Why Animal Welfare Considerations Must Extend to Crustaceans
In this guest blog, Carol Lever from Crustacean Compassion highlights the animal welfare issues involved in decapod crustacean sourcing and why chefs and customers should take note.
“Crustacean Compassion is an award-winning animal welfare organisation dedicated to the humane treatment of decapod crustaceans. We engage with legislators and policy makers to strengthen and enforce animal welfare law and policy; we work to persuade and enable companies to sell higher welfare products across their shellfish product ranges; and we seek to educate both the public and policy-makers on the science of decapod crustacean sentience and on their humane treatment and care.
There are thousands of species of crustaceans, both land and sea-dwelling. The most well-known and commonly consumed as food are ‘decapods’, a category that includes crabs, lobsters, prawns, shrimp and crayfish. Decapods have three distinct body regions, each made up of segments, the head, thorax, and abdomen. The eyes are usually well-developed, pigmented and multifaceted.
Since their inclusion in the Animal Sentience Act in 2022, which recognises that they feel pain and suffering like other animals, we have been campaigning to have them protected under the existing Animal Welfare Act. We understand that this classification is still relatively new; however, the decision taken by the Government to extend the definition of “animal” within the Act has garnered widespread public, scientific and NGO support.
In the UK, we understand the importance of animal welfare, and many chefs and others in hospitality have already made the decision to source higher welfare with respect to chickens, eggs, meat and dairy. We want to work with the hospitality sector to generate the same level of commitment to welfare for decapods.
We don’t campaign against the use of decapod crustaceans as food; rather, we welcome good practice in the food industry and believe that all sentient creatures deserve humane treatment. If you watch our short film Close the Loophole, you’ll understand why certain practices need to be stopped.
Now we know they are sentient, we shouldn’t be boiling alive or chilling lobsters – electrical stunning first before killing is the best practice. In the same way you wouldn’t buy and kill a live chicken at home, we want to halt the sales of live lobsters to the public. Without proper training, we’re concerned they will suffer unnecessarily. This also goes for other decapods still sold live to the public. There are other welfare issues, too: for example, the langoustine is ripped apart while still alive, with half the langoustine discarded and thrown back into the sea.
In addition, by-catch is a big problem. Fish and other decapods accidentally caught in nets are discarded; this often includes juveniles, which are crucial to help restock our sea. ‘Ghost gear’ is another problem, adding plastic pollution to our oceans and impacting the biodiversity of the sea.
Wherever animals are part of any sustainable sourcing policies, it’s important that welfare is a consideration. We cannot build real sustainability and resilience within our food systems either on land or in the sea unless we respect the animals and the planet. Seafood can be a major source of protein and, as most is often wild-caught, it can have a lower carbon footprint. However, as more people are encouraged to move away from meat and seafood is seen as a healthier alternative, we need to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes we made with agriculture on land.
Marks & Spencer’s made a commitment in January 2023 not to approve or source any new species of decapod crustacean that are not electrically stunned prior to being killed, and to work with existing suppliers to reduce the percentage of crab sourced from vessels using claw nicking and working to find alternative solutions. Demands like these will help change behaviour along the supply chain from sea to plate.
We’ve just finished collating a benchmark called The Snapshot, which scored supply chains and well-known retailers on their animal welfare policies. This will be released January 17th, 2024. Along with retailers, chefs and the hospitality sector are the biggest influencers on what we eat in the UK. There’s an incredible opportunity to be champions for animals that are virtually unprotected by animal welfare laws, simply by asking more questions and making changes to how you source and kill decapods.
We know that we have a long way to go to meet the same standards as land animals, but we can all do our bit. Support our call for Close the Loophole. Work with your suppliers to source higher welfare decapods and remember we are happy to work with anyone who needs advice on where and how they can make improvements.
We would love to hear from any chefs who support our calls on banning the sale of live decapods like lobsters and crabs to the public, or who would like to know more about our work or support us. Please get in touch to find out more: my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Read more about why Source Seafood Sustainably is one of the 10 key focus areas of our comprehensive Food Made Good Framework, or sign up here to get started on the Standard today! Don’t miss our #EatForTomorrow campaign for more ideas about how we can eat for a better future – follow along on our Instagram and LinkedIn pages.
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