According to a new report commissioned by the United Kingdom government, animals like lobsters, crabs and octopuses are sentient beings that feel pain, which serves as a step towards protecting the welfare of these species, reports Asha C. Gilbert for USA Today.
Moving forward, these species will be included in the U.K.'s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. When passed into law, the bill will establish an Animal Sentience Committee and ensure that the wellbeing of these invertebrates is considered in new laws. The original bill wholly included vertebrates, but left invertebrates out, according to a press release from the U.K. government.
"The science is now clear that [these animals] can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation," Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith says in the press release.
In the report, experts at the London School of Economics and Political Science reviewed 300 different studies looking for evidence that these critters are sentient. The report concludes that cephalopods—a group of mollusk that includes squids, octopuses and cuttlefish—and decapods—a type of crustacean including crabs, lobsters and shrimp—should be formally recognized and treated as sentient beings, reports Katie Hunt for CNN.
"When you respect something as a sentient being, the sort of principles you accept for other sentient beings have to apply," lead author Jonathan Birch, an expert in the philosophy of biology at the London School of Economics, Evan Bush for NBC. "Humane slaughter requires training. These are principles people readily grant for any vertebrate."
While sifting through studies, the researchers looked for eight specific neurological and behavioral criteria that indicate sentience. These included the ability to learn, feel pain, respond to anesthetics and consider threat vs. opportunity, CNN reports.
"In all the cases, the balance of evidence seemed to tilt toward sentience. In octopus, that’s very strong. And looking at shrimps … confidence is much lower," Birch tells NBC.
The report outlines recommendations for best practices to reduce animal cruelty and suffering. For example, boiling decapods alive or slicing cephalopods' brains would both be deemed inhumane, but they are two extremely common slaughter methods in the fishing and food industries. However, these are just recommendations—the bill only ensures that these species are considered in future policymaking, it does not stretch to regulate the seafood industry.