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.

  • Winter temporary

    As a commercial sockeye salmon fisherman, I am forever being verbally accosted by those who consider my job untenable because I make salmon struggle and die a painful death as part of the process of catching them. They’re quite okay with salmon being mauled by bears, stripped of skin by harbor seals, and being gobbled alive by salmon sharks, but as a hominoid, what I do is awful and what they do isn’t.

    I ask them how down the food chain they’re okay with killing animals. Is swatting a mosquito okay? Do they feel pain, too? How about headlice. Headlice are people too. Or pneumonia bacteria? Don’t they deserve a warm cozy place to live in your lungs?

    The entire enterprise is an exercise in the ridiculous, of course, but it begs the question of what constitutes humane treatment. Do lobsters who suffocate from being extracted from water suffer less than being dropped in hot water? Do salmon dying in a gillnet have it better than being clawed by a bear?

    I appreciate their concern; I don’t so much appreciate the level to which they reach to show it.

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