Octopuses, crabs and lobsters are sentient beings that feel pain under UK law, government announces 5 months ago

Octopuses, crabs and lobsters are sentient beings that feel pain under UK law, government announces

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill includes all decapod crustaceans

Octopuses, crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans are sentient beings that feel pain under a new UK government law which was announced on Friday November 19.


This new legislation - informed and shaped by a group of experts commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) - states that shellfish and other animals without backbones should never be cooked alive, declawed or imported without being stunned or killed first.

Up until now, it was deemed that only animals with with spines - commonly known as vertebrates - were covered by such laws, with many crustaceans and cephalopods without backbones not included. However under the new Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, creatures such as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, prawns, octopus, squid and cuttlefish - a group commonly known as cephalopod molluscs - are now protected.

Despite this rule change, the government fears that many practices such as boiling lobsters alive and declawing crabs will not be made illegal in the UK - even though it is currently against the law to treat crustaceans this way in New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.


The bill comes after experts reviewed 300 scientific studies and came to the conclusion that crustaceans do in fact have complex central nervous systems - a telltale sign of any animal with feelings. DEFRA have insisted that while the passing of the bill is undoubtedly a good thing, it is unlikely to impact those in the UK's fishing or restaurant industries - two sectors that animal welfare campaigners have been eager to influence.

Instead, this independently sourced study - commissioned by the government and generated by the London School of Economics - will ideally be used to influence future law making regarding this controversial topic.

"I'm pleased to see the government implementing a central recommendation of my team's report," said Dr Jonathan Birch, associate professor at the London School of Economic’s Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and principal investigator on the Foundations of Animal Sentience project.

"After reviewing over 300 scientific studies, we concluded that cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient, and should therefore be included within the scope of animal welfare law.


"The amendment will also help remove a major inconsistency: octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years but have not received any protection outside science until now.

"One way the UK can lead on animal welfare is by protecting these invertebrate animals that humans have often completely disregarded."

Chris Sherwood, Chief Executive at the RSPCA added: “We are delighted that the LSE’s new report concludes that animals such as octopus, crab and lobster are sentient and can experience pain and distress.

"This is a crucial step forward in animal welfare and we now call on the government to build these recommendations into law.


He continued, insisting that: “it is vital that cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans are also now included in UK animal welfare laws and that steps are taken to regulate practices that cause these animals to suffer.

"Distressing practices such as declawing crabs, dismembering and boiling lobsters alive cause suffering and pain to these amazing creatures and such practices should rightly be consigned to the past.”

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