Science Pushed to Back Burner, as Swiss Outlaw Live Lobster Boiling

By Erik Lief — Jan 19, 2018
Switzerland believes the practice of throwing a live lobster in a pot of boiling water is mean-spirited, and most of all, cruel. Lawmakers in that landlocked European country actually passed a law recently, banning that particular crustacean toss – even though science has shown that lobsters cannot feel pain. 

Some find it strange, while others, simply fascinating. And others still put it on their dinner menu because they're drawn to its preparation in a macabre sort of way.

But the government of Switzerland believes the practice of throwing a live lobster in a pot of boiling water is unnecessary, and most of all, cruel. As a result lawmakers in that landlocked European country have actually passed a law recently, banning that particular crustacean toss.

And this heartfelt legislative decision – presumably not on humanitarian, but lobsterian, grounds – was made Jan. 10. In short, the Swiss simply feared that these tasty, sea creatures experience agonizing pain during those final, heated moments of their lives.

There's only one problem with that: it's impossible, since there's no scientific evidence to support the position.

The order written by lawmakers in Bern, the capital, stated that "the practice of plunging live lobsters into boiling water, which is common in restaurants, is no longer permitted," and beginning March 1 lobsters "will now have to be stunned before they are put to death."

By stunned, the government says the crustaceans must instead be prodded with an electrical device before they are boiled, to produce "mechanical destruction" of the brain. To meet that requirement slicing a knife through its head will also suffice. 

A gruesome death apparently is perfectly acceptable, as long as it's quick.

Setting aside the question of why the Swiss are interested in this issue enough to pass legislation, the larger scientific issue is whether this is necessary in the first place. And the answer, the experts tell us, is no because lobsters don't feel pain.

"The nervous system of a lobster is very simple – not unlike that of an insect," states the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, which might know a thing or two about this topic. "Neither insects nor lobsters have brains. For an organism to perceive pain it must have a more complex nervous system. Neurophysiologists tell us that lobsters, like insects, do not process pain."

The law, part of a broader reform of the country's animal rights regulations, includes a provision that prevents lobsters from being shipped on ice, or in icy water, adding that they should “always be held in their natural environment.”

The new measure has befuddled chefs, and will likely add to the costs of shipping and purchasing lobsters, with the price increase almost certainly being passed along to well-heeled dinner patrons wielding a claw cracker.

After hearing the news, an owner of a restaurant in Geneva thought someone was pulling his leg.

"For the first while we laughed," said Arnaud Hyséni, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, "because we couldn't believe it." 

Neither can the scientific community, or anyone with a brain – which excludes lobsters.

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