Switzerland Forbids Boiling Lobsters Alive, Citing Animal Cruelty Concerns

Restaurants in Switzerland offering lobster and crab on the menu will no longer be able to toss the live creatures into boiling water. The Swiss government has decided that’s too cruel a way to die.

“The practice of plunging live lobsters into boiling water, which is common in restaurants, is no longer permitted,” the new law states. “Crustaceans must now be stunned before killing them.”

One of several new reforms to Switzerland’s animal protection laws, these requirements will take effect on March 1, 2018. The seven-member Swiss Federal Council, which serves as Switzerland’s collective governing body, made the decision.

Once boiling becomes illegal, the only acceptable ways to cook a crustacean will be to first stun it by electric shock or by “mechanical destruction” of the brain. Only after one of these methods can lobsters, crabs and other crustaceans be placed into boiling water to cook.

And Switzerland isn’t the first place to decide a more humane lobster death should be required. Death by boiling is already illegal in New Zealand and in northern Italy’s Reggio Emilia.

In addition, according to the new law, ”Live crustaceans, including the lobster, may no longer be transported on ice or in ice water. Aquatic species must always be kept in their natural environment.”

Scientists inclined toward animal protection define pain as “an aversive sensation and feeling associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” In other words, the way we feel pain might not be the way a lobster feels it, but these crustaceans definitely experience the sensation.

The evidence that convinced Swiss lawmakers to impose this rule no doubt included a 2013 study conducted by Professor Bob Elwood of Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He went into his study expecting to verify that the thrashing we see when a lobster is dropped into a pot of boiling water is nothing more than a reflex reaction.

Instead, Elwood realized that crustaceans seem to experience pain and discomfort. Crabs subjected to shocks tended to avoid the spot where the shock occurred. Hermit crabs even abandoned their protective shells if that’s where the shock was happening.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

“I don’t know what goes on in a crab’s mind. . . . But what I can say is the whole behavior goes beyond a straightforward reflex response and it fits all the criteria of pain,” Elwood told the BBC in 2013.

Many scientists disagree with Elwood. Unlike mammals, they argue, lobsters and other crustaceans lack the neural pathways which play an important part in our own pain response. Without a central nervous system like humans, it’s unlikely that crustaceans feel pain when they’re plunged into boiling water.

That means the best many scientists can say is that crustaceans “probably” don’t feel pain. But would you trust “probably” if we were talking about whether your dog or your kid might find something painful?

“There are more animal friendly methods than boiling alive, that can be applied when killing a lobster,” Eva van Beek of the Swiss Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs told The Washington Post. She confirmed that Switzerland made this decision on animal protection grounds.

Switzerland’s new law does a few other things as well:

  • It cracks down on illegal puppy farms and animal imports, requiring animal sellers to list their address and the origin of the animal in all advertisements, and requiring online or hard copy publishers to ensure such information is included before running the ad
  • It prohibits devices that automatically punish dogs when they bark, such as those that emit a jet of water or compressed air
  • It requires organizers of public events at which animals will be featured to be held directly responsible for those animals’ welfare

Bravo to Switzerland’s lawmakers. This might seem a small issue to some, but there’s a measure of compassion here. It gives me hope more such changes will be more widespread. Maybe one day we’ll all just stop eating lobsters, eh?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

237 comments

Hannah K
Hannah K15 hours ago

thank you for posting

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Ruth S
Ruth S11 days ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S11 days ago

Thanks.

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hELEN h
hELEN h17 days ago

tyfs

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Michael Friedmann
Michael Fabout a month ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Ingrid A
Ingrid Aabout a month ago

thanks

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Renata B
Renata B1 months ago

Jacqueline Glyde: do you like dog meat? You don't need to travel all the way to China to taste it, just go to Switzerland.

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Renata B
Renata B1 months ago

If they didn't feel pain then they wouldn't try to escape would they? Pleased that the Swiss has outlaw this horrible practice. Maybe one day they will also outlaw eating dogs. Take your time, don't worry ... And women obtained the right to vote only a few decades ago!

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Carole R
Carole R1 months ago

I agree that trying to move in a more sensitive direction is a small move in the right direction.

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michela c
michela c1 months ago

Thank you Switzerland, other countries should follow this sample.

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