Lawmakers in the UK are preparing to ban the practice of boiling animals like lobsters alive. Animal cruelty concerns motivated the legislative changes. Currently, only vertebrates are legally protected from being boiled alive.
The new Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is now passing through the House of Lords.
The House is making amendments which recognise that invertebrates are sentient and can experience pain, too.
Invertebrates are creatures that don’t possess a backbone, like crabs, lobsters, and squid. Invertebrates make up around 90 percent of all animal species.
The law would mean that these animals must be stunned or chilled before being boiled. Further, Baroness Hayman of Ullock proposed an amendment that would outlaw shrink-wrapping or posting live crustaceans.
Maisie Tomlinson is the Co-Director of Crustacean Compassion. She told the Times: “It is wonderful to hear that the government is planning to support the inclusion of decapods and cephalopods in the sentience bill.”
She continued: “There is more than enough evidence for the ability of these sensitive, captivating creatures to feel pain and suffer. They undergo appalling treatment in the food industry.”
Do lobsters feel pain?
The general population has accepted for some time that crustaceans don’t feel pain. However, a growing bank of evidence suggests otherwise. This has motivated countries like Austria, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland to outlaw live boiling.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA), which supports the UK ban, said there is a ‘decade of compelling scientific evidence of [the animals’] ability to feel pain’.
In 2013, research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology found that shore crabs react to electric shocks and actively avoid them.
Study author Bob Elwood said to BBC News: “I don’t know what goes on in a crab’s mind… But what I can say is the whole behavior goes beyond a straightforward reflex response and it fits all the criteria of pain.”
Earlier research by the same team found similar trends in prawns and hermit crabs. The results caused Elwood to question whether the way we treat invertebrates is ‘reasonable’.
He explained: “Even if you are reluctant to believe the data as being strongly suggestive [that the animals experience pain], is it worthwhile imposing this on billions of animals every year throughout the world?”.
A video of a crayfish tearing off its own claw to escape being boiled went viral in 2018. The crayfish escaped from a pot of boiling broth at a restaurant in China. The diner who filmed the clip decided to adopt the animal following the incident.