A major seafood processing plant in Maine is under fire for using outdated and cruel killing practices that animal activists say criminally violate the state’s animal cruelty statute.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has asked law enforcement authorities to investigate, halt these cruel practices and possibly file criminal charges against Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster seafood plant in Rockland, Maine. PETA’s nine-page complaint, submitted on September 18th, alleges that the Bean plant:
- mutilates and tortures, as defined by Maine’s anti-cruelty statute, crabs causing them unjustifiable pain and suffering by striking and ripping live Jonah crabs’ shells off, before pushing their exposed organs and flesh against rapidly-rotating brushes, all of which the animals survive
- boils mutilated crabs alive, which fails to instantly kill them
- mutilates and tortures lobsters causing them unjustifiable pain and suffering by tearing off their claws, puncturing their shells and ripping their abdomens and tails from their heads, all of which the live animals survive
- leaves the lobsters to die while their mutilated body parts are collected in a bin to be dumped in the garbage
Maine’s animal cruelty statute makes it a crime to intentionally kill an animal “by any method that does not cause instantaneous death.” Crabs and lobsters are not exempt from this protection.
The Undercover Investigation in Maine
A PETA investigator obtained undercover footage of the Bean plant’s crab processing operations in February 2013 and its lobster practices in June 2013. As CBS News.com describes it, the compiled video footage “appears to show workers ripping apart the bodies of conscious lobsters, slamming live crabs face-first onto spikes and forcing their exposed organs against spinning bristles.”
Plant workers, whose voices are disguised and faces blurred out, acknowledge to the investigator in the video that they are well aware the helpless crustaceans are alive while they are being ripped apart. The workers also confirm on camera that the dismembered crabs and lobsters remain alive even hours later, “until they hit the boiling water,” in the words of one worker.
PETA’s disturbing undercover video has been uploaded to YouTube, for those who want to see for themselves what happens in this seafood plant (warning: it’s graphic):
The seafood plant in question is owned by Linda Bean, granddaughter of the founder of L.L. Bean. PETA says it asked to meet with Bean or her staff before going public with its investigation, but received no response. Bean’s attorney, Stephen Hayes, has indicated he cannot comment on the video because nothing in it demonstrates that it was filmed at the Bean plant.
PETA delivered its criminal complaint to the Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau and Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher on September 18th.
Dismemberment and Boiling – Crabs and Lobsters Feel Every Agonizing Moment
Experts consulted by PETA, who viewed the crab processing portion of the undercover footage, concluded that the crabs unquestionably suffer pain and distress when processed using these outdated, unnecessary procedures. Both experts provided written opinions PETA has used in support of its complaint.
“This is carving the animal alive and would no doubt cause unnecessary pain,” said Dr. Bjorn Roth of the crab dismemberment process in the video. Dr. Roth specializes in research on the stunning and slaughter of farmed fish and crustaceans at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fishery and Aquaculture.
As if being torn limb from limb isn’t enough, Dr. Roth says the boiling of live crabs in the video is unnecessarily cruel. He says the crabs are alive and suffering for up to two full minutes before the water temperature kills them.
“This pain is unjustifiable,” PETA asserts in its complaint, “especially given the availability of far less cruel methods of commercially killing the animals, including one that owner Linda Bean recently relied on—reportedly because she recognized it as ‘humane’—but chose not to employ at this facility.”
“In my professional opinion, crabs slaughtered in this manner do not die instantaneously,” noted a second expert, Dr. Robert Elwood, Professor of Animal Behaviour at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Biological Sciences. Dr. Elwood said the crab’s nervous system is “remarkably robust and the nerves retain their physiological functioning for many hours after an animal is dismembered.”
Dr. Elwood’s written opinion says that if a crab is truly dead — if its brain ceases to function — “it immediately goes limp.” The crabs in the video were anything but limp. “In my professional opinion, the crab behaviours depicted in the video are consistent with that of an animal feeling pain,” he reported.
Earlier this year, Dr. Elwood released the findings of two experiments in which he concluded that crabs exposed to shocks demonstrated “long-term motivational change” that is “entirely consistent” with the concept of pain. In other words, crabs felt the shocks and reacted in a way that convinced Dr. Elwood that it hurt them.
According to Dr. Elwood, “[t]he crabs [in PETA's video] are not killed humanely at an industrialized level,” which he deems unacceptable because “the industry can afford to invest in equipment that can stun and kill the animals instantaneously before processing them, i.e. electrical stunners.” PETA agrees.
“You Can‘t Humanize a Lobster. They Are Food.”
Maine’s Marine Resources Commissioner, Patrick Keliher, responded to PETA’s video with a statement in which he said the practices shown are “compliant with state and federal laws and regulations, including Maine’s animal-welfare statute.”
Keilher said he believes this is just “a disingenuous attempt to advance their agenda and negatively impact Maine’s most important coastal industry and the economy it supports.”
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told the Kennebec Journal that PETA should stop “casting its judgment on an industry it knows nothing about.” She added, “You can’t humanize a lobster. They are food.”
Apparently, whether or not these animals suffer isn’t part of the equation for some people. Lobsters and crabs don’t deserve any consideration or kindness because they’re just food. They are merely a commodity to be eaten, much like a potato chip or a dinner roll. It’s so much easier to ignore the distress of a creature if you don’t see it as an individual that simply wants to live its own life, free from suffering.
The Kinder Way to Kill a Crustacean
There are kinder, more modern alternatives that kill crabs and lobsters instantaneously, says PETA. One example is a product called the Crustastun, a “stunning system” which uses electrode plates to pass an electrical current through a crab or lobster shell. In .03 seconds, the current kills the crustaceans.
Many seafood processors already use this more humane tool or others like it. There is no reason Bean’s plant cannot drag itself into the 21st century and do likewise. PETA’s request is hardly an attempt to bring down the Maine seafood industry.
“Of course, we’d rather lobsters and crabs were left in peace,” says PETA on its web site, “but there’s no excuse for a big company—with the ability to kill them instantly—to kill them slowly and cruelly instead.” Not a particularly unreasonable position, is it?
If you agree, and would like to let Linda Bean know you oppose how her seafood plant kills crabs and lobsters, sign this petition. Care2 will deliver it to directly to Linda Bean so she will know exactly how you feel.
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