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FRAME calls for decapod sentience to be recognised across all legislation

On 19 November 2021, a government-commissioned report published by the London School of Economics (LSE) recognised decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs as sentient beings.

The report presented findings of over 300 scientific studies that found ‘strong scientific evidence’ that these animals can feel pain, distress and harm. In response to this, the government announced in a statement that species that fall within these groups, including crabs, octopuses and lobsters, are to be recognised as sentient beings under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill in the UK. This is a great step in the right direction in terms of animal welfare and will see these species recognised in the same way as the vertebrates already considered sentient within this Act.

But what does this announcement really mean for the welfare of these species outside of the Act? As it stands, this announcement will only affect future decisions on animal welfare. It would appear that there are no immediate plans to update any current legislation, including restaurant and fishing practices, and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA).

Under ASPA, cephalopods, such as octopuses, are already protected, and have been since 2013 in line with the EU Directive, which was transposed into UK law after Brexit. Being protected under ASPA means any procedures that these species are used for require licensing applications to be submitted, and ethical reviews to be conducted by an Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body. Decapod crustaceans, however, despite now having strong evidence to prove their sentience, and being included in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, will not be protected under ASPA. This means that these species can continue to be used in research without any form of regulation.

This is not only disappointing news, but is also very contradictory. How can these species be considered sentient and able to feel pain, distress and harm under one act, but not be protected with regards to scientific procedures under another?

It is currently unclear as to why these new findings on sentience will not be included in current legislation, or why the government has given no indication on when or if they will be included. Whilst our mission at FRAME is to work towards a world where non-animal methods are accepted as scientific best practice, we also believe that decapod species should be brought within the scope of ASPA, and support this recommendation made by the LSE. This is not only for the sake of animal welfare, but also for the quality of scientific research – if licensing applications and ethical reviews must take place by law for decapod species, justification must be provided for their use, and the 3Rs must be applied prior to procedures taking place.

The announcement that decapod crustaceans will be considered sentient within the scope of the Animals Welfare (Sentience) Bill is fantastic news and a great step in the right direction in terms of animal welfare and future legislation. However, it is vital that the UK government considers introducing these new findings into current legislation, across ASPA, restaurant and fishing practices, in order to make the most impact with regards to animal welfare.

A timeline of the next steps the government intend to take should be published in order to show a clear commitment to animal welfare, and ensure that these species are protected in a way that reflects these new findings.

You can read the LSE report in full here and the government’s statement here.

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