While not the most humane practice, throwing live lobsters into a boiling pot of water is a common culinary procedure. But not for long, at least in Switzerland. The Swiss government has just banned the cooking method. The crustaceans must be stunned before being boiled, either via electric shock or “mechanical destruction.” The stun is meant to knock them out before they’re put to death, lessening their overall pain.
As precious as it may seem, this law is a huge step in acknowledging and minimizing the animal’s pain. As if you needed more reason to stick to your New Year‘s resolution to go full-on vegetarian, scientists and animal rights activists both agree that lobsters actually have complex nervous systems and can feel significant pain when plunged into a pot to boil alive. David Foster Wallace even wrote extensively on the topic. Seriously, check out his insightful essay “Consider the Lobster.” It sure seems like Switzerland did!
The ban is part of a larger overhaul of animal protection laws and it isn’t the only change lobsters will experience in regards to their welfare. The new laws also mandate that live marine crustaceans, including lobsters, can no longer be transported on ice or icy water. Instead they have to be contained in their natural environment. Other non-lobster aspects of the law crack down on puppy mills, other animal imports, and devices that punish puppies automatically when they misbehave.
How these laws will be enforced is yet to be seen. It seems like a difficult process to monitor, since cooking is often a private, domestic affair. Even so, the laws sets an interesting precedent as animal welfare is slowly making its way into national policy.
We’ll have to wait and see if other countries follow suit, but in the meantime it certainly has us questioning our next seafood order. Maybe we’ll just stick to salad.
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