A study commissioned by the British government confirms that lobsters, crabs and octopus are sensitive to pain, and thus recommends not to boil them alive before consuming them.

Boiling lobsters that are still alive may soon be banned in the UK. Octopuses, crabs and lobsters are capable of feeling pain and should no longer be scalded alive for consumption, a new study commissioned by the UK government has found. This report, carried out by experts at the London School of Economics as part of an animal welfare bill, sifted through 300 scientific studies to establish whether cephalopods (mollusks with tentacles) and the decapods (custaces with five pairs of legs) were to be classified as beings sensitive to pain.

The results of the study showed that crabs, lobsters and octopus were very sensitive to pain, and therefore should no longer be scalded alive. In detail, the study found “very strong evidence” of susceptibility in octopods (octopus and other octopuses), and “strong evidence” of susceptibility in most crabs. As for squid, cuttlefish and other lobsters, the evidence for their sensitivity was considered “important but not definitive”.

The sensitivity of crustaceans assessed

However, experts from the British study point out, the scientists behind the previous reports paid different attention to different species, which explains the disparities in the results.

“Scientists’ attention has shifted to some animals rather than others because of practical convenience,” the report said. “For this reason, we believe it would be inappropriate to limit our recommendations specifically to cephalopods.”

As part of this new study, the American channel CNN reports that British scientists have measured the sensitivity of these animals in eight different ways: in particular by measuring their learning capacities, whether or not they have receptors to pain, some of which is related to the brain. They also assessed whether or not they had adapted behaviors according to the different situations, for example when they were faced with a threat, an opportunity or a reward.

A law already applied in Switzerland

Consequently, the report recommends a list of best practices to avoid their suffering, in particular in their transport, their stunning or their slaughter. In the UK, vertebrates, animals with a backbone, are already classified as sentient beings in animal welfare legislation. The aim of this new study was to update the national list of beings considered to be sensitive, and therefore to be protected under the new legislation on animal welfare.

“It is now clear that crustaceans and molluscs can feel pain, and it is therefore quite right that they are covered by this essential law,” reacted the Minister of the Environment in charge of well- be animal Zac Goldsmith.

Already since 2018 in Switzerland, it is forbidden to cook lobsters by immersing them in broth without having previously stunned them. Crustaceans can no longer be transported on ice or frozen water and must be kept in their “natural environment”. An Irish study directed by Bob Elwood in 2013, the researcher and biologist at Queen’s University in Belfast, already suggested that crustaceans could feel pain, after experiments on the behavior of crabs receiving electric shocks.

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