Underwatertimes.com News Service - February 7, 2018 18:13 EST

Almost sixty leading scientists and public figures have signed an open letter to Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, calling for the protection of crabs and lobsters in animal welfare law.

Among the signatories are the British Veterinary Association, the RSPCA, and numerous animal science experts, including aquatic animal specialists Dr Lynne Sneddon and Professor Jennifer Mather, ground-breaking animal welfare specialists Professor John Webster and Professor Michael Appleby OBE, and prominent neuroscientist Professor Anil Seth. The letter is also signed by wildlife broadcasters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan; primatologist Ian Redmond OBE; comedian Bill Bailey; actors Peter Egan, Kellie Shirley and Gary Webster; veterinary journalist Peter Wedderburn; presenter Wendy Turner-Webster; and acclaimed academics and nature writers Charles Foster and Peter Godfrey-Smith.

The letter, circulated by animal welfare organisation Crustacean Compassion, argues that scientific evidence indicates decapod crustaceans are capable of experiencing pain, so it is not acceptable to boil them alive or keep them in conditions where their welfare is not considered, such as storage in grossly overcrowded and brightly-lit tanks. The signatories point to research which estimates that a brown crab may remain conscious for up to three minutes while being boiled alive and argue the animals should be killed humanely instead.

Decapod crustaceans are protected under animal welfare law in Switzerland, Austria, Norway, New Zealand and some Australian states and territories. Invertebrates do not currently fall under the definition of ‘animal’ in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales). However, the law states that any invertebrate may be included if the authorities are â€"satisfied on the basis of scientific evidence that they are capable of experiencing pain or suffering”. Crustacean Compassion say Defra’s consultation on the proposed Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, announced at the end of last year by Gove in order to strengthen animal welfare protections, offers the opportunity to finally recognise the sentience of decapods. The move would also have strong public support, with their public petition standing at nearly 25,000 signatures.

There is growing global unease about the extreme treatments these animals are routinely subjected to in the food industry; such as shrink-wrapping whilst still alive, breaking off the head or tail whilst still alive, or delivering them live to consumers for storing and cooking. Three weeks ago Switzerland banned the practice of boiling lobsters alive, and stipulated that they must now be stunned before killing.

Maisie Tomlinson, Campaign Director of Crustacean Compassion said: â€"The government have ignored the scientific evidence on this issue for far too long. The significant expert and public support for this change to animal welfare legislation means they can no longer do so. Some of the treatments that decapods are subjected to are frankly incredibly cruel, and not worthy of a country which claims to be a world leader in animal welfare”.

To read Crustacean Compassion's letter to Michael Gove, or sign their petition, visit www.crustaceancompassion.org.uk

References cited

Carder, G. (2017). A preliminary investigation into the welfare of lobsters in the UK. Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling, 2(16), 19.

Elwood, R. (2012). Evidence for pain in decapod crustaceans. Animal Welfare, 21(1), 23â€"27.

Roth, B., & Øines, S. (2010). Stunning and killing of edible crabs (Cancer pagurus). Animal Welfare, 19(3), 287-294.

Swiss Confederation. (2018). Ordonnances du domaine vétérinaire: modifications. https://www.admin.ch/gov/fr/accueil/documentation/communiques.msg-id-69446.htmlk, accessed 24-1-18