Can lobsters and octopuses feel pain? Scientists say yes, and the U.K. is listening

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Lobster, octopus and crab are now among the animals of the United Kingdom plan to classify as sentient beings, a move that could lay the groundwork for a change in the way these animals are treated and slaughtered in the country.

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The British government, which is working on reforming its animal welfare laws after Brexit, last week added cephalopods (including squid and octopus) and decapods (lobster, crabs and shrimp, among others) to its roster of species. A bill that formally recognizes the ability of some animals to experience emotions such as pain. The bill will create a committee that aims to ensure that the UK considers animal sentiment as it formulates public policy.

The original bill considered all animals with backbones as sentient, except for other creatures such as lobsters, octopuses and crabs. Expansion a. comes after London School of Economics report found that these animals have the ability to experience pain or distress.


Professor Jonathan Birch from the London School of Economics said the researchers assessed and weighed more than 300 studies evaluating neurological or behavioral indicators in these invertebrate species. Foundation for the Animal Sentence Project,

The studies examined things such as whether animals have pain receptors, whether they display the ability to learn and how they respond to painkillers.

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“In all cases, the balance of evidence seemed to skew toward emotion. In octopuses, it’s very strong. And looking at shrimp… confidence is very low,” Birch said.

He said researchers are interested in many types of animal emotions, including pleasure, joy and comfort. But pain and suffering have special relevance in animal welfare laws.

Changes to the bill will not have immediate consequences for restaurants or commercial fishing businesses, but could help shape future British animal welfare policy, according to a government news release.

As new policies are made, government ministers will have to evaluate their impact on animals and how they feel.

“When you respect something as a sentient being, the kind of principles you accept for other sentient beings have to apply,” Birch said. “Human slaughter requires training. These are principles that people readily take for granted for any vertebrate.”

The report considered commercial animal welfare concerns and recommended against practices such as selling live decapods without rattling, declawed crabs or untrained handlers.

The report could not identify a humane method that is commercially viable to kill octopuses and other cephalopods, the report says.

The report said that people on fishing vessels killing these creatures in European waters – clubbing them, chopping off their brains or asphyxiating them in a suspended net bag, should not be acceptable.

“There is a real lack of research in this area,” Birch said. “Methods that are considered standard homicide in science cannot be done on a commercial scale to make food products. This is a fundamental issue that we want to raise.”

NS Animal welfare bill underway in upper house of UK parliament, before moving to the House of Lords, the House of Commons, where it is expected to receive grace.

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