Written evidence submitted by Crustacean Compassion (AWB0019)
EFRA Select Committee Call for Evidence on the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill
Crustacean Compassion response: June 2021
Crustacean Compassion is the leading organisation in the UK campaigning for the humane treatment of decapod crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters
This response summarises our response to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. Whilst we have answered all the questions, we invite you to pay particular attention to our response to Question 5, where we have summarised the case for the protection of decapod crustaceans (and cephalopods) under this Bill. Here, we cover the evidence for their sentience, the welfare issues at stake in their killing, housing and transport; the public support for their inclusion, the LSE review of the sentience of decapod and cephalopods and the risks if their inclusion is left to the use of the enabling power at a later date.
For a further summary of these issues, please see our report.
Q1. Will the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill ensure that animal sentience is properly taken into account in both new and existing Government policy in England?
After years of discussion and debate, with a clear public mandate and a Conservative party manifesto commitment, we welcome the introduction of this Bill and the crucial duty that it places on all government departments to consider animal welfare in making and implementing policies.
We are, however, concerned at the lack of a judicially enforceable duty on Ministers, who are only required to respond to the Animal Sentience Committee’s recommendations within three months in written form, with no requirement to follow those recommendations, and with no discursive Parliamentary scrutiny of any decisions Ministers take to reject the ASC’s advice. We would like to know what powers the ASC will have to hold Ministers’ decisions to account.
Q2. Are there sufficient safeguards to ensure that the proposed Animal Sentience Committee will be (a) independent (b) have the necessary expertise and (c) have the necessary powers to be effective?
We are concerned about the lack of clarity in the Bill over the independence, expertise and powers of the Animal Sentience Committee.
We recommend that the Committee’s independence is enshrined by the appointment of a full-time chair with secretariat, to build its security and independence. We also believe that the difference between the Animal Welfare Committee and the Animal Sentience Committee need to be clearly separated. They are different bodies – AWC is a body that provides advice to Defra when requested. The ASC will conduct proactive reviews of policy right across government departments.
It also needs to be accountable to the public in the form of an annual report to Parliament, or similar.
The ASC should have independent experts across a wide range of specialisms, with particular expertise in contemporary animal welfare science as well as veterinary expertise, since thinking has changed fast across even the last ten years, and scientists need to be comfortable with progress in the acceptance and appropriate evidencing of animal emotions, for example. It is important that there is also philosophical and ethical expertise, to interrogate taken-for-granted assumptions and values, and to weigh competing interests, human and nonhuman, with the necessary sophistication across a diversity of policy settings. There of course also needs to be legal and policy expertise. The Committee should not be dominated by only one industry, discipline or sector.
Currently the Bill has only a discretionary duty to review government policy for evidence of the appropriate regard to the welfare of animals. We believe it should have a clear duty for both the retrospective and the prospective review of policies where a clear risk to the welfare of animals is present. There should be a duty for ministers to report such policies to the Committee.
The ASC should be appropriately resourced and have executive powers to call witnesses and access documentary evidence, in order to come to clear, informed judgements on the welfare of animals.
In addition, the ASC should allow the committee to identify how the lives of animals might be positively improved as a result of specific policies. Doing this means that there will be a clearer duty to promote the flourishing of diverse species, and not just their bare existence. Paying attention to ‘a life worth living’, and not just the absence of abject suffering, is important; in order to recognise that animals, particularly those under our care, have the right to a decent quality of life with adequate mental stimulation, an appropriate environment and opportunities for social and emotional fulfilment.
The committee must regularly review the scientific evidence for sentience in animals not covered by this Bill. We recommend every three years. This would avoid the situation outlined in Q5, whereby decapods and cephalopods were almost included in the Animal Welfare Act 2006; a report was published later the same year supporting their sentience; and yet no Defra review of their sentience was conducted until 2020.
Q3. Are the proposed requirements on the Government to respond to an Animal Sentience Committee’s report sufficient?
We are concerned that the Bill does not proscribe a prospective, direct duty upon Ministers to pay regard to the welfare of animals when making policy. The only duty is to report to Parliament after the receipt of a report from the Animal Sentience Committee.
We are also concerned that the duty on the minister to respond to a report within three months is too lenient. We agree with the proposal for a cross-Whitehall Animal Sentience Strategy which sets out how ministers plan to have due regard to animal sentience: for example, by commissioning animal welfare impact assessments and any associated independent research required. The Strategy should also lay out which upcoming policies will fall within the scope of the Act.
Additionally, the Bill should also require the Defra Secretary of State to report, in person, on the implementation of Strategy annually before Parliament, so that Parliament can evaluate the effectiveness of the ASC.
Q4. How does the proposed Animal Sentience Committee compare to similar bodies, such as the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission?
The SAWC recognises the sentience of decapods and cephalopods. We recommend the ASC do the same (see Q5).
We would recommend that the ASC follows the example of the SAWC in its wide range of expertise, in its open and transparent recruitment process, and in the way that individuals are selected for appointment on the basis of their knowledge and expertise, not as representatives of particular groups or organisations.
We approve of the Executive Powers afforded to the SAWC in order to perform its function, in Section 6 (general powers).
Q5. Is the Government correct to limit the scope of the Bill to vertebrate animals?
No, the Government is not correct to limit the scope of the Bill to vertebrate animals.
We would like to see the Bill extended to cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans, given the ample evidence of their sentience that has amassed over the last decade and beyond; including a recognition of their sentience back in 2005 by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)[i]. Including decapods and cephalopods in this Bill would also be consistent with the position of the Scottish Animal Sentience Commission[ii].
Evidence for sentience
Cephalopods should be included because there is ample evidence that they are sentient and in particular that they can feel pain[iii] [iv] [v] , which is the most commonly used criteria for the inclusion of an animal in welfare legislation. In 2010, the EU definitively ruled in favour of cephalopod sentience in EU Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes[vi], and they are already protected under the UK’s Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, revised to include them in 2013. It would be only be legally consistent to include cephalopods in this Bill. For more information about cephalopod sentience and welfare issues, please contact Onekind (Scottish NGO) or the Association for Cephalopod Research in Italy.
Decapod crustaceans should also be included, and our submission will focus on these species. A significant body of research[vii] [viii] [ix] [x] [xi] [xii] has emerged which demonstrates that:
a) decapods possess the requisite biological structures and processes to process a pain response
b) decapods do not merely have a reflex “nociceptive” response to pain, but are able to experience it, remember it, and use their experience to make decisions. They also demonstrate different behaviour after the administration of painkillers.
Our open letter from 2018[xiii], asserting the sentience of decapod crustaceans and calling for their legal animal welfare protection, is signed by 55 world-leading animal welfare experts, veterinary bodies, and public figures. They include many whose expertise Defra and AWC regularly draw on:
Public support and precedents from other countries
As well as the scientific consensus, there is also a clear public mandate for this inclusion, with over 55,000 signatures on our petition[xiv]. Britain, in fact, is lagging behind other countries in this area. Decapods and cephalopods are currently protected under animal welfare laws in Norway, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand, some Australian states and territories, and some Italian and German cities. If the UK truly wants to establish itself as an authoritative global leader in animal welfare, it must look to the example of these countries, and be led by scientific evidence, not by prejudiced assumptions about the capacities of invertebrates, or by the political inconveniences that may arise from such a decision.
Welfare issues for decapod crustaceans
The welfare issues are so severe that it would not be appropriate to delay this inclusion, and it would certainly not be appropriate to default to a set of unenforceable voluntary guidelines.
Without legal recognition of sentience, it is routine practice for decapods to be boiled alive (both individually, in restaurants, and in commercial processors), undergo freshwater drowning (a long and distressing process); and be dismembered alive before boiling[xv]. It is estimated that an edible crab, boiled alive, will take three minutes to lose consciousness in the boiling water[xvi]. Chilling is widely believed to stun the animals; however scientific research shows that this is unlikely to be the case and that it may cause further welfare problems. Edible crabs took 30-40 minutes to lose consciousness in the freezer in research conducted by decapod slaughter experts[xvii]; and many crabs showed signs of stress, such as autonomy (leg shedding) in the process. Electrical stunning followed by immediate killing is currently the most humane method available[xviii],[xix] [xx] and both commercial machines (the Stansas) and restaurant-sized machines, (such as the Crustastun) are available. The latter is used by top chefs such as Raymond Blanc and Giorgio Locatelli, both for animal welfare reasons and because they claim it makes the meat taste sweeter and have a better texture[xxi]. Waitrose, Tescos and Marks and Spencer also electrically stun some of their decapod ranges, eg their UK-caught crab[xxii].
Mutilations and housing
Without recognition of their ability to feel pain and suffer, decapods are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act, since Section 3 (4) of the Act only allows invertebrates to be protected if this is the case. This means that they may be shrink-wrapped live in supermarkets[xxiii], have one or both claws removed before being thrown back into the sea (it is a myth that this does not cause pain[xxiv]), undergo eyestalk ablation (the severing or cauterising of one or both eyestalks to force hormonal changes favouring fertility, despite alternatives being available[xxv], be crammed into overcrowded, brightly lit tanks against all of their natural instincts for dark shelters and solitude[xxvi], or kept alive on ice, a practice which is actually illegal in Italy and Switzerland because of its welfare implications [xxvii].
Without full recognition of sentience, there are legal inconsistences in the Welfare of Animals at Transport Act. Article 4 of the Act in fact provides for the inclusion of “cold-blooded invertebrates” such as decapods against “injury” or unnecessary suffering”, and insists upon the appropriate provision of oxygen, correct temperature and suitable containers. And yet decapods are routinely transported by ordinary post such as Amazon[xxviii], where they may become injured in the back of ordinary postage vans, and left for days on the doorstep if the consumer is not in to receive them.
The LSE report
As a result of our campaign, which we presented to Defra in 2018 with our petition, the open letter and the support of 41 organisations[xxix], gaining widespread media coverage[xxx], the then Defra Minister Michael Gove promised a review of the sentience of decapods and cephalopods[xxxi].
Despite repeated written assurances from Defra that this review was underway, we understand that it was never completed. A proper independent review into the sentience of decapod crustaceans and cephalopods, led by LSE Enterprise, was not commissioned until summer 2020, accompanied by a Seafish report into the welfare risks to both species in the food industry. The LSE report was completed by the authors in December 2020.
We have significant concerns about why the LSE report is still unavailable when its significance for this Bill has been acknowledged since the Review’s conception; and especially when there have been so many delays in getting the Review commissioned in the first place. We understand that peer review of the LSE report was completed in spring 2021, and that there is a well-defined process of internal review which should take no more than a couple of months. Given the report’s significance, why has this process not been managed in a more timely way? Four Parliamentary Questions since March 2021 [xxxii] [xxxiii] [xxxiv] [xxxv] and two letters to the Minister signed by ourselves, Humane Society International, Compassion in World Farming, OneKind and the RSPCA have received the same answer: that the report will be available “shortly”.
We fail to see why ministers committed to the welfare of animals and the relevance of scientific evidence in policy making should take so long to turn such a significant report around. We understand the nervousness around the implications for the shellfish industry and have offered to work with food businesses to advise and find practical solutions. We are devising a suite of positions and associated solutions on a number of welfare issues surrounding capture, housing, mutilations, transport and slaughter, which we have offered to share. However, to date, we have not been invited to share them. Ministers must recognise that the sentience of an animal does not depend on the political convenience to government. If these animals are sentient, they should be recognised as such in legislation, and time can be allowed for codes of practice to be drawn up and for industries to adapt. There are long-established precedents to this: for example, the working groups set up to develop codes of practice after cephalopods were recognised as sentient for the purposes of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act in 2013.
Back to the Future – the Efra Committee of 2005
Finally, and as a warning of what may happen should this amendment be left to a later Statutory Instrument using the Enabling Power in the Bill, we would like to remind the Committee of the lessons learned from the 2005 EFRA Committee, where the then Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw made a decision to leave decapods and cephalopods out of the Animal Welfare Bill of 2005 (later the Act of 2006).
The Efra committee stated that there was a “strong case” with “powerful evidence” [xxxvi] made by consultees for the inclusion of decapod crustaceans and cephalopods, and cited the protections afforded by other countries. However, because Defra did not run the evidence past the Scientific Advisory Committee, a fact for which it was strongly criticised by the Chair, there was insufficient scientific evidence to make a decision[xxxvii].
It has taken 16 years for this opportunity to come up again, with millions of these sensitive, captivating animals suffering needlessly with each year that passes. It must not be lost again.
Figure 1: Hansard record of the 2005 EFRA Committee on the Animal Welfare Bill
Chairman: Given the amount of time you have had to think about this and given the compelling evidence particularly connected with crabs and lobsters about the way they were stored and about the way that they were killed and cooked, there did seem to be a powerful case for those two species to receive some protection. Are you dismissing that evidence as not conclusive?
Mr Bradshaw: I am always prepared to consider new evidence that I have not seen but our view at the moment is that we have to draw a line somewhere on this definition and we have drawn it in the right place based on the scientific evidence available.
Q967 Chairman: So your experts are dismissing outright all the evidence which has been placed in the public domain, and certainly before this Committee, that anything other than the species covered in clause 53 do not feel pain full stop?
Mr Bradshaw: That is the advice that I have been given, yes.
Chairman: I think that is disappointing again and people will be concerned that you are not prepared to move so far as that aspect is concerned. I do not want to have a scientific debate now but there was certainly some powerful evidence on it.
[i] EFSA Journal. (2005). “Opinion on the “Aspects of the biology and welfare of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes”, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/lab_animals/pdf/efsa_opinion.pdf, accessed at on 27-12-16.
[iii] Sneddon, L.U. (2015). "Pain in aquatic animals". Journal of Experimental Biology. 218 (7): 967–976. doi:10.1242/jeb.088823. PMID 25833131.
[iv] Alupay, J.S., Hadjisolomou, S.P. and Crook, R.J. (2014). "Arm injury produces long-term behavioral and neural hypersensitivity in octopus". Neuroscience Letters. 558: 137–142. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2013.11.002. PMID 24239646. S2CID 36406642.
[v] Crook, R.J. & Walters, E.T. (2011). "Nociceptive behavior and physiology of molluscs: animal welfare implications". ILAR Journal. 52 (2): 185–195. doi:10.1093/ilar.52.2.185. PMID 21709311.
[viii] Conte F, Voslarova E, Vecerek V, Elwood RW, Coluccio P, Pugliese M, Passantino A. Humane Slaughter of Edible Decapod Crustaceans. Animals. 2021; 11(4):1089. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani1104108
[ix] Appel, M & Elwood, R.W. (2009b). Motivational trade-offs and the potential for pain experience in hermit crabs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 119, 120-124
[x] Barr, S., Laming, P. R., Dick, J. T. A., & Elwood, R. W. (2008). Nociception or pain in a decapod crustacean? Animal Behaviour, 75(3), 745–751
[xi] Elwood, R. (2012). Evidence for pain in decapod crustaceans. Animal Welfare, 21(1), 23–27
[xii] Elwood, R. W., & Appel, M. (2009). Pain experience in hermit crabs? Animal Behaviour, 77(5), 1243–1246
[xiii] Open Letter, www.crustaceancompassion.org.uk, accessed 30-6-21
[xvi] Roth, B. and Øines, S., 2010. Stunning and killing of edible crabs (Cancer pagurus), Animal Welfare, Volume 19, Number 3, August 2010 , pp. 287-294(8). Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
[xvii] Roth, B. and Øines, S., 2010. Stunning and killing of edible crabs (Cancer pagurus), Animal Welfare, Volume 19, Number 3, August 2010 , pp. 287-294(8). Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
[xviii] Fregin, T., & Bickmeyer, U. (2016). Electrophysiological investigation of different methods of anesthesia in lobster and crayfish. PloS one, 11(9), e0162894
[xix] Roth, B., & Grimsbø, E. (2013). Electrical Stunning of Edible Crabs. , accessed 9-10-18
[xx] Weineck, K., Ray, AJ., Fleckenstein, LJ., Medley, M., Dzubuk, N., Piana, E., Cooper, RL., (2018). Physiological Changes as a Measure of Crustacean Welfare under Different Standardized Stunning Techniques: Cooling and Electroshock. , accessed 9-10-18;
[xxiii] Blair, O. (2015). Supermarket Criticised for Selling Live Crabs Wrapped in Clingfilm. The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/supermarket-criticised-for-selling-live-crabs- wrapped-in-clingfilm-a6709451.html, accessed 8-1-18.
[xxiv] Patterson, L., Dick, J. T., & Elwood, R. W. (2007). Physiological stress responses in the edible crab, Cancer pagurus, to the fishery practice of de-clawing. Marine Biology, 152 (2), 265- 272
[xxv] Zacarias, S., Carboni, S., Davie, A., & Little, D. C. (2019). Reproductive performance and offspring quality of non-ablated Pacific white shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) under intensive commercial scale conditions. Aquaculture, 503, 460-466
[xxvi] Carder, G. (2017). A preliminary investigation into the welfare of lobsters in the UK. Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling, 2(16), 19.