The Government of Switzerland Has Officially Decided That Lobsters Feel Pain

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Starting in March 2018, lobsters in the entire country of Switzerland will need to be incapacitated before they are killed. The Swiss government has banned the common practice of boiling lobsters alive, pointing to studies that say the crustaceans have advanced nervous systems and may feel pain.

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Lobsters in Switzerland must now be stunned before they are boiled and prepared for diners to feast on. It is also now illegal for lobsters to be transported in ice or ice water in the country – instead, they must always be kept in (close to) their natural habitat (salt water, basically). A similar law was also recently passed in Italy, where lobsters can no longer be kept on ice in restaurants.

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To be clear, the research has not proven 100% that lobsters feel pain, but the conclusions drawn were still strong enough for the Swiss government to pass the law. Robert Elwood, the head scientist behind the research said, “There’s no absolute proof, but you keep running experiments and almost everything I looked at came out consistent with the idea of pain in these animals. There should be a more humane approach with lobsters.”

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Elwood, a professor at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, first got the idea to research lobster pain at his local pub about a dozen years ago. Celebrity chef Rick Stein was having a pint in the pub when the two started to chat. Stein asked Elwood if he thought lobsters felt pain when they were cooked, and Elwood was stumped by the question.

Not everyone agrees with the new law. Dr. Joseph Ayers, professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern University in Boston, said about the decision, “I think the idea of producing such a law is just a bunch of people anthropomorphizing lobsters. I find it really quite remarkable that people attribute to these animals humanlike responses when they simply don’t have the hardware for it.”

Ayers says that lobsters lack the brain anatomy to feel pain. He adds that lobsters are often swallowed whole by predators in the ocean, so they never had to evolve and gain the ability to detect pain from warming (or boiling) water.

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Robert Elwood believes there must be a faster way to kill the lobsters, since it takes up to a minute for them to die in boiling water. He suggested possibly cutting right into a lobster’s head with a knife or using a device known as a Crustastun that shocks and kills crustaceans instantly.

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Ayers, on the other hand, says that the Crustastun method doesn’t work efficiently – he’s seen lobsters move for minutes after being zapped by the contraption. He added that he is the son of a lobster fisherman and believes that the quickest and most humane way to kill a lobster is a pot of boiling water.

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We’ll see if this debate spreads to other countries (possibly even across the Atlantic), and if other lawmakers take a look at the best way to kill our crustacean friends. Cause they are just so tasty, you can’t not.

h/t: New York Times

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