A 2021 British study highlighted the existence of an emotional pathway linked to pain in invertebrates, crustaceans, and cephalopods. This discovery clearly challenged certain culinary practices that cause these creatures to suffer.

Crabs, lobsters, and even octopuses are sensitive to pain

Every time you've attended a seafood meal, you might've thought about this: "Do lobsters suffer when placed in boiling water?". Maybe you've already felt uncomfortable when faced with this type of situation, and understandably so. A British study from 2021 has the answer to this question. After an animal welfare bill raised the question of how crustaceans in boiling water feel, the government asked the London School of Economics and Political Science to conduct a study on the subject. Researchers chose eight criteria to investigate the sensation of pain and how it is felt by targeted animals.

The eight criteria were:

  • presence of nociceptors, which are receptors for painful stimuli,
  • activation of certain areas of the brain specific to pain,
  • appearance of a connection between the two preceding criteria,
  • anesthetic response,
  • established trade-off of threat cost for potential gain,
  • learning associated with pain,
  • modification of self-defense mechanisms as a result of this learning,
  • soothing effect once the pain has subsided.

These 8 criteria were used to evaluate the proof of existence of a pain management system in studied animals thanks to more than 300 scientific publications. Neuroscientists then brought their expertise by suggesting that the animals needed to check off seven of the eight criteria to qualify as an animal with a very high sensitivity. They need to check at least five criteria to have a high sensitivity. Lastly, if three of the criteria are checked off, the animal has a medium sensitivity.

The final results obtained show that there is a difference in sensitivity between species. For example, octopuses are part of the animals that are extremely sensitive, while crabs are very sensitive, and lobsters, crayfish and shrimp appear to have medium sensitivity. The final report indicated that crustaceans and cephalopods are indeed considered creatures that are sensitive to suffering. This conclusion allowed the British government to offer a solid argument to integrate these animals in the law for the well-being of animals.

Towards a ban of certain practices

Following these results, the lack of ethics in certain commercial or culinary practices (boiling, neutralization of tongs) was pointed out. Scientists are calling for them to be banned if an alternative method exists. They prioritize electrical stunning as it's an option that is "better than nothing", even if an effective protocol must be put in place. In addition, the pricking method, which essentially puts an end to suffering by piercing the shell to stop brain and nervous system activity, is the most popular. To avoid the risk of mistreatment, they are also proposing a halt to sales to people not trained in these methods.

The conditions under which these species are transported was also singled out for criticism. Some recommendations were made. For example, the need for dark shelter in transport crates, cool temperatures and limited numbers of them.

A worldwide awareness

Switzerland already took position in 2018 by banning the practice of boiling lobsters without stunning them, as well as the transport of crustaceans at temperatures below 0°C (≈ 32°F).

Source: scienceetavenir. Written by Agathe Warlop (Yummypets) and translated by Jennifer Eubank (Yummypets).

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