Octopuses Will Have Their Feelings Protected Under UK Law

It comes after an independent review concluded that octopuses, crabs and lobsters are sentient beings with the capacity to experience pain and distress.
November 22, 2021, 12:33pm
Octopuses’ Feelings Will be Protected Under UK Law
Photo: Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Octopuses, crabs, and lobsters are sentient beings with the capacity to have feelings, the UK government says.

Up until now, decapod crustaceans – including crabs, lobsters, crayfish and prawns – and cephalopods – squids, octopuses and cuttlefish – were not recognised under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.

But the government plans to expand the scope of the proposed legislation following an independent review by the London School of Economics, which found “strong scientific evidence” that the animals were sentient, with the capacity to experience pain, distress or harm.

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Dr Jonathan Birch, associate professor at LSE’s Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and lead researcher on the report, said: "After reviewing over 300 scientific studies, we concluded that cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient, and should therefore be included within the scope of animal welfare law. 

“The amendment will also help remove a major inconsistency: octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have not received any protection outside science until now. One way the UK can lead on animal welfare is by protecting these invertebrate animals that humans have often completely disregarded."

The LSE review also recommends against a number of current commercial practices, including declawing, nicking, eyestalk ablation, the sale of live decapod crustaceans to untrained, non-expert handlers, and extreme slaughter methods such as live boiling without stunning.

Nephrops (also known as langoustine or Norway lobster) and crabs were amongst the most highly fished shellfish species in 2019 by UK fishing workers, according to official figures.

UK Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said: “The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing 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.”