They are urging Environment Secretary Michael Gove to categorise the crustaceans as sentient organisms in a new Animal Welfare Bill. Other high-level signatories include senior representatives from the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association and various universities.
There has been extensive scientific research on sentience in decapods – the crustacean group that includes lobster and crabs – since Parliament passed the Animal Welfare Act in 2006, and the petition to Mr Gove says: ‘In light of the extreme practices they are subjected to, we call on the government to include decapod crustaceans under the definition of ‘animal’ in the Animal Welfare Bill (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) and in the Animal Welfare Act 2006’.
Currently there is no legal requirement for food processors, supermarkets or restaurants to consider the welfare of lobster or crabs during storage, handling or killing. It is necessary to either cook or freeze decapods quickly after they are killed, because the meat spoils rapidly.
However, campaigners say there are now more humane killing methods – as well as ways of stunning the animals into unconsciousness – that have little impact on food preparation.
In January, Switzerland banned the practice and ordered that lobster be stunned before being cooked to avoid unnecessary suffering.
So how should you do it? Below are some humane ways to despatch a crustacean:
Stun the crustacean by chilling it in cold air or an ice slurry, or popping it into the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
Stun it electronically – however, such devices are generally prohibitively expensive, so are probably not a viable option for most people.
Use aquatic fish anaesthetic AQUI-S, which studies suggest kills without causing pain or distress.