After a UK government-commissioned study, invertebrates such as lobsters, crabs, crayfish, octopuses will now be recognized as "sentient beings" and covered by UK animal welfare laws.

What are Invertebrates?

Underwater octopus
(Photo: Pia from Pexels)

Invertebrates, according to the Australian Museum, are animals without backbones. Out of the Earth's estimated 15 to 30 million animal species, roughly 90% are invertebrates. These unsuspecting animals live in varying habitats across the globe and come in different sizes and shapes. On top of that, they provide many vital services to human survival.

There are records of invertebrates in the upper reaches of the planet's atmosphere, in the world's driest deserts, and in the wettest rainforests.

Some terrestrial or land invertebrates include various insects, centipedes, spiders, worms, and land hoppers. Marine and freshwater invertebrates are snails & slugs, sea urchins, sponges, jellyfish, and crabs.

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The UK Recognizes Decapods as Sentient Beings to be Protected by Animal Welfare Law

Recently, the UK government made a statement that decapods--an order of cephalopods and crustaceans, will now be protected under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. This will include animals such as shrimp, lobsters, crabs, prawns, crayfish, and cephalopods such as cuttlefish, squids, and octopuses.

According to the announcement, the bill already recognizes all vertebrates--animals with backbones, as sentient beings. However, up until this point, decapods and cephalopods that have been observed to have a complex central nervous system have not been considered, stating that the recent findings are key hallmarks to the species' sentience.

The decision was due to findings by a government-commissioned independent review headed by the London School of Economics and Political Science, titled "Review of the Evidence of Sentience in Cephalopod Molluscs and Decapod Crustaceans"

The review says that there was strong evidence that cephalopods and crustaceans had sentience which the review defines as the capacity to have feelings like hunger, pleasure, pain, thirst, warmth, joy, excitement, and comfort.

Jonathan Birch, team leader of the review and a professor at LSE for the Foundations of Animal Sentience Project, explains that he was delighted that the UK government would be implementing the central recommendation of the team, adding that they reviewed more than 300 scientific studies, reports Yahoo News. He adds that cephalopods such as octopuses have been well protected in science for years, however up until this point, they have not received any protection outside of the boundaries of science.

Moreover, the report made specific recommendations on animal welfare practices based on the team's findings, including banning the declawing of crabs, banning live crabs and lobster sale to "untrained and non-expert handlers," and banning slaughter methods when viable alternatives exist.

The UK government stated in their earlier announcement that the findings of the review and the changes in animal welfare laws would not affect existing legislation and industry practices like fishing. Reassuring that there will be no direct impact on the restaurant industry or shellfish catch. Instead, the new law will be designed to ensure animal welfare is well considered in the government's future decision-making.

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