the House Rabbit Society (HRS), SaveABunny and other rabbit welfare groups, say that Whole Foods is "creating and inflating" demand for rabbit meat. HRS estimates there are 6 to 9 million pet rabbits in the United States.

Rabbit protection and rescue groups including HRS have planned a Day of Action for Aug. 17 in which rabbit protection groups will peacefully distribute leaflets and protest Whole Foods’ decision the sell rabbit meat. Protesters are encouraged to let consumers know that Whole Foods’ rabbit welfare and care standards “are really just greenwashing PR.”

But Whole Foods said the standards are designed to take into account the instinctual behaviors of rabbits. So, the company requires suppliers to house rabbits in group pens with places to “hide and climb, and room to forage, groom, hop, socialize and play.”

Rabbits destined for Whole Foods' shelves also must have continuous access to water, feed, roughage, gnawing blocks and places for seclusion. Injured rabbits must receive medical treatment, and mother rabbits must have time to nurse and recover before being re-bred.

“We've worked closely with our supplier to set up several innovative family farms that are meeting those standards, and are now testing the program in a limited number of our stores within Northern California and in the Washington, DC metro area,” the company said.