Sun, 13 Mar 2005

Lobsters feel no pain

David Adam, Guardian News Service/London

It is the ethical dilemma that has troubled the rich and aspiring the world over for decades: When you place a live lobster in a pot of boiling water, does it feel pain?

Norwegian scientists were asked to investigate pain, discomfort and stress in invertebrates and claim now to have discovered that the answer is no.

Their conclusion applies also to crabs and to live worms on a fish hook. None of these feel a thing -- which is good news for Norwegian fishermen at least.

Their government was considering a ban on live worms as fish bait under revisions to its animal protection laws -- but only if it hurt.

Wenche Farstad of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science in Oslo now says it does not.

"It seems to be only reflex curling when put on the hook. They might sense something, but it is not painful and does not compromise their well-being," said Farstad, who chaired the panel that prepared the government report. "The common earthworm has a very simple nervous system. It can be cut in two and continue with its business."

The report looked at welfare implications of everything from cooking live crabs and lobsters to keeping bees. Invertebrates are animals without backbones, covering creatures from insects and spiders to mollusks and crustaceans.

Honeybees deserve special care, Farstad said, because they display social behavior and a capacity to learn and cooperate. But invertebrates do not feel pain because they have basic nervous systems and small brains.

Peter Fraser, a marine biologist at the University of Aberdeen, says crabs and lobsters have only about 100,000 neurons, compared with 100 billion in people and other vertebrates. While this allows them to react to threatening stimuli, he said there is no evidence they feel pain.

Tiny perforations in leg bones allow crabs and lobsters to jettison limbs if trapped by predators.

"That doesn't demonstrate whether they feel pain or not, but it does demonstrate they have very different mechanisms," Fraser said. "If we tried to throw off a leg, I'd imagine that would be very painful indeed."





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