Boiling lobsters alive could be banned if ministers act on a government-commissioned report that has found crustaceans have feelings.
The study, conducted by experts from the London School of Economics (LSE) concluded there was “strong scientific evidence decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are sentient”.
The finding follows a row over the animal welfare (sentience) bill, which recognises all vertebrates – animals with spines – as sentient beings. The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation presented its own report to the government, arguing that crustaceans and molluscs also have feelings.
This led ministers to commission an independent review of the evidence. After analysing the extensive research submissions 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.
If they were to be included, the proposed legislation in the bill could protect them from being subjected to painful deaths.
Research shows that decapod crustaceans have opioid receptors and respond to opioid painkillers in a similar way to vertebrates, strongly indicating that they feel pain. Their reaction to bodily assaults, such as trying to escape from boiling water, is further evidence of their capacity to suffer. There is a large body of research showing that cephalopods have complex brains and nervous systems, and are able to learn and avoid unpleasant experiences such as electric shocks, to solve problems and use tools.
Several other countries afford these species protection in animal welfare legislation, including Norway, New Zealand, Austria and parts of Italy and Germany.
Zac Goldsmith, the animal welfare minister, 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.”
Campaigners have welcomed the move. Claire Bass, the 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.”