Press Release: 19 November 2021
PRESS RELEASE: UK GOVERNMENT RECOGNISES THAT CRABS AND LOBSTERS FEEL PAIN
AND PLANS TO INCLUDE THEM IN THE SENTIENCE BILL
Can a lobster feel pain when dropped into boiling water? For many years this question has been fiercely debated by scientists, chefs and animal lovers. Today the UK government has given their response – yes, they can.
They have reached this conclusion following the outcome of an independent report, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), reviewing the evidence for sentience in decapod crustaceans (such as crabs, lobsters and prawns) and cephalopod molluscs (a group including octopus and squid). Sentience is the capacity to experience feelings such as pain.
Led by Dr Jonathan Birch of the London School of Economics (LSE), the team included animal science experts from Cambridge University and the Royal Veterinary College, who reviewed evidence from aquatic animal welfare experts, the shellfish industry, animal welfare organisations and the experimental science sector as part of their investigation.
After analysing over 300 scientific studies over several months, the peer-reviewed LSE report has concluded that there is strong scientific evidence of sentience in decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs, and recommends that they should be included in animal protection legislation. In light of these findings and recommendations, the government will be tabling an amendment to include these animals in the upcoming Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. This is consistent with how previous decisions about animal welfare legislation have been made based on scientific evidence.
This news is welcomed by Crustacean Compassion, the leading group campaigning for the humane treatment of animals like crabs and lobsters. Their public petition calling for decapod crustaceans to be protected in law has been signed by over 57,000 people to date, and their open letter demonstrated the strength of expert support for this. It was signed by scientists, veterinary organisations and public figures, including the British Veterinary Association, RSCPA and wildlife broadcaster Michaela Strachan.
Crustacean Compassion supports that the UK will now be a leader in this area. It’s the first time that a government has undertaken such an in-depth review of the evidence for sentience for these animals. By acting on the findings they join countries such as Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand who already have protections for these animals in law. This is particularly relevant for the UK, as approximately 420 million crabs, lobsters and langoustines are landed in UK ports by UK vessels each year.
Claire Howard of Crustacean Compassion said:
“We are delighted the UK government have recognised that animals like crabs and lobsters are sentient, can feel pain and should be included in animal welfare legislation. The report published today is a review of the vast amount of scientific evidence on this topic, and we welcome its findings and recommendations. Crustacean Compassion looks forward to continuing to work with government, scientists and industry on improving the welfare of the 420 million decapods landed into UK ports each year.”
Juliette Booker of Crustacean Compassion added:
“As a nation of animal lovers we don’t want animals to suffer cruel treatment. Until now there has been a common misconception that animals like crabs and lobsters cannot experience pain, so their welfare is rarely taken into consideration. The government amendment to include them in the Sentience Bill is welcome news which would change this, as their welfare would be taken into account in policy decision-making.”
Long-time Crustacean Compassion supporter and business expert Deborah Meaden has also welcomed the announcement:
“This is ground breaking news. Finally the government have recognised that animals like crabs, lobsters & prawns are capable of feeling pain. The next step must be to include them in the Sentience Bill.”
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Notes to Editors:
Crustacean Compassion is an award-winning animal welfare organisation dedicated to the humane treatment of decapod crustaceans. We engage with legislators and policy makers to strengthen and enforce animal welfare law and policy; we work to persuade and enable companies to sell higher welfare products across their shellfish product ranges; and we seek to educate both the public and policy makers on the science of decapod crustacean sentience and on their humane treatment and care.
Our work is grounded in scientific evidence. We do not campaign against the use of decapod crustaceans as food. We welcome good practice in the food industry and believe that all sentient creatures deserve humane treatment, determined by the needs of their species.
For an accessible overview of the issues, please see our report
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