Lobsters: an end to ‘culinary barbarism’?

Big news in the world of crustaceans and molluscs: it may soon be illegal to boil lobsters alive

A lobster pictured in a restaurant
(Image credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New York Culinary Experience)

“Big news in the world of crustaceans and molluscs,” said Lizzie Thomson in Metro: it may soon be illegal to boil lobsters alive. The Government’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which will legally recognise vertebrates as sentient beings and ensure that this is taken into account in policy-making, is making its way through the House of Lords.

Now ministers have given their blessing to an amendment giving protections to invertebrates such as lobsters, octopuses and crabs. That would bring us in line with Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand, where boiling live lobsters is already forbidden.

About time too, said The Times. Westerners are quick to condemn the “culinary barbarism” of other cultures, yet turn a blind eye to our own “needless brutality”. Top restaurants these days mostly prefer to freeze or stun lobsters, with no “discernible impact on taste”. As a rule, governments shouldn’t meddle with what happens in private kitchens. But this is an “exception worth celebrating”.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

If only it were so simple, said Tim Hayward in the FT. Lobsters are tricky creatures to kill. True, they can be electrocuted, but stunning devices, costing some £2,500, are beyond the budget of most restaurants, let alone homes. As for freezing them to death, lobsters are designed to survive in the iciest Arctic waters, so we have to assume they “remain viable” for much of the chilling process.

Some cooks favour sticking a skewer into the head, but the lobster doesn’t have a single brain conveniently located behind the eyes. In short, I’m not sure there’s a more humane way of despatching a lobster than dropping it into “fiercely boiling water”.

The very idea of legal rights for lobsters should be “laughed to scorn”, said Bruce Anderson in The Spectator. This is one more example of the absurd sentimentality the British lavish on animals: surely at this time of national crisis our legislators have better things to do.

The whole Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is ridiculous, said Daniel Hannan in The Sunday Telegraph. We are already well aware that animals are sentient; and Britain already has some of the “oldest and strongest animal welfare legislation in the world”. This is one of those “declamatory laws” – passed just “to send a message” – that is bound to have “unintended consequences”.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.