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Keeping decapods on the political agenda in 2024

It might feel like a bleak start to 2024 but we look ahead to the progress we hope to make on further protection for decapods. This year will mark two years since the passage of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act – which crucially recognised animals like crabs, prawns and lobsters as sentient animals. The first acknowledgment in UK law that these animals could feel pain and experience both positive and negative feelings.

Whilst this is an important recognition, backed by robust scientific evidence, without legislative change to increase protections for these animals, it remains a symbolic step. However, there are two key pieces of legislation which Crustacean Compassion is working on to ensure better welfare protection for decapods, and we are hopeful of progress on both this year. 

The four nations of the UK each have their own legislation which provides broad protections for animals. While there are differences between the texts, the overarching principles are the same: humans who keep animals or have control over animals must not cause them pain or suffering. We believe that the recognition of decapods as sentient animals makes it vital that they are added into these laws. We believe that their inclusion would end the cruellest ways of killing, such as boiling alive. 

An important fact to remember when we call for better protection for decapods is that ALL the animal welfare acts in the UK have exemptions for fishing – meaning that anything which happens on fishing vessels is beyond the reach of the law. This makes the Codes of Practice, currently being developed by industry, vital. We will be pushing for these to be independently reviewed once finalised, and for them to be as robust as possible to give maximum protections for animals. 

Decapod crustacean are currently the only animals recognised as sentient which are not yet protected during scientific research. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) regulated what research animals can be used in and sets out protections. Decapods are currently the only sentient animal for which no permission is needed to undertake an experiment, nor must experiments be justified or the suffering of the animals (if any) considered in a harm-benefit analysis.  

Last year Crustacean Compassion undertook research under the Freedom of Information Act – seeking the numbers of decapods used in research in UK universities, and the severity of those experiments. While it gave an incomplete picture, the numbers being used each year run to the tens of thousands. While many of these experiments are ‘non-invasive’ so would not trigger protections under ASPA, we continue to press for the loophole created by the recent recognition of sentience to be closed. 

Our work this year will of course take place against the backdrop of the looming UK General Election. Current statements from the Prime Minister point to a possible election taking place in October, but as we have seen in the recent past, things can change quickly. We’re already building relationships with candidates in the election and will be making the strongest case for decapods throughout the year. 

Keep checking the Crustacean Compassion website and social media channels, as the election gets nearer to find ways to support us and campaign locally. We will need your help to make sure your candidates understand why animal welfare is important and support our calls to protect decapods under all existing welfare laws.  

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