Switzerland outlaws boiling live lobsters

Decision to knock out lobsters first replaces motion to ban imports altogether


The Swiss Federal Council issued an order last week banning chefs in the country from putting live lobsters into pots of boiling water.

Starting March 1, lobsters must be stunned, either by electric shock or “mechanical destruction” of the brain, before being boiled. The law also requires that lobsters, and more broadly living walking decapods, can no longer be transported on ice or in icy water, but must be kept in their natural environment — salt water.

According to a Swiss government spokeswoman, the law was driven by the animal rights argument.

“There are more animal friendly methods than boiling alive, that can be applied when killing a lobster,” Eva van Beek, the Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs, said in an email to the Washington Post.

The new law is unlikely to affect U.S. imports significantly. The U.S. exported only $368,000 worth of live lobsters to Switzerland in 2016, according to the Maine International Trade Center.

Initially, there was a motion to ban all imports of lobster to the landlocked country, but complex international trade rules led the country to amend the motion instead.

The new law has reignited an age-old seafood debate — can lobsters feel pain?

According to documents from the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, they do not. The institute says “the nervous system of a lobster is very primitive; in fact it is most similar to the nervous system of an insect… for an organism to perceive pain, it must have a complex nervous system.”

About the author

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill is associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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