Octopuses, crabs, and lobsters will be recognized as 'sentient beings' in UK after a review concluded they feel pain and distress

Octopuses, crabs, and lobsters will be recognized as 'sentient beings' in UK after a review concluded they feel pain and distress
An octopus is pictured March 6, 2018 at the Oceanopolis sea center, in Brest, western France.Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images
  • A review of 300 studies concluded there is strong evidence some invertebrates are sentient.
  • The UK government is updating an animal welfare law to includes octopuses, crabs, and lobsters.

Octopuses, crabs, and lobsters will be recognized as sentient beings under UK animal welfare laws after a review concluded there is strong evidence they are capable of feelings.

The UK government announced Friday that decapods, an order of crustaceans, and cephalopods, a class of mollusks, will now fall under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. Decapods include animals like crabs, lobsters, shrimp, prawns, and crayfish, and cephalopods include octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish.

The announcement said the bill "already recognizes all animals with a backbone (vertebrates) as sentient beings. However, unlike some other invertebrates (animals without a backbone), decapod crustaceans and cephalopods have complex central nervous systems, one of the key hallmarks of sentience."

The decision followed the findings of a government-commissioned independent review by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The review, published this month, found there was "strong evidence" that such animals are sentient, which the review defines as having "the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort and excitement."


"I'm pleased to see the government implementing a central recommendation of my team's report," said Jonathan Birch, a professor at LSE who works on the Foundations of Animal Sentience Project, adding they reviewed over 300 scientific studies. "Octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have not received any protection outside science until now."

The report also made specific recommendations on animal welfare practices based on its findings, including:

  • Banning the declawing of crabs
  • Banning the sale of live crabs and lobsters to "untrained, non-expert handlers"
  • Banning the following slaughter methods when a viable alternative exists and when electrical stunning is not done first: boiling alive and live dismemberment

The report also said there is no evidence of a slaughter method for creatures like octopuses that is "both humane and commercially viable on a large scale," recommending more research be done to identify more humane practices.

In the announcement, the UK government said it would "not affect any existing legislation or industry practices such as fishing. There will be no direct impact on the shellfish catching or restaurant industry. Instead, it is designed to ensure animal welfare is well considered in future decision-making."

Insider's Cheryl Teh reported in July UK lawmakers were considering a ban on inhumane slaughter methods for animals like lobsters and crabs, which prompted the LSE review.


Boiling crustaceans alive is already illegal in some countries, including Switzerland and New Zealand.

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