Lobsters, octopus and crabs recognised as sentient beings

Photo credit:  Crustacean Compassion

Can a lobster feel pain when dropped into boiling water? For many years this question has been fiercely debated by scientists, chefs and animal lovers. Today the UK government has given their response – yes, they can.

The scope of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has today been extended to recognise lobsters, octopus and crabs and all other decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs as sentient beings.

The move follows the findings of a government-commissioned independent review by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) which concluded there is strong scientific evidence decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are sentient.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill already recognises all animals with a backbone (vertebrates) as sentient beings. However, unlike some other invertebrates (animals without a backbone ), decapod crustaceans and cephalopods have complex central nervous systems, one of the key hallmarks of sentience.

Today’s announcement will not affect any existing legislation or industry practices such as fishing. There will be no direct impact on the shellfish catching or restaurant industry. Instead, it is designed to ensure animal welfare is well considered in future decision-making.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said:

The UK has always led the way on animal welfare and our Action Plan for Animal Welfare goes even further by setting out our plans to bring in some of the strongest protections in the world for pets, livestock and wild animals.

The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that crustaceans and molluscs can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.

Claire Howard of Crustacean Compassion said:

“We are delighted the UK government have recognised that animals like crabs and lobsters are sentient, can feel pain and should be included in animal welfare legislation. The report published today is a review of the vast amount of scientific evidence on this topic, and we welcome its findings and recommendations. Crustacean Compassion looks forward to continuing to work with government, scientists and industry on improving the welfare of the 420 million decapods landed into UK ports each year.”

Juliette Booker of Crustacean Compassion added:

“As a nation of animal lovers we don’t want animals to suffer cruel treatment. Until now there has been a common misconception that animals like crabs and lobsters cannot experience pain, so their welfare is rarely taken into consideration. The government amendment to include them in the Sentience Bill is welcome news which would change this, as their welfare would be taken into account in policy decision-making.”

Long-time Crustacean Compassion supporter and business expert Deborah Meaden has also welcomed the announcement:

“This is ground breaking news. Finally the government have recognised that animals like crabs, lobsters & prawns are capable of feeling pain.”

The Bill, when it becomes law, will establish an Animal Sentience Committee made up of experts from within the field. They will be able to issue reports on how well government decisions have taken account of the welfare of sentient animals with Ministers needing to respond to Parliament.

Crustacean Compassion is an animal welfare organisation that campaigns for the humane treatment of crabs, lobsters and other decapod crustaceans in the UK.


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