ENVIRONMENT
08/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Should Killing Lobsters In Boiling Water Be Outlawed? (VIDEO, POLL)

It's summer, and as many head to the beach with hopes of enjoying fresh seafood, the practice of killing live lobsters in boiling water is drawing new attention.

Around the world, many are beginning to question the commonly accepted methods for killing crustaceans. In March, a group of British scientists published a report stating that shellfish can process pain.

Legislation is already in place globally to protect crustacean rights. New Zealand counts shellfish on its list of animals protected by animal rights laws, Reggio Emilia, Italy forbids the boiling of lobsters and the British Shellfish Network dutifully advocates for lobster liberties. The recent influx of scientific experiments on crustacean pain tolerance and the rise in underwater animal activists has led many to ponder "can killing lobsters be humane?"

An article by seafood expert Trevor Corson in The Atlantic explores the debate behind slaughtering lobsters.

There is a small army of animal-rights activists in Europe lobbying for new laws. [...] For most people, dispatching live animals in the kitchen is traumatic enough as it is, without the fear of landing in jail. But therein lies the crux of the matter. After all, we are killing animals to eat them. Those pigs, cows, and other mammals who already have legal protections are also getting killed to eat, and the laws, however imperfect, are there simply to reduce unnecessary suffering in the process. Even with further advances in science, we may never know precisely what crustaceans feel.

Treehugger describes the current predicament of the crustacean population.

Restaurants can do any number of methods to prepare crustaceans, ranging from throwing them into a pot of boiling water to cutting their limbs and torso while they are still technically alive. [...] But if it can be proven that they feel pain, then some would say this is just as cruel as using these same methods on a live chicken or rabbit.

The Atlantic article profiles the most humane dispatch techniques, including the hydrostatic pressure processor, which separates the meat from the shell sans cooking. However, there is still debate as to whether this is in fact humane. In the United Kingdom, scientists have created the Crustastun, a pricey electronic shellfish stunner, which humanely shocks and kills the crustacean before the boiling process begins.

Jill Santopietro of the New York Times' The Moment Blog researched the most humane demise for a lobster and in the process uncovered a secret behind humans interest in lobster pain.

Our problem as humans is that we tend to imagine how we would feel if giant-clawed, red creatures dunked us into a pot of steaming water. Robert Bayer [...] of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine [...] told me that "there are a couple of ways to minimize trauma to the person that is doing the cooking." Wait! I said the lobster, not the cook. But that was exactly his point: the cook is the one most affected by cooking lobster. [...] They concluded that chilling lobsters in the freezer or in salted ice water will adequately numb them so that when they hit the hot pot they will move very little. [...] The change of environment will not slowly suffocate the lobsters, as some would believe, but will instead put them to sleep. Again, we cannot put ourselves in the lobster's shoes. The lobster is not a human.

PETA attempts to debunk the myth of humane lobster slaughter.

World famous Chef Eric Ripert offers instruction on the most humane method to kill crustaceans.