Welcome to the club of sentient beings, lobsters, octopuses, and squid (at least in the UK).
In its Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, the UK government has formally included decapod crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, and crayfish) and cephalopod mollusks (octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish). This implies they are now considered “sentient entities” in the United Kingdom.
The decision follows an independent evaluation headed by Dr. Jonathan Birch, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics. They examined over 300 research and discovered “strong scientific evidence that decapod crustaceans and cephalopod mollusks are conscious.” Sentience is a subjective notion that has been debated for centuries, but it typically refers to the ability to consciously detect emotions and sensations such as pain.
The bill already covers vertebrates (animals with backbones), but octopuses and other invertebrates have traditionally had difficulty being recognized as sentient owing to their lack of a backbone. Invertebrates’ central nervous systems are vastly different from those of vertebrates; for example, octopuses have a donut-shaped brain in their head and eight additional “mini-brains” in each tentacle. However, this does not imply that their central neural systems are any less complex than those of other animals deemed sentient by humans. If you’ve seen the documentary My Octopus Teacher, you’ll know that cephalopods are extremely clever, capable of extraordinarily sophisticated behavior, even potentially physical and emotional suffering. There is also evidence that certain crustaceans experience pain.
“The change will help to eliminate a huge inconsistency: octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have had no protection outside science until now.” “Protecting these invertebrate species that humans have often utterly ignored is one way the UK can lead on animal care,” Dr Birch said in a statement.
The research advises against a number of existing commercial procedures involving these species, such as live boiling without stunning, harsh killing methods, shipping the animals in frigid water, and selling live decapod crustaceans to inexperienced operators.
The UK government has billed this as “leading the way on animal welfare,” while a news release notes that the move would not impact existing regulations or industry standards regulating how these creatures are treated in restaurants and pet stores right away. For the time being, it is lawful for a chef to throw a live lobster into a cooking pot. It will, however, be considered in the future when designing the legality of animal welfare.
In recent years, a number of other countries have taken similar actions. For example, in Switzerland, Norway, Austria, and New Zealand, boiling lobsters alive without first stunning them is prohibited.
While it is theoretically illegal to cook live lobsters in the United States since at least 1999, other rights for cephalopods and decapod crustaceans are not as progressive. Octopuses are not considered “animals” in federally supported research in the United States, hence they are not subjected to the same humane treatment criteria as other lab animals. The Animal Welfare Act and the National Institutes of Health have acknowledged this legal gap, which implies that octopuses are not protected in nature or study.
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