Boiling lobsters alive should be banned

It is unclear to me why this is even a question. It is true that lobsters possess a more ancestral and rudimentary nervous system than humans, but they still have well-developed nerve cells and a ventral nerve cord, so why would they not feel pain? (Jan Beckendorf/Flickr Creative Commons)

Starting March 1 this year, Switzerland will no longer permit restaurants to boil lobsters alive. They will now be stunned before they are put to death in order to lessen their suffering. In addition to this, live crustaceans, including crabs and lobsters, will no longer be transported on ice or in ice water but kept in their natural environment. These new laws are in accordance with studies and arguments that show lobsters can feel pain, making it inhumane to cook them in such a manner that would prolong their suffering.

It is unclear to me why this is even a question. It is true that lobsters possess a more ancestral and rudimentary nervous system than humans, but they still have well-developed nerve cells and a ventral nerve cord, so why would they not feel pain? A 2013 experiment explored this question through providing crabs with two different options shelters, one that gave off repeated shocks and one that did not. It was shown that crabs that went into the shelter which gave off shocks were more likely to leave then crabs that entered the normal shelter. This avoidance or rejection of shelter, which crustaceans seek out for protection from predators, shows a degree of pain or discomfort that could not be withstood for the benefit of protection.

This is not the only piece of evidence which suggests that crustaceans have the ability to feel pain. Dr. Robert Elwood has shown crustaceans guard wounded limbs and avoid areas where they have been shocked, even leaving their shells behind if necessary. However, despite the evidence, many scientists still reject the notion that lobsters have the ability to feel pain. Dr. Joseph Ayers claims, “the idea of producing such a law is just a bunch of people anthropomorphizing lobsters. I find it really quite remarkable that people attribute to these animals human-like responses when they simply do not have the hardware for it,” believing there were different explanations for Dr. Elwood’s findings.

I would wholeheartedly disagree with Dr. Ayers’s claim. In fact, I believe that it is quite the opposite. The problem with the way that we treat ocean life, including fish and crustaceans, results from an inability to anthropomorphize them. While mammals large and small receive our attention and sympathy, fish and marine life appear so different to our perception of life that we fail to remember that they are living, breathing creatures. Just think about the way that we consume meat products. While large mammals are packaged in cuts and ground up beyond recognition, fish and lobster are eaten whole. For some reason, we have no qualms about eating fish while knowing that it is an animal.

While they certainly feel and perceive the world differently from us, it is most likely crustaceans do still have the capacity to feel pain. It takes two to three minutes of being in boiling water for a lobster to die. If we accept that these experiments reflect an ability, no matter how small, for crustaceans to feel pain, then that is two to three minutes of unnecessary agony for that animal. I believe that Switzerland’s new laws to stop boiling lobsters alive is an action that should be copied in other countries. People argue that there is still no conclusive evidence that lobsters can feel pain, and that is true; we have no way of knowing how they feel. It is the same way we cannot imagine how a butterfly can see or a dog can smell. However, if there is even a question that they could, then why not resort to an easy, less painful method of killing the animal before cooking it?


Samantha Pierce is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at samantha.pierce@uconn.edu.