Don’t boil lobsters alive

If you have ever seen a lobster being boiled alive1, you know this. But science (oh science!) forces us to be rigorous and test to prove it. And chefs (oh chefs!) also have their say.

An independent study2 published this week by the London School of Economics, looking at more than 300 scientific studies, found “strong scientific evidence” that sea creatures can feel pain, distress and harm.

Sentience is the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort and excitement. It is not simply the capacity to feel pain, but feelings of pain, distress or harm, broadly understood, have a special significance for animal welfare law.

They have developed a rigorous framework for evaluating scientific evidence of sentience based on eight criteria:

  1. possession of nociceptors;
  2. possession of integrative brain regions;
  3. connections between nociceptors and integrative brain regions;
  4. responses affected by potential local anaesthetics or analgesics;
  5. motivational trade-offs that show a balancing of threat against opportunity for reward;
  6. flexible self-protective behaviours in response to injury and threat;
  7. associative learning that goes beyond habituation and sensitisation;
    1. behaviour that shows the animal values local anaesthetics or analgesics when injured.
A summary of confidence levels regarding the evidence of sentience in cephalopods and decapods: VH (dark green) very high confidence, H (light green) high confidence, M (dark yellow) medium confidence, L (light yellow) low confidence, VL (light grey) very low confidence. For descriptions of the criteria, see op. cit.

This is their central recommendation (UK):

We recommend that all cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans be regarded as sentient animals for the purposes of UK animal welfare law. They should be counted as “animals” for the purposes of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and included in the scope of any future legislation relating to animal sentience.


(1) Boiling lobsters alive is already illegal in Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand.

(2) Birch, Jonathan, Charlotte Burn, Alexandra Schnell, Heather Browning, and Andrew Crump. “Review of the Evidence of Sentience in Cephalopod Molluscs and Decapod Crustaceans.” (2021).

Featured Image: How long to cook lobster


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