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Lobsters, crabs, octopi and squid deemed sentient creatures

A Government-commissioned study, carried out by researchers at the London School of Economics, found strong scientific evidence suggesting the species have the capacity to be aware of feelings and sensations. In response, Environment Secretary George Eustice tabled an amendment to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill that aims to extend its scope beyond vertebrates to cover all decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs.

If approved by Parliament, the changes would mean that ministers will, in future, be answerable to a newly formed animal sentience committee and required to demonstrate that Government has taken into account how policies may impact the welfare of the animals. Government sources acknowledged it was “feasible” that this would now lead to other pieces of animal welfare legislation being amended to end certain practices, such as the live boiling of lobsters and crabs. However, other Whitehall sources suggested existing industry practices would remain unchanged.

Drawing on evidence from 300 scientific papers, the report assessed the welfare implications of current commercial practices and has recommended a series of changes to improve the treatment of the creatures, including banning such practices as the declawing of crabs and the nicking of their tendons, the removal of the eyestalks from shrimps, live dismemberment or decapitation, and being boiled alive. The report also states that available evidence suggests there is no slaughter method for squid and octopus that is, “humane and commercially viable on a large scale”, leading the authors to call for new codes of practice to be developed and for further research to be conducted on how they can be slaughtered humanely at sea.

It has been recommended in the meantime that ministers ban imports of farmed octopus, noting that because the animals are “solitary” and often aggressive towards each other in confined spaces it is impossible to conduct “high-welfare” farming.

The study also suggests that live lobsters and crabs should not be sold to “untrained, non-expert handlers”, noting that they can be ordered from online retailers such as Amazon. It states: “This practice inherently creates a risk of poor handling and inappropriate storage and slaughter methods.”

Speaking on the study, Claire Bass for Humane Society International 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… determined on facts, and the LSE report leaves no room for doubt on that front. Knowing their capacity to suffer we cannot turn a blind eye to some of the appalling things that are done to them.”