maandag 28 april 2014

Do Lobsters Feel Pain?

A reflection on pain reception of invertebrates

Big riot in Belgium today. The television station VIER showed how chef Piet Huysentruyt threw a live lobster on the grill after slicing it in half and tearing its limbs off. Here is the clip in Dutch (well, West-Vlaams...).

This raises a question that biologists have been looking at for years: Do lobsters feel pain? There does not seem to be a consensus on this issue at the moment. A quick literature search shows that opinions vary.
Robert Elwood, Stuart Barr and Lynsey Patterson (Queens University, Northern Ireland) reviewed studies specifically aimed at welfare concerns in invertebrates and concluded "some animals show a cognitive ability that is comparable with that of some vertebrates". Hence, some invertebrates might feel pain. In another review, however, Lauritz Somme (University of Oslo, Norway) states that "most invertebrates probably are unable to feel pain".

The difficulty in assessing whether invertebrates (including lobsters) feel pain boils down (pun intended) to the issue whether they also experience the pain, mostly called suffering. The problem is that suffering is a private and emotional experience. It is not possible to quantify such a (possible) emotional state. One cannot simply ask a lobster if the water if too hot.

A completely different question is if this should be shown on television. Honestly, I see no real problem. If one can look at documentaries where lions kill a little zebra, one should be able to watch a lobster being cooked... But that is just my opinion.

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