Lobsters and crabs are sentient beings and shouldn’t be boiled alive, UK report says

    28 Dec 2021

    Octopuses, crabs and lobsters are capable of experiencing pain or suffering, according to a review commissioned by the UK government, which has added the creatures to a list of sentient beings to be given protection under new animal welfare laws, CNN states.

    The report by experts at the London School of Economics looked at 300 scientific studies to evaluate evidence of sentience, and they concluded that cephalopods (such as octopuses, squid and cuttlefish) and decapods (such as crabs, lobsters and crayfish) should be treated as sentient beings.

    Vertebrates, animals with a backbone, are already classified as sentient in new animal welfare legislation currently under debate in the United Kingdom.

    •               Crabs, octopus and lobsters to be recognised as sentient beings in government policy decision making
    •               Decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs will be recognised under the scope of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill
    •               Amendment to Bill follows London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) scientific research findings on decapod and cephalopod sentience
    •               Existing industry practices will not be affected and there will be no direct impact on shellfish catching or in restaurant kitchens.

    “The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation,” said Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith in a statement.

    The Bill, which isn’t yet law, will establish an Animal Sentience Committee, which will issue reports on how well government decisions have taken into account the welfare of sentient animals. It is part of a wider government Action Plan for Animal Welfare.

    The report said lobsters and crabs shouldn’t be boiled alive and included best practices for the transport, stunning and slaughter of decapods and cephalopods.

    The report used eight different ways to measure sentience including learning ability, possession of pain receptors, connections between pain receptors and certain brain regions, response to anesthetics or analgesics, and behaviors including balancing threat against opportunity for reward and protection against injury or threat.

    It found “very strong” evidence of sentience in octopods and “strong” evidence in most crabs. For other animals in these two groups, such as squid, cuttlefish and lobsters they found the evidence was substantial but not strong.

    However, the report said these varying degrees of evidence reflected disparities in the amount of attention different animals have received from scientists.

    “Scientific attention has gravitated towards some (animals) rather than others for reasons of practical convenience (e.g. which animals can be kept well in labs) and geography (e.g. which species are available where a lab is located). Because of this situation, we think it would be inappropriate to limit protection to specific orders of cephalopod, or to specific infraorders of decapod,” the report said.

    The recent Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher” showcased the unique abilities of octopuses. The brain structure of octopuses is very different from that of humans, but it has some of the same functions as mammal brains, such as learning abilities, including being able to solve problems, and possibly the ability to dream.

    The shift comes from a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science, which showed that these creatures are capable of pain. Researchers also recommend banning the cutting off of crab claws and the sale of live decapods and crustaceans, as well as investing in more “humane” methods of killing, such as electric shocks.

    Moving forward, these species will be included in the U.K.’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. When passed into law, the bill will establish an Animal Sentience Committee and ensure that the wellbeing of these invertebrates is considered in new laws. The original bill wholly included vertebrates, but left invertebrates out, according to a press release from the U.K. government.

    “The science is now clear that [these animals] can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation,” Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith says in the press release.

    “When you respect something as a sentient being, the sort of principles you accept for other sentient beings have to apply,” lead author Jonathan Birch, an expert in the philosophy of biology at the London School of Economics, Evan Bush for NBC. “Humane slaughter requires training. These are principles people readily grant for any vertebrate.”

    While sifting through studies, the researchers looked for eight specific neurological and behavioral criteria that indicate sentience. These included the ability to learn, feel pain, respond to anesthetics and consider threat vs. opportunity, CNN reports.

    “In all the cases, the balance of evidence seemed to tilt toward sentience. In octopus, that’s very strong. And looking at shrimps … confidence is much lower,” Birch tells NBC.

    The report outlines recommendations for best practices to reduce animal cruelty and suffering. For example, boiling decapods alive or slicing cephalopods’ brains would both be deemed inhumane, but they are two extremely common slaughter methods in the fishing and food industries. However, these are just recommendations—the bill only ensures that these species are considered in future policymaking, it does not stretch to regulate the seafood industry.

    The scope of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has been extended to recognise lobsters, octopus and crabs and all other decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs as sentient beings.

    The move follows the findings of a government-commissioned independent review by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) which concluded there is strong scientific evidence decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are sentient.

    The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill already recognises all animals with a backbone (vertebrates) as sentient beings. However, unlike some other invertebrates (animals without a backbone ), decapod crustaceans and cephalopods have complex central nervous systems, one of the key hallmarks of sentience.

    Today’s announcement will not affect any existing legislation or industry practices such as fishing. There will be no direct impact on the shellfish catching or restaurant industry. Instead, it is designed to ensure animal welfare is well considered in future decision-making.

    Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said: “The UK has always led the way on animal welfare and our Action Plan for Animal Welfare goes even further by setting out our plans to bring in some of the strongest protections in the world for pets, livestock and wild animals.”

    The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.

    The Bill, when it becomes law, will establish an Animal Sentience Committee made up of experts from within the field. They will be able to issue reports on how well government decisions have taken account of the welfare of sentient animals with Ministers needing to respond to Parliament.

    A number of marine animals — including octopuses, squids, crabs and lobsters — will be recognized as sentient beings as part of a new law proposed by the U.K. government.

    The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill was first proposed in May and is currently under review. The proposed law originally included all vertebrates, or animals with a backbone, but no invertebrates. However, on Nov. 19, the U.K. government announced that two invertebrate groups — cephalopod mollusks (octopuses, squids and cuttlefish) and decapod crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp and crayfish) — will now be included on the list of sentient beings, which means their welfare will have to be considered when future government decisions are made about them..

    “After reviewing over 300 scientific studies, we concluded that cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient, and should therefore be included within the scope of animal welfare law,” lead researcher Jonathan Birch, a philosopher of biological sciences at LSE, said in a statement. “I’m pleased to see the government implementing a central recommendation of my team’s report.”

    Historically, it has been hard to prove sentience in animals because it is difficult to define, Livescience states.

    “Sentience is the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort and excitement,” the researchers wrote in the report. However, pain reception is now widely considered to be the central criterion policymakers consider when drafting new legislation on animal welfare, they added.

    The new study focused on evidence for different forms of pain reception, such as the possession of pain receptors and specific brain regions associated with pain, as well as behavioral experiments that show that these animals make choices to avoid painful or stressful scenarios. 

    Being recognized as sentient means that the welfare of cephalopods and decapod crustaceans will have to be considered in any future decision-making processes, according to the U.K. government. “The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws,” Lord Zac Goldsmith, the U.K.’s animal welfare minister, said in the statement. “The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain, and therefore, it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.” 

    However, the new listing will not affect existing legislation surrounding these animals. This means several questionable practices — such as selling animals to untrained handlers, transporting animals in ice-cold water and boiling animals live without stunning them and other extreme slaughter methods remain legal even for sentient animals. 

    Boiling lobsters alive without stunning them is already illegal in the U.S., Switzerland, Norway, Austria and New Zealand, according to IFLScience.

    The bill, when it becomes law, will establish an animal sentience committee made up of experts from within the field. It is currently under debate in the United Kingdom.

    This comes months after the British government said that it is planning to make pet abduction an offence. The move is based on the recommendations made by the Pet Theft Taskforce which the government set up in May to examine the issue.

    It found that seven in 10 thefts involved dogs, with evidence that there had been about 2,000 dog theft crimes reported to police last year.

    A survey for the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association in March suggested that 2.1 million people had acquired a new pet during the COVID-19 lockdown and 1.2 million planned to get one.

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