Press Release: 17 February 2017
ARE LOBSTERS ‘ANIMALS’? NEW CAMPAIGN GROUP LAUNCHES TO GET LEGAL PROTECTION FOR DECAPOD CRUSTACEANS
Despite a marked increase in scientific evidence about the ability of decapod crustaceans to feel pain and suffer, there has been no government assessment of their welfare and no increase in protections for animals like crabs and lobsters, which in some shocking instances has resulted in them being left fully immobilised in plastic shrink-wrap on supermarket shelves in the UK.
A new animal welfare group Crustacean Compassion has been set up to tackle this issue, and is launching today with a petition to DEFRA Minister George Eustice, which aims to bring the UKs treatment of these animals in line with other countries including Switzerland, New Zealand and Norway. A request made under the Freedom of Information Act by the group has revealed that despite significant media coverage (i) of relevant scientific research in recent years, no assessment has been conducted by DEFRA of the ability of decapod crustaceans to feel pain, and no codes of practice have ever been developed by the government to ensure humane slaughter practices.
An EU animal welfare panel claimed as far back as 2005 that many of the ways in which crustaceans are currently treated in the food industry are inhumane. (ii) Crustacean Compassion believes that legislation to protect them from unnecessary suffering is overdue, and their petition calls for an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) to include decapod crustaceans in its definition of 'animal’ which would give them legal protection from cruelty.
Currently there is no legal requirement for food processors and restaurants to take account of decapod crustaceans’ welfare needs. Lobsters boiled alive can take up to three minutes to die (iii). Whilst an experience of pain is impossible to conclusively prove in any animal, evidence of crustacean sentience has been debated for decades. Most recently, research conducted at the University of Belfast (iv) showed that crustaceans appeared to lay down memories of a painful stimulus and to weigh up the risks and benefits of avoiding it, behaviour the authors claimed (v) was consistent with an experience of pain, rather than a mere ‘reflex response’.
In response to public concerns , some UK restaurants and supermarkets such as Waitrose and Tesco already electrically stun some of their crustaceans before slaughter. Including decapods in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) would ensure that anyone farming them, storing them or slaughtering them would have to abide by basic animal welfare principles: enough food, a suitable environment, and protection from unnecessary pain and suffering at slaughter.
Crustacean Compassion's Campaign Director, Maisie Tomlinson says: “We believe that it is unfair, unscientific and legally inconsistent that the Animal Welfare Act excludes decapod crustaceans, given what is now known about their ability to feel pain. The Act explicitly states that invertebrate animals can be included under the definition of ‘animal’ if there is sufficient evidence of pain and suffering".
“We urge George Eustice to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to include these sentient, sensitive creatures under its protections so that responsible food businesses can do the right thing.”
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Notes to Editors
Crustacean Compassion is an animal welfare organisation campaigning for the humane treatment of crabs, lobsters and other decapod crustaceans in the UK.
For an accessible overview of the issues, please see our report.
(i) Links to previous media coverage of crustacean sentience research is available here https://www.crustaceancompassion.org.uk/links
(ii) The EFSA Journal (2005) 292, 1-46 – Opinion on the “Aspects of the biology and welfare of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes”
(iii) Roth, B. and Øines, S., 2010. Stunning and killing of edible crabs (Cancer pagurus), Animal Welfare, Volume 19, Number 3, August 2010 , pp. 287-294(8). Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
(iv) We include the original references below but a lay explanation is also available on our website https://www.crustaceancompassion.org.uk/do-crustaceans-feel-pain Elwood, R., and Magee, B., (2013) "Shock avoidance by discrimination learning in the shore crab (Carcinus maenas) is consistent with a key criterion for pain", Journal of Experimental Biology, vol 216: 353-358 Appel, M & Elwood, R (2009), 'Motivational trade-offs and potential pain experience in hermit crabs' Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol 119, no. 1-2, pp. 120-124 Magee, B., & Elwood, R. W. (2016). Trade-offs between predator avoidance and electric shock avoidance in hermit crabs demonstrate a non-reflexive response to noxious stimuli consistent with prediction of pain. Behavioural Processes, 130, 31-35.