Humane Stunning and Slaughter of Decapods
One of the most common questions we are asked is - what is the most humane way to kill a crab or a lobster?
To humanely slaughter a crab or lobster, they must firstly be stunned effectively, followed by mechanical killing, before they are cooked. Therefore, it is not possible to humanely slaughter animals like crabs and lobsters (decapod crustaceans) at home. The steps required for humane slaughter must be carried out by a trained professional. Read more about these steps below.
Crustacean Compassion believes that decapod crustaceans should only be stunned using methods that result in instantaneous (within one second) insensibility to pain and distress or where insensibility is induced without causing pain and distress. This insensible state must be maintained until death occurs. Slaughter must then also occur instantaneously or the insensible state must be maintained until death occurs. Killing should always be carried out by trained and competent practitioners, and never by amateur consumers.
Please be aware: the following information contains graphic descriptions.
Humane Method of Stunning
Crustacean Compassion believes that electrical stunning is the best option currently available for rendering decapods insensible. This must be done immediately before a swift and effective killing method (on its own, electrical killing is not a humane method of slaughter). Evidence indicates that electrical stunning can deliver a quick, effective and humane stun to decapod crustaceans including crabs, lobsters, crayfish and shrimp, when appropriate electrical parameters are applied for the species (1, 2, 3, 4). Further research is currently being conducted into, for example, the most effective parameters for different species.
Electrical stunning equipment
Electrical stunning should only ever be done with approved, specialist equipment. Whilst we do not endorse any particular device, there are machines already on the market.
The Crustastun is a restaurant-scale device used by renowned chefs such as Giorgio Locatelli at Locanda Locatelli, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir, and Nigel Bloxham at the Crab House Café in Dorset. A version is also available for large-scale processors.
“We believe that this new Crustastun system is an important advance from an ethical point of view, and have discovered that it also enhances texture and flavour”- Raymond Blanc OBE.
The STANSAS, a Norwegian commercial dry stunner for fish, has also been adapted for the more humane stunning of edible crabs in line with Norwegian animal welfare regulations.
Meanwhile, Ace Aquatech has won an award for an in-line fish stunner that can also be adapted for the more humane slaughter of decapod crustaceans, and Hilton Seafoods has won a Compassion in World Farming award for a shrimp stunner.
Humane Methods of Slaughter After Stunning
Effective stunning, which is guaranteed to last throughout the entire process, must take place prior to slaughter, regardless of the slaughter method used.
Mechanical methods of slaughter (spiking or splitting)
Skilled, competent application of certain methods of mechanical killing of decapod crustaceans that effectively destroy their nerve centres can result in relatively swift (though usually not instantaneous) death.
Such methods include the ‘spiking’ of crabs or the ‘splitting’ of lobsters and similarly shaped species. These different techniques must be used due to contrasting layout of these species' ganglia. A lobster's ganglia run through the length of the body, so they must be cut fully down the longitudinal midline on the underside to ensure destruction of all ganglia. Spiking of the head alone of lobsters is ineffective and should never be performed. We recommend that mechanical killing is done after electrical stunning.
Due to the skill required to achieve accurate and speedy spiking/splitting, if not done correctly these methods cause severe suffering. Mechanical killing should only be applied by trained, competent practitioners, immediately after the animals have first been effectively electrically stunned, and before they are cooked.
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Boiling after stunning
The boiling of effectively stunned decapods as a method of slaughter is humane, as long as the stun lasts throughout the entire slaughter process. Please read the below section on inhumane stunning and slaughter to find our more about why live, conscious boiling should never be done.
Inhumane Methods of Stunning and Slaughter
Many of the current methods used to prepare decapods for consumption are actually ineffective and inhumane.
For example, chilling decapods (in a fridge, freezer or on ice) is sometimes mistakenly used in an attempt to stun them before slaughter. However, whilst this process may make the animal appear still, there is no evidence to suggest that chilling induces unconsciousness or anaesthesia, rather than just paralysing them (5). In fact, chilling beforehand increases the time taken for them to lose consciousness and die in boiling water. Therefore, decapod crustaceans should not be subjected to chilling for the purposes of stunning or killing.
Similarly, boiling alive is a commonly used method of slaughter, but is not humane. When boiled alive, lobsters and crabs often thrash, try to escape, and shed their limbs, known to be a sign of stress. It can take up to 3 minutes for them to lose consciousness in boiling water (1), which is an unacceptable length of time to suffer.
Based on current scientific evidence, the following methods are considered inhumane and should not be used on decapod crustaceans:
Live, conscious boiling
Chilling in the fridge, freezer or in an ice slurry
Dismemberment of live animals
High pressure processing
High salt solution
To find out more about these methods, head to our policy page.
There are many examples of good practice that is already occurring in the food industry. As well as the restaurants cited above that are using the Crustastun, Waitrose stun their UK-caught brown crabs and lobsters and Tesco stun their UK- caught, own-brand, brown crabs and lobsters.
“Our responsible Fish and Shellfish policy states that all UK caught crab and lobster should be humanely stunned prior to cooking (…) the preferred method is electrical stunning using commercial machines”
- Customer Services, Waitrose
“All of our Tesco Own Brand UK crab and lobster is humanely stunned prior to slaughter”
- Aquaculture Manager, Tesco
But with no legal guidelines, there is no obligation for the food industry to treat crabs, lobsters and other decapod crustaceans humanely, either in storage or during slaughter. This is why we work with food businesses to implement changes to their practices; and we put pressure on the Government to make the necessary changes to the law.
If you work in industry and have good practice that you would like to share with us or if would like to discuss anything you've seen here in more detail, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch via email: firstname.lastname@example.org