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Do Lobsters Feel Pain?
#1
Quote:Poached, grilled, or baked with brie.

Served on a roll, or in mac ‘n cheese.

Lobsters may be one of the most popular crustaceans in the culinary arts. But when it comes to killing them, there’s a long and unresolved debate about how to do it humanely, and whether that extra consideration is even necessary.

The Swiss Federal Council issued an order this week banning cooks in Switzerland from placing live lobsters into pots of boiling water — joining a few other jurisdictions that have protections for the decapod crustaceans. Switzerland’s new measure stipulates that beginning March 1, lobsters must be knocked out — either by electric shock or “mechanical destruction” of the brain — before boiling them, according to Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

The announcement reignited a long-running debate: Can lobsters even feel pain?

“They can sense their environment,” said Bob Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, “but they probably don’t have the ability to process pain.”

[Whale-watchers horrified to witness fishermen harpoon two orcas]

Boiling lobsters alive is already illegal in some places, including New Zealand and Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy, according to the animal rights group Viva.

A Swiss government spokeswoman said the law there was driven by the animal rights argument.

“There are more animal friendly methods than boiling alive, that can be applied when killing a lobster,” Eva van Beek of the Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs said in an email.

Van Beek told The Washington Post that there had been a motion to ban all lobster imports to the country, but the federal government “thought this measure was not applicable due to international trading laws.” Officials, she said, “also thought we could improve the animal protection aspect.”

So the legislation was amended.

And anyway, van Beek added: “Switzerland’s consumption of lobster [is] negligible. We are a landlocked country, lobster is thus regarded as a rather exotic delicacy, which is served only in special restaurants.”

Jeff Bennett of the Maine International Trade Center said the United States’ live lobster exports to the European Union in 2016 totaled $147 million. But the United States exported only $368,000 worth of live lobsters to Switzerland that year, he said.

Switzerland’s new order also states that lobsters, and other decapod crustaceans, can no longer be transported on ice or in ice water, but must be kept in the habitat they’re used to — saltwater, according to RTS.


The issue of lobsters in kitchens is controversial.

Do live lobsters really scream when they’re plopped into boiling water, or is that merely the sound of air escaping from their bodies?

Do they squirm because they’re in pain, or simply because they can sense heat?

Bayer, a scientist at the Lobster Institute, said these questions have been debated for decades — and the answers lie somewhere in science.

Although the most common opinion held by researchers is that lobsters (and their hard-shell relatives) cannot process pain, there is in fact a subgroup of scientists who vehemently disagree.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Experimental Biology found that crabs avoided electric shocks, suggesting they can, in fact, feel pain. Bob Elwood, one of the study’s authors and a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, told BBC News at the time: “I don’t know what goes on in a crab’s mind. . . . But what I can say is the whole behavior goes beyond a straightforward reflex response and it fits all the criteria of pain.”

[A spear fisherman jumped into a cove — and was ambushed by a shark]

However, marine biologist Jeff Shields, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said it’s unclear whether the reaction to negative stimuli is a pain response or simply an avoidance response. “That’s the problem,” he said, “there’s no way to tell.”

But because lobsters do not have the neural pathways that mammals have and use in pain response, Shields said he does not believe lobsters feel pain.

According to an explainer from the Lobster Institute, a research and educational organization, lobsters have a primitive nervous system, akin to an insect, such as a grasshopper. “Neither insects nor lobsters have brains,” according to the institute. “For an organism to perceive pain it must have a complex nervous system. Neurophysiologists tell us that lobsters, like insects, do not process pain.”

Bayer, the institute’s director, said boiling them is likely to be more traumatic for the cook than the crustacean; for the squeamish, he recommends simply placing lobsters in the freezer first to numb them, or putting them in a sink filled with tap water, which also kills them.

But biological anthropologist Barbara King, a retired professor at the College of William & Mary, said there is a long history of underestimating animal pain.

“I’m not a biologist, but I think the preponderance of evidence suggests they can feel pain; I am convinced they can feel pain,” said King, author of “Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat.”

She added: “Whether we know or don’t know, it’s our ethical responsibility to give them the benefit of the doubt and not put them into boiling water.”

King said there are debates about whether people should eat lobsters at all, “so in my view, it’s a pretty low bar to make sure that if we do eat them, we don’t torture them first.”

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To frame this thread into a question, do Lobsters actually feel pain? Should Lobsters be killed then boiled? What are your thoughts.
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#2
I'm not a consumer of shellfish, so I can't give less of a hoot than I already do, but my guess is that if they have any semblance of pain, it could be akin to how frogs work-- if you gradually raise the temperature, they aren't aware of it and essentially don't process that the water is slowly killing them, and they die before they know it. (They make no move to leave the pot of gradually boiling water). However, if you drop it into boiling water immediately, you can expect it will immediately jump back out or struggle to do so. Boiling water and electrical shocks aren't really comparable in terms of gauging their level of pain perception OR their avoidance of negative stimuli. As far as this article talks about lobster studies, it doesn't say anything about the Boiling Frog parable (I don't really care to google whether they've tried the Boiling Frog parable on the lobster either, I guess that would be cruel?). If you really care this much about 'freshness' that you insist on boiling it and 'let it swim', I guess you could try the parable out on the lobster, or just pierce its brain with an ice pick before you boil it. Or just freeze it!

I don't believe that it is fair to compare insects to crustaceans by concluding they have a 'primitive' nervous system and leaving it at that. And, don't take the 'explainer's' words (what a weird title) at the same level of common vocabulary we use everyday-- lobsters and insects do in fact, have brains, and also have a heart. However, these brains are 'primitive' compared to ours in structure because the human brain is an organ built on evolutionary complexity. Theirs are termed 'cerebral ganglions'-- a nerve cell cluster. Human brains have innumerable amounts of ganglion compared to a remarkably smaller cluster in these creatures. To say they don't have brains at all would imply that they are as simple in physiological structure as fungi (which are also living things).

Unfortunately, this debate has been around for a long time in regards to many non-mammalian species. Until we find a human who can talk to animals, I don't think we'll really know if they can process pain the same way mammals do.

What I find silly is that people can get this huffy over how to prepare a lobster in an ethical way, but it's suddenly a different story when we use animals to test beauty products on them or other harsh chemicals and they end up dying.
People don't eat lobster nearly as much as dairy cows or chickens, who are subjected to many more atrocities in the industry in life to keep up with supply & demand, the public won't usually have much to say on that matter interestingly. (PETA sucks anyway). Not that I find the life of one organism more important than the other, but I think we need to consider a rarer, expensive, and less-often consumed 'delicacy' through boiling less of a pressing matter compared to livestock that are raised and killed knowing only misery through unethical practice in the food production industry. It doesn't really matter if you eat the thing, because it's dead and it can't care (and I don't care like plenty of people don't care), but its quality of life before death for food might matter a bit more in dictating what laws should be made for what and when. Just my two cents
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#3
Regardless of whether something can feel pain, I find boiling some alive horrific. And I think the principle applies here. Unfortunately I don’t have much more to say other than the principle.

Although is caving something’s head in over the pot too hard before you dump it in anyway? Sounds like it would stop the “screaming.”
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#4
Some people argue even killing the lobster beforehand with a quick slash of a knife is too traumatic for them, but if that were the case, you could simply freeze them so they don't feel it and get numbed out. They could have someone else do it for them, or you know... just don't eat it that way?

Which reminds me, are these same people also actively pushing for a ban on preparation of living fish species? In some places in Asia, they serve live baby octopus that you actually eat whole! I guess it isn't as cruel if you're skilled enough to crush its brains with your teeth just the right way before swallowing its tentacles like spaghetti  Neutral They also serve sushi as live fish in Japan. Kinda like sashimi, but it isn't dead. The rawest form of raw fish you could probably eat! It's not allowed in certain countries (like... 2... and the US ain't) last I heard, I find that practice far more cruel than slowly killing a lobster by boiling it. Cause at least the lobster isn't alive when you start grinding your teeth against its flesh while it's awake and can still theoretically feel every bite you take out of it.
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#5
Wow. At least with lobsters there’s some level of doubt, but that, that stuff is just disgusting.
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#6
Hm, nobody can really tell for sure but I'd say I tend to think they can't. The lobsters entire nervous system (according to wikipedia anyway, but cited in wikipedia) consists of only 100,000 neurons. Putting a little perspective on that an ant's consists of 250,000. From what I can tell that's not even relative to their size or anything, that's a grand total for each.
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