Boiling Lobsters Alive Banned In Switzerland As Research Suggests They Feel Pain

3 mins

 Switzerland has banned the common culinary practice of boiling lobsters and crabs alive. Nick Ames has more 

The ban in Switzerland of boiling lobsters and crabs alive has come into effect across Switzerland since new research indicated they feel the agonising searing heat of the water for up to three minutes before death occurs.

Instead, crustaceans will have to be stunned before their flesh is cooked by the use of a taser-like device.

Lobsters will bang on the side of a pot filled with boiling water with their claws after immersion, in what seems to be a desperate attempt to escape.

But in traditional thinking the species, along with crabs, have been viewed as not being able to feel pain, as their biology is so different to other creatures.

However recent research has indicated crustaceans do exhibit some signs of experiencing physical distress.

Crabs that have their claws removed seem to nurse the amputated stump and the creatures also exhibit signs of distress when electrical shocks are applied. Also, lobsters who get a mild acid painted onto their antennas will attempt to stroke them, as if soothing the injury.

Professor Robert Elwood, an animal behaviorist at Queen’s University in Belfast, conducted a study that found, despite a rudimentary nervous system that lacks a sophisticated brain, lobsters have feelings, insofar that they know what hurts them and try to avoid it.

‘I don’t know what goes on in a [crustacean’s] mind, but what I can say is the whole behaviour goes beyond a straightforward reflex response and it fits all the criteria of pain,’ Elwood said.

UK-based animal welfare group Crustacean Compassion wants Britain to follow the lead and is calling on its government to add the marine creatures to those protected by the Animal Welfare Act of 2006.

Then, anyone ‘farming them, storing them or slaughtering them must abide by basic animal welfare rules’.

That would include providing enough food and using humane slaughter methods if they are to be prepared for food.

So far the petition, which was posted on, has obtained around 30,000 signatures.

‘It’s estimated that an edible crab can sense heat and remain conscious for up to three minutes,’ campaign director Maisie Tomlinson said, explaining what happened when the creatures are boiled.

‘If an animal can sense boiling water for three minutes, that’s an urgent welfare issue. That would never be accepted for a vertebrate.

‘If an animal can sense boiling water for three minutes, that’s an urgent welfare issue. That would never be accepted for a vertebrate.

‘They should be stunned or killed before being put into boiling water. It’s not just when they are placed in the water that they suffer. They [caterers] might rip off the tail or legs before dropping them in which can really add to the experience of pain.

‘Even when they are in a shop or a restaurant, they are often kept in brightly lit tanks cramped together with no shelter. This is likely to be stressful for them as in the wild they are solitary.’

Crustacean Compassion said that crabs have even been found for sale live yet entirely immobilised in shrink-wrap. At the moment, this is all legal because they aren’t covered by the animal welfare legislation.

The global food industry farms or catches billions of invertebrates every year.

But unlike vertebrates they have virtually no legal protection.

‘Early on in my career I realised that when the law speaks of animals, it does not mean invertebrates,’ said Antoine Goetschel, an international animal law and ethics consultant based in Zurich.

‘As long as the common opinion is that invertebrates do not suffer, they are out of the game.’

The new Swiss law states: ‘By March 1, 2018, the government has ordained Swiss chefs will have to stun the crustaceans first before they drop them into the boiling hereafter.