It's healthy, abundant and delicious, and there is now a growing demand for rabbit. The UK has a steadily growing population of 38m wild rabbits that are a source of inexpensive, lean, white, flavoursome meat that is almost cholesterol free.

I have eaten many rabbits in my lifetime and can vouch they are delicious. Unfortunately, I had to be wary of shotgun pellets with the ones I consumed, but most wild rabbits sold by game dealers are pellet-free as they have been humanely trapped or snared.

Rabbits have been a staple food in Britain for centuries, although it was the Romans who first identified their potential for the "pot". When they occupied Spain in around the 2nd century BC they began to farm them in large, walled, scrubby areas in a practise known as cuniculture.

The domestication of rabbits is believed to have begun when medieval monks began to keep them in cages. By keeping them housed in a controlled environment they were successful at selective breeding, changing the size, shape and fur colour.

During and after WW2, rabbit was an important part of the nation's diet, and they were sometimes reared in wartime gardens. After the war rabbit fell out of fashion in the UK as folk moved to meats that had been less readily available during rationing years.

Lower demand for wild rabbits allowed their numbers to soar until, in 1953, the deadly myxomatosis virus hit the UK.

It has been estimated that around 99 per cent of the nation's 60m rabbit population died within two years.

When that deadly disease finally arrived in the south of Scotland in 1955 there were dead and dying rabbits everywhere, and that put a lot of people off eating rabbit - a persistent prejudice that still lingers on.

However, rabbits are now the fourth-most farmed animal in the world. More than 1.2bn rabbits are slaughtered for meat globally every year. China is the largest producer accounting for more than 462m rabbits or 40 per cent of global production, with the EU holding second place with an annual output of 340m or 28 per cent of the world's production. Rabbits are the second-most farmed species in Europe, primarily in Italy, France and Spain. Little information is available on rabbit consumption in different countries, but yearly estimates range from 1.35kg/person in Spain to as much as 4kg /person in France and 4.4kg in Italy.

According to the RSPCA there may between 250,000 and 1m rabbits intensively farmed in the UK, mostly by small producers running cottage industries that don't always come to the attention of the relevant authorities. UK production of rabbit meat is thought to be less than 3,000 tonnes annually, with a further 5,000 tonnes imported, mainly from China, Hungary and Poland - although it's not known how much of that is for human consumption and how much for pet food.

Globally, around 99 per cent of rabbits reared for meat are kept in cages. Despite an EU ban on the conventional barren battery cage for laying hens in 2012, barren cages are still widespread for rabbits, and there is no species-specific legislation laying down minimum standards for the welfare of rabbits.

In the EU the majority of rabbits are housed in sheds containing 500 to 1,000 breeding females (does) and 10,000 to 20,000 growing rabbits. The domesticated rabbit has kept most of their wild rabbit's natural behaviour and intensive farming systems have severe negative implications for welfare.

Young rabbits reared for meat (growers) in the EU are typically caged in groups with 450 to 600cm2 space each - this is less than the area of an ordinary A4 sheet of paper. That's insufficient space to allow normal activities, such as sequences of hops, running and play behaviour.

It's much the same for an adult doe that typically lives in a cage 60-65cm long, 40-48cm wide and 30-35cm high. This prevents them from moving normally or adopting normal positions.

The cages are made of wire and sometimes have metal side sheets. Often the floor is entirely bare wire leading to sores on footpads and hocks.

These, and other worrying welfare issues have led to plans for a series of large-scale rabbit farms in the UK - in response to the increasing demand for rabbit meat - being altered due to public pressure.

Researchers are now developing more free-range style systems.

Perhaps we should go further and ban cage systems altogether.