A bill designating octopus, lobster, crab, and other animals as sentient beings capable of experiencing feelings and sensations including pain and distress, now moving through the UK parliament, could transform how such animals are treated in the country. The bill, which would see the creation of an Animal Sentience Committee to inform public policy on animal welfare, initially classified all vertebrates, or animals with backbones, as sentient beings. But cephalopods, including octopus, squid, and cuttlefish, and decapods, including lobster, crab, and shrimp, were added after a report by the London School of Economics and Political Science found these animals can also experience pain or distress.
Researchers examined more than 300 studies looking for eight criteria that would point to sentience, including the presence of pain receptors, connections between pain receptors and certain regions of the brain, self-protective behavior, responses to pain-relieving drugs, and associative learning. High confidence that an animal met three of the criteria translated to substantial evidence of sentience, whereas high confidence that an animal met five or more criteria translated to strong evidence of sentience. "In all the cases, the balance of evidence seemed to tilt toward sentience," co-author Dr. Jonathan Birch tells NBC News. The evidence is "very strong" in octopus, he notes. "For squid and cuttlefish, the evidence was less strong but nonetheless substantial," according to the report.
It recommends against declawing crabs and live boiling lobsters without first stunning them. Researchers could not identify a humane and commercially viable way to kill cephalopods, which are often clubbed, asphyxiated, or stabbed in the brain. "Methods regarded as standard for humane killing in science can’t be done on a commercial scale to produce an edible product. That's a fundamental issue we want to raise," Birch says. The bill, which is expected to pass, wouldn't necessarily restrict such killings. But it would create a committee to consider animal sentience as it relates to future legislation. It's part of a broader plan "to bring in some of the strongest protections in the world for pets, livestock and wild animals," Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith says, per USA Today. (Read more animal welfare stories.)