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Do Those Tasty Lobsters Feel Pain When Boiled?

Ah, those delicious lobsters.  I think if I could eat a giant lobster once a week I would be one happy camper.  I often wonder if putting live lobsters in boiling water causes them pain.  Do they suffer unnecessarily?  I generally quickly push that thought out of my mind and focus on dipping that beautiful sweet lobster tail in lots of butter.  But could I be wrong by not worrying too much about the lobster?

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I say that’s too much thinking and not enough eating.  However, there are researchers out there reporting that lobsters indeed feel pain and that putting them in boiling water is inhumane.

There are a few countries that have banned boiling live lobsters.  Switzerland is the most recent to take this crusade up.

“There’s no absolute proof, but you keep running experiments, and almost everything I looked at came out consistent with the idea of pain in these animals,” said Robert Elwood, professor emeritus of animal behavior at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “There should be a more humane approach with lobsters.”

The government of Switzerland kicked off a debate last week when it ordered that lobsters and other crustaceans no longer be dropped alive into boiling water. Boiling them causes pain, the government said and should be replaced by a more rapid method of death — such as stunning.

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.

Destruction of the brain like cutting down the center of the lobster’s head.

the Swiss government’s position — is outside the scientific mainstream, said Joseph Ayers, a professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern University in Boston.

“I think the idea of producing such a law is just a bunch of people anthropomorphizing lobsters,” Ayers said, adding that there were other possible explanations for Elwood’s findings. “I find it really quite remarkable that people attribute to these animals humanlike responses when they simply don’t have the hardware for it.”

Michael Tlusty, a lobster biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, takes a middle ground. He agrees that lobsters lack the brain anatomy that we associate with pain sensation. But crustacean brains are so different from ours, he said, that no one can really say for sure what they are feeling.

Ayers said he loves lobsters as much as anyone — he’s devoted his career to studying them, and his son is a lobster fisherman — but he said he doesn’t see a more humane way of killing lobsters than dunking them headfirst into a pot of boiling water.

 

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