UK’s Animal Welfare Law not expected to have impact on shellfish, restaurant industry

Published on
November 25, 2021
A bill recognizing shellfish as sentient beings is unlikely to have an impact on the seafood, restaurant industries.

A bill introduced in the United Kingdom in May 2021, and passed into law in November, formally recognizes animals – including marine invertebrates – as sentient beings.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill underpins the U.K. government’s action plan for animal welfare, with the goal of improving the treatment of animals in the U.K. and introducing measures to protect the welfare of animals abroad. The bill creates an animal sentience committee to ensure animal sentience is taken into account when developing government policy.

When originally proposed, the bill only applied to wild and domestic vertebrates, including fish, but activists and members of the House of Lords pushed for some invertebrates, such as lobster and crab, to be included. In response, the government commissioned an independent review by the London School of Economics and Political Science, which concluded that there is strong scientific evidence that cephalopods and decapods have the capacity for “feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort, and excitement,” because they have “complex central nervous systems, one of the key hallmarks of sentience.”

“The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal well-being is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation,” Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said.

For the seafood industry, the new law means that decapod crustaceans such as lobsters, crabs, shrimp, prawns, and crayfish, and cephalopod molluscs like octopus, squids, and cuttlefish must now be recognized as sentient beings. But concern that existing industry practices would be affected by the law have been allayed by assurances that existing legislation and industry practices, such as fishing, are not affected.

“There will be no direct impact on the shellfish catching or restaurant industry. Instead, it is designed to ensure that animal welfare is well considered in future decision-making,” Goldsmith said.

However, a growing number of processors and chefs are already shying away from the traditional cooking method of boiling shellfish alive, and are installing machines such as the Crustastun, which stuns them in a humane way, using a simple pulse of electricity, with no cruelty.

David Markham, Crustastun ambassador and managing director of U.K. crab processor Blue Sea Food Company, which also operates a seafood restaurant, told SeafoodSource that the company’s switch to using a more humane way to kill crabs had been welcomed by buyers and consumers.

“We decided to take the initiative and introduce new technology, which has resulted in a better-quality product and happier customers. I encourage everyone to follow our lead,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Crusastun

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