Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Lobsters' rights campaign picking up steam

I'm glad this issue is coming up. It's a very important one. As you'll read, Lobsters suffer considerably from the catch to the plate. We're all aware of how they're killed - alive in boiling water. Now come on...even the idiots eventually have to agree that this would really suck - a very painful experience. The story goes even further and talks about how they suffer long before their horrible death. A good issue to know about.


Lobsters' rights campaign picking up steam

Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

The international animal rights lobby's campaign to mandate humane treatment of lobsters is gaining momentum in the United States and Europe. The drive is raising concerns in Maine that changing cultural attitudes could eventually threaten the valuable fishery.

In the United States, Whole Foods Market, the nation's leading natural food supermarket chain, recently announced that it intends to discontinue the sale of live lobsters next summer unless it finds a humane way to transport and store them.

"We are viewing the lobster as a live creature rather than a commodity that deserves no concern," said John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market.

A company task force is looking at whether tank conditions in stores can mimic conditions of a lobster's natural habitat. The company, which plans to open a store in Portland, has 170 supermarkets in the United States, three in Canada and seven in the United Kingdom.

Animal rights activists hope that Whole Foods' position will influence other supermarket chains.

While their efforts in the United States are focused on changing corporate behavior, abroad they are lobbying governments to pass laws to protect lobsters.

New Zealand and two Australian states have included lobsters in animal protection laws. City officials in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia last year passed a law that bans the boiling of live lobsters as "useless torture."

In Norway, where lawmakers a year ago debated whether to add lobsters to its animal welfare law, the government funded a scientific study on whether lobsters feel pain. (The study concluded that they probably don't.)

The parliaments in England and Scotland are taking up legislation that would give lobsters, crayfish and crabs the same kind of animal welfare protection reserved for vertebrates. That would mean banning the practice of putting live lobsters in boiling pots.

England's House of Commons is scheduled to debate the bill on Jan. 10.

Advocates for lobster rights in Britain were pessimistic when they began their campaign, but the response from lawmakers has been surprisingly supportive, said Julie Roxburgh, a coordinator of the Shellfish Network, an animal rights group based in England.

"These creatures are suffering terribly the way they are being treated," she said. "We know they have the capacity to suffer. They have all the things we have that make you feel pain."

Scientists at the University of Bristol in England have developed a new device for restaurants and shops called the Crustastun, which uses electric current to kill lobsters quickly. The idea is that consumers should buy the lobsters dead rather than take them home and boil them.

Europe is ahead of the United States in providing humane treatment for animals, said Bruce Friedrich, director of vegan campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"There is growing clamor to protect lobsters in Europe," he said. "We expect it will reach our shores very, very soon."

Friedrich said more people call PETA to complain about mistreatment of lobsters than any other animal people eat. He said the Internet has significantly increased PETA's ability to organize and spread its message.


In Maine, where 85 percent of the nation's lobsters are caught, fishermen view the crustacean as both an economic godsend and a lower order life form on par with the grasshopper.

Lobsters or "bugs," as fishermen call them, don't feel pain because they don't have brains, they say.

Although much-ridiculed in Maine, the animal rights activists are a real threat, said David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

"It's scary when people start giving these guys any credence," he said.

Lobster protection laws in Europe would have an economic consequence in Maine, he said.

Canadian and New England dealers sell several million pounds of lobsters to Europe during the holiday season every year. While most of the European-bound lobsters are harvested in Canada, the trade also is important to American dealers and helps maintain the industry's economic infrastructure in Maine, Cousens said.

Bob Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine's Lobster Institute, said lobsters have the same kind of nervous system as insects.

"They don't have the hardware to process pain," he said.

Animals rights activists say lobsters thrash around in the pot to avoid pain, but Bayer says they are just trying to avoid a "noxious environment."

Bayer boils his lobsters live. If that makes people nervous, he said, they should first put lobsters in a sinkful of fresh water, which puts them into a deep sleep.

Buying a dead, unprocessed lobster is risky because lobster meats spoils quickly, Cousens said. He said the demand is increasing for vacuumed-packed, freeze-dried lobster, which he sees as a better alternative as well as the industry's future.


Many animal rights activists, though, say lobsters should be left alone on the ocean floor.

"It's not a health food. It's not something anybody needs to eat," Friedrich said. "These animals are pulled out of the environment, transported, denied sustenance, kept frustrated with their claws locked, and boiled alive. These animals are put through felony-level cruelty, just to give some diner a moment of gastronomic pleasure."

Cousens, who once got into a heated argument with PETA activists at the Lobster Festival in Rockland, said the activists have unrealistic perceptions of the true natures of lobsters.

"The PETA people think there are lobster families walking on the bottom holding hands," he said. "They eat each other. They are cannibalistic. They are not lovely little creatures."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:


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