Octopuses, crabs and lobsters will receive greater welfare protection in UK law following a report from the London School of Economics which suggests that there is strong scientific evidence that these animals can experience pain, distress or harm.
The UK government confirmed that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill covers all decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs.
The move follows the findings of a government-commissioned independent review drawing on over 300 existing scientific studies which evaluated evidence of sentience in cephalopods (including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish) and decapods (including crabs, lobsters and crayfish).
“I’m pleased to see the government implementing a central recommendation of my team’s report. After reviewing over 300 scientific studies, we concluded that cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient, and should therefore be included within the scope of animal welfare law.
“The amendment will also help remove a major inconsistency: octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have not received any protection outside science until now. One way the UK can lead on animal welfare is by protecting these invertebrate animals that humans have often completely disregarded.”
The review also evaluated the potential welfare implications of current commercial practices involving these animals. It recommends against declawing, nicking, eyestalk ablation, the sale of live decapod crustaceans to untrained, non-expert handlers, and extreme slaughter methods such as live boiling without stunning. It also includes suggestions for best practices for transport, stunning and slaughter.
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill recognises vertebrates as sentient beings. However, unlike some other invertebrates, decapod crustaceans and cephalopods have complex central nervous systems, one of the key hallmarks of sentience.
The government says that the amendments 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.