Image by Vincent van Zalinge

Campaigning for the humane treatment of crabs, lobsters and other decapod crustaceans in the UK

Crustacean Compassion

With their peculiar appearance and mysterious lives, crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, prawns and crayfish are often thought to be insensible to pain or suffering. In the UK, they are not covered by animal welfare legislation and therefore receive no protection from inhumane handling, storage or slaughter in the food industry. Boiling live lobsters is common practice.


But is our indifferent response to these animals morally justifiable or legally consistent?


Crustacean Compassion argues that it is not; and that based on scientific evidence which shows it is likely that crabs and lobsters feel pain, decapod crustaceans should now receive full protection under the UK’s animal welfare laws, just like they are protected in Norway, Switzerland, Austria, some Australian territories and New Zealand. Our current campaign calls for crustaceans to be included in the Animal Welfare Act  2006 of England and Wales and in the new Sentience Bill proposed by Michael Gove in 2018. We also recognise that industry has a role to play in improving the welfare of these animals and we want to encourage companies to meet increasing consumer demand by selling higher welfare products across their shellfish product ranges.

This is what we have achieved so far:


  • We have shown that this issue is of public concern - over 50,000 people want decapod crustaceans protected in UK animal welfare law as shown by the signatures on our public petition


  • We have shown that the experts agree - our open letter (see below) has been signed by eminent scientists, veterinary professionals, lawyers, actors, comedians and wildlife experts, including the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association, asking the government to protect them in animal welfare law.


  • We have shown that the animal welfare movement speaks with one voice - 41 animal welfare organisations think decapod crustaceans should be protected in animal welfare law. Organisations like the RSPCA and Scotland's OneKind now campaign for the protection of decapods, and the RSPCA awarded us the 2019 Campaign Award for our work.


  • Thanks to our work, Defra have now commissioned an independent consultation on the ability of decapod crustaceans (and cephalopod molluscs like octopus) to feel pain; and on the impact of industry practices on their welfare. And the Humane Slaughter Association has recently commissioned a piece of research worth £1.93 million that includes research and development into humane methods of slaughtering crustaceans.

Scientists, lawyers, comedians, actors and wildlife experts call on Michael Gove to protect lobsters, crabs and other decapod crustaceans in animal welfare law

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Nobel House

17 Smith Square


London SW1P 3JR


 31st January 2018

Dear Minister,


We the undersigned write out of concern for the welfare of decapod crustaceans who remain unprotected by animal welfare legislation. Based on recent compelling scientific evidence that they are sentient and therefore can experience pain, and in light of the extreme practices they are subjected to, we call on the government to include decapod crustaceans under the definition of ‘animal’ in the Animal Welfare Bill (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) and in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.


Decapod crustaceans are protected under animal welfare legislation in Norway, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand and some Australian states and territories; as well as in some regions of Germany and Italy. Yet in the UK, decapods fall outside of the legal definition of ‘animal’ in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and so there is currently no legal requirement for food processors, supermarkets or restaurants to consider their welfare during storage, handling or killing. However, Section 1 of the Act provides for the inclusion of invertebrates of any description “if the appropriate national authority is satisfied, on the basis of scientific evidence, that animals of the kind concerned are capable of experiencing pain or suffering” (Animal Welfare Act, 2006). Since the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was introduced, a body of scientific evidence has emerged which strongly indicates that decapod crustaceans do not merely respond to nociceptive stimuli, but are capable of experiencing pain. Avoidance learning, rapid behaviour change, prolonged rubbing of affected areas, the laying down of memories, and motivational trade-offs are among the criteria for pain experience that have been observed. A scientific summary is attached.


Despite this evidence, decapods are frequently seen crammed together in brightly lit tanks in food retail establishments with no consideration for their welfare; are frequently sold live to the consumer for amateur home storage and killing; and have even been found for sale live yet entirely immobilised in shrink-wrap. There is no economic or culinary reason why decapods cannot be humanely dispatched, yet killing is sometimes preceded by breaking off the legs, head or tail, and is often accomplished by boiling alive. Roth and Øines (2010) estimate that an edible crab boiled alive may remain conscious for at least three minutes.


More than 23,000 people have signed a petition online (, 2018) and on paper to include decapods in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and 41 animal welfare organisations have supported this recommendation in a joint post-Brexit animal welfare manifesto (Wildlife and Countryside Link, 2018). Given the strength of the existing evidence, the scale of suffering involved, and the public interest in this issue, we believe that the time has come to join other nations in recognising the sentience of these animals.


Yours sincerely,




Maisie Tomlinson

Campaign Director

Crustacean Compassion


Professor Michael C. Appleby OBE

Honorary Fellow. Expert researcher, educator and author on animal welfare, member of FAWC 2007-16.

University of Edinburgh



Bill Bailey

Comedian, Actor, Presenter


Claire Bass

Executive Director

Humane Society International UK



Professor Marc Bekoff

Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

University of Colorado, Boulder



Professor Culum Brown

Associate Professor and Assistant Editor of the Journal of Fish Biology

Macquarie University



Ian Cawsey

Animal Advocate. Member of Parliament 1997-2010, and Former Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW).


Eddie Clutton Dipl ECVAA MRCA

Director: Wellcome Trust Critical Care Laboratory for Large Animals; Academic Head: Veterinary Anaesthesia / BVSc MRCVS DVA

Roslin Institute, Edinburgh


Dr Alasdair Cochrane

Senior Lecturer in Political Theory

The University of Sheffield



Martin Cooke MRCVS

Veterinary Invertebrate Society


Simon Doherty BVMS CertAqV MRCVS MRQA CBiol FRSB

Director / Certified Aquaculture Veterinarian

Blackwater Consultancy Ltd


Peter Egan

Actor and Animal Welfare Campaigner


Professor Bob Evans

Emeritus Professor of History

University of Oxford



Ricardo Fajardo

International Animal Welfare Legislative Expert; and El Derecho de los Animales (“Animal Law”) author, 2007


John Fishwick

President, British Veterinary Association; and signing on behalf of the British Veterinary Association


Charles Foster MA, VetMB, PhD, MRCVS

Fellow of Green Templeton College

University of Oxford


Professor Robert Garner

Professor of Politics

University of Leicester


Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith

Professor of History and Philosophy of Science

University of Sydney


Professor Stevan Harnad

Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science Editor, Animal Sentience

University of Southampton


Vanessa Hudson


Animal Welfare Party


Dr Robert C. Jones

Associate Professor of Philosophy

California State University, Chico


Professor Andrew Knight MANZCVS, DipECAWBM (AWSEL), DipACAW, PhD, FRCVS, SFHEA

Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics

University of Winchester


Dr Dan Lyons

CEO, Centre for Animals and Social Justice

The University of Sheffield


Dr Heather Maggs

Postdoctoral researcher

University of Reading


Professor Jennifer Mather

Professor, Psychology

University of Lethbridge, AB Canada



Acting Director, Centre for Animal Welfare. Recognised European Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law /

Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester


Dr Alan McElligott

Reader in Animal Behaviour

University of Roehampton


Dr Dorothy McKeegan

BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Senior Lecturer

University of Glasgow


Fieke Molenaar MSc DZM(Mammalian) MRCVS

President of British Veterinary Zoological Society

British Veterinary Zoological Society


Jean-Marc Neumann

Lawyer LLM, Secretary General of EGALS (Educational Group for Animal Law Studies), Director and Editor of Animal et Droit



Chris Packham

Naturalist and Broadcaster


Dr Nick Palmer

Head of Policy

Compassion in World Farming


Dil Peeling BVSc MSc MRCVS

Formerly Senior Policy Officer, Eurogroup for Animals, Brussels


Dr Mirjam Prinz (nee Appel) PhD

Biological Scientist

Bavarian research institute of agriculture, Germany


Mike Radford OBE LLB

Reader in Animal Welfare Law

University of Aberdeen


Ian Redmond OBE CBiol, HonDUni, DSc h.c., FLS

Independent Wildlife Biologist and Conservationist


Paul Roger

Independent Veterinary Consultant and Chair of AWSELVA


Professor Anil K. Seth

Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience; Co-Director, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science; Editor-in-Chief, Neuroscience of Consciousness

University of Sussex



Dr Toni Shephard

Executive Director

Animal Equality


Kellie Shirley



Alick Simmons

Independent Veterinarian; Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, 2008-2016


Dr Lynne Sneddon B.Sc. (Hons), PhD

Director of Bioveterinary Science

University of Liverpool


Ronnie Soutar BVM&S, MSc, MRCVS

President Fish Veterinary Society


Michaela Strachan

TV Presenter and Conservationist


Dr Cedric Sueur

Head of the masters degree Animal Law and Ethics, Member of the French Council for Animal Experimentation

Université de Strasbourg, France


Dr Alma Swan BSc (Zoology), PhD (Biology)

Private individual


Dr Aurelie Thomas DVM, PhD, DipECAWBM (AWSEL), MRCVS

Named Veterinary Surgeon

Wellcome Sanger Institute


Lord Alexander Trees BVM&S, PhD, DVetMed, DVMS, MRCVS, HonFRSE

Veterinarian/Crossbench Peer

House of Lords


Wendy Turner Webster

TV Presenter


Peter Tutt


The Shellfish Network


Gary Webster



Professor John Webster MA, Vet MB, PhD, DVM (Hons, London), MRCVS

Emeritus Professor of Animal Husbandry

University of Bristol School of Veterinary Science


Dr Peter Wedderburn BVM&S CertVR MRCVS



Dr Sean Wensley BVSc MSc Grad.DMS MRCVS

Senior Veterinary Surgeon



Dr Julia Wrathall

Chief Scientific Officer