London School of Economics and Political Science: Octopuses, crabs and lobsters to be recognised as sentient beings under UK law following LSE report findings

Octopuses, crabs and lobsters will receive greater welfare protection in UK law following an LSE report which demonstrates that there is strong scientific evidence that these animals have the capacity to experience pain, distress or harm.

The UK government has today confirmed that the scope of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill will be extended to all decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs.

This move follows the findings of a government-commissioned independent review led by Dr Jonathan Birch. The review drew on over 300 existing scientific studies to evaluate evidence of sentience in cephalopods (including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish) and decapods (including crabs, lobsters and crayfish).

Dr Jonathan Birch, Associate Professor at LSE’s Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and Principal Investigator on the Foundations of Animal Sentience project, said:

“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.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said:

“The UK has always led the way on animal welfare and our Action Plan for Animal Welfare goes even further by setting out our plans to bring in some of the strongest protections in the world for pets, livestock and wild animals.

“The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that crustaceans and molluscs can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.”

Although decapod crustaceans and cephalopods have complex central nervous systems, one of the key hallmarks of sentience, up until now they have not been recognised under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.

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