Do Lobsters Feel Pain? Here’s What Science Has To Say

By Sami Ghanmi | Jan 15, 2018 06:03 AM EST

Switzerland is the latest country to ban the boiling of live lobsters for cooking. As a result, cooks and chefs in the country are now obliged to stun the animal before placing them in boiling water.

Now the question that most people are probably asking is whether or not lobsters can actually feel pain the same way humans and other animals do. Here's what scientists have to say about it.

Switzerland Bans Boiling Lobsters Alive

Switzerland has now joined the company of New Zealand and Reggio Emilia, a small city in northern Italy, where the boiling of live lobsters was also banned and considered to be an inhumane act.

As of March 1, chefs and restaurateurs in Switzerland are required by law to knock lobsters unconscious, either by electric shock or "mechanical destruction" of the brain, before they can place them in boiling water.

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The recent ban came about amid growing scientific evidence that points to the fact that invertebrates such as lobsters, crabs, and crayfish are capable of experiencing pain.

Do Lobsters Feel Pain?

The question of whether or not lobsters can feel pain is a matter of scientific debate. Many researchers and scientists in the past are in agreement that lobsters cannot experience pain.

Back in 2013, however, a study published in the journal of Experimental Biology, had tried to challenge this conventional idea. This study found that shore crabs, as a crustacean like the lobster, do have some level of ability to experience pain because of the "shock avoidance" response they exhibit.

The Experience Of Pain

In order to determine whether a being can feel pain or not, there are two questions that need to be answered, according to scientists.

The first question is whether that being responds to pain by moving its entire body or the affected part of its body away from the harmful stimulus. The second is whether the same being feels pain or not, which is also known as suffering.

Nociception

The first question is related to the idea of "nociception," which is a reflex action and the sensory nervous system's response to certain painful or potentially painful stimuli.

An example of the idea of nociception is seen in humans when they rapidly withdraw their hands as they touch something hot. The act of withdrawing the hands from something that is hot happens before any sensation of pain is actually felt.

In the 2013 study, researchers managed to observe this kind of response from shore crabs. When the crabs were exposed to electric shocks, they responded to the harmful stimulus by moving away from it.

Whether or not the crabs were experiencing any pain, on the other hand, was found too difficult for the researchers to determine. This is due to the fact that every being manifests their experiences or feelings in different ways from one another.

Finally, scientists who believe that lobsters cannot feel pain argue that the animal's primitive nervous system is very similar to that of an insect like the grasshopper.

They say that lobsters are capable of responding or reacting to a sudden stimulus, but they do not have complex brains that would enable them to process pain like humans and other animals. In other words, they do not have a cerebral cortex, which is the area in the human brain that is reponsible for the experience of pain.

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