Dear Mr Heath
I have recently become extremely concerned about the practice of boiling lobsters alive.
Although I always presumed that they were covered by WASK (The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995), I now understand that this is not the case. Could you tell why this is? It is especially puzzling given that New Zealand (and parts of Italy) have legislation in place that protects the welfare of lobsters and crabs.
Sadly, lobsters and crabs are increasingly being sold alive in stores for people to take home and kill in any way they see fit. Obviously, these people have no training. The most common way of killing lobsters is throwing them alive into boiling water – a practice which also happens regularly in restaurants that sell live shellfish. Whoever does it, the result is likely to be the same: a slow and excruciating death.
It is a myth that crabs and lobsters do not feel pain. Crabs take four to five minutes to die in boiling water, while lobsters can take three or more minutes. Lobsters’ tails are often observed flapping around as they try to escape the boiling water and they only die only when their core temperature reaches 34C. Crabs are sometimes placed in fresh water to 'drown' for up to eight hours, as they will often shed their claws and legs as a defence mechanism in boiling water.
Another method of killing lobsters down the middle with a sharp knife is an inexact way of doing so, and because of the animal’s physiology is unlikely to cause quick and immediate death.
A 2005 report on the protection of animals used for scientific and experimental purposes, prepared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for the European Commission, concluded that the largest of the decapods have a pain system and complex cognitive capacity. They were then assigned Category 1 status: animals that are able to experience pain and distress.
It would appear to be clear cut that lobsters feel pain and so should be afforded the same protection under UK law afforded to other animals killed for food. However, despite EFSA stating that – amongst other methods – “placing crustaceans directly into boiling water” was most likely to cause pain and distress, this method of killing lobsters is common and currently legal in Britain.
Please ban the practice of selling live animals for the public to take home and slaughter. Also, please make it an urgent priority to extend animal welfare guidelines to cover lobsters, crabs and other shellfish.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
[your contact details]