Proposed UK legislation could see ban on boiling live lobsters

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor


A report commissioned by the government as to the sentient nature of lobsters may have triggered a ban on boiling them alive  - and from being subjected to any other painful death -  after it concluded that the crustaceans do, in fact, have feelings.

The London School of Economics (LSE) researchers behind the study have recommended that decapods - lobsters, as well as crabs, crayfish and prawns - as well as cephalopods (which include octupus, squid and cuttlefish) be included in animal protection laws after they reportedly found “strong scientific evidence" that they are in fact sentient, and able to experience pain and distress, contradicting previous assumptions.

The animals thus far were excluded from the Animal Welfare Bill, despite evidence pointing to their having complex central nervous systems, a hallmark of sentience, and despite already being included in animal welfare legislation in other countries.

Research has shown that decapods - which include lobsters - have opioid receptors and trials have shown that they respond to opioid painkillers much in the same way as vertebrates do. The fact that they react to being placed into boiling water by trying to escape is demonstrated evidence of that.

As for cephalopods like octopus, their ability to avoid painful experiences and problem solve indicates that they have complex brains and the capacity to learn.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is set to table an amendment to the bill as it moves through Parliament in view of recognising the change, which, should the two categories of marine animals be included, will protect them from being subjected to painful deaths - including being boiled alive.

When enacted, the Animal Sentience Committee will be created, requiring that the government publishing reports making them accountable to Parliament on their decisions have helped protect the welfare of sentient animals.

Animal welfare minister Zac Goldsmith said said: “The UK has always led the way on animal welfare and our action plan for animal welfare goes even further by setting out our plans to bring in some of the strongest protections in the world for pets, livestock and wild animals.

“The Animal Welfare Sentience bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that crustaceans and molluscs can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.”

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International UK said: “Recognition in law that animals like lobsters and octopus are sentient is a very welcome affirmation that this bill is underpinned by science.

“It’s critical that animal sentience is not determined subjectively on the basis of political, economic, or cultural preference or convenience, but that it is determined on facts, and the LSE report leaves no room for doubt on that front.

“This is an important first step to establishing more respectful treatment of these amazing animals. Knowing their capacity to suffer we cannot now turn a legislative blind eye to some of the appalling things that are done to them, such as dismembering or boiling them alive. We look forward to working with government, industry, and scientists to agree and implement humane solutions.”

Juliette Booker of Crustacean Compassion said: “We are very pleased that LSE agree animals like crabs and lobsters can experience pain, and we applaud Defra for commissioning this groundbreaking review. The government now have all the information that they need to make animal welfare history, and we urge them to take immediate steps to protect decapods and cephalopods in animal welfare legislation.”

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 22nd November 2021

Proposed UK legislation could see ban on boiling live lobsters