Lorraine Platt, Co-Founder of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation writes for BIAZA calling for UK Government to expand the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill to recognise the sentience of crustaceans and cephalopods.
The Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare promises a raft of new animal welfare measures, the centrepiece of which is the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. This very welcome legislation recognises that vertebrate animals are capable of feeling pain and pleasure, and as such our laws should be adapted to take this into consideration. However, in excluding invertebrate species, the Bill creates a hierarchy of welfare, giving certain species protection above others simply because their neurological architecture differs from our own. This view fails to capture what it means for an animal to be sentient. Decapod crustaceans and cephalopods undoubtably experience the world in extremely different ways to ourselves. What matters, though, is whether that experience entails conscious experience of pleasure and pain.
Scientific evidence clearly indicates decapod crustaceans and cephalpods can experience pain and distress. Hermit crabs, for instance, have demonstrated they retain memory of painful experiences, and that they weigh up competing courses of actions to avoid it. This shows such species do experience pain and aren’t simply responding to reflex as some sceptics claim. We see a similar ability in cephalopods to alter their behaviour in the long term. For example, a study found that octopuses avoid attacking prey ( hermit crabs) after being stung by sea anemones attached to the crabs’ shells. The octopuses continued to avoid the hermit crabs 24 hours after being stung.
Currently decapod crustaceans enjoy little to no protection at all in current UK law. They are not protected by the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) legislation. Neither are they protected by the prohibition on ‘unnecessary suffering’ in the Animal Welfare Act. In fact, they have no safeguards at all within the UK food industry.
It is therefore essential that we protect decapod crustaceans and cephalopods in the upcoming Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. Not only is there strong evidence that crustaceans are sentient species, but there is also strong public support for their protection in law. Over 55,000 people signed a petition online in 2018 to include decapods in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The idea that incorporating aquatic species into our animal welfare laws will somehow harm our food industry is a myth. There are simple steps we can take to improve welfare conditions during transport, storage and slaughter. Many of the world’s top chefs -from Raymond Blanc to Giorgio Locatelli- already adopt these more humane methods of slaughter (such as electrical stunning). In legislating for crustacean sentience, the UK will join countries like New Zealand, Austria, Norway and Switzerland in ensuring these animals are spared much of the cruel and inhumane treatment they currently endure.
A recent letter by vets urged for an end to boiling lobsters alive after scientific evidence finds the animals do feel pain and chefs are urged to stun them before they are killed. As a young eight-year-old child I witnessed at first-hand a lobster being boiled alive in a stockpot and will never forget the piercing, high pitched screaming sound coming from the boiling pot as I ran up and down the room in tears, desperately begging the adults around me to rescue the poor animal. I was calmly told that the whistling sound was only the sound of the air escaping from the lobster’s shell and my distressed cries to help the animal went unheeded. The memory still causes me deep sadness today as an adult as I was unable to stop the poor animal’s suffering. When boiled alive, lobsters and crabs often thrash, try to escape and shed their limbs, known to be a sign of distress. Crustaceans should be included in the new legislation to bring in new laws on animal sentience in the UK.
The notion that animals -both vertebrate and invertebrate- can feel pleasure and pain is not a new one. Scientific evidence has long maintained that this is the case, and it is high time our legislation caught up. Let’s close the welfare gap and ensure consistent protections for all sentient species.
By Lorraine Platt,
Conservation Animal Welfare Foundation
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation report on Decapod Crustacean and Cephalopod Sentience was released in June and sent to Defra Ministers and No 10. It can be read here: https://www.conservativeanimalwelfarefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/CAWF-Crustacean-and-Cephalopod-Sentience-Report.pdf
All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions.
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