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The UK Government has proposed an amendment to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill that, if voted for by Parliament, would give Cephalopod Molluscs (octopuses, squid, cuttlefish, etc.) and Decapod Crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, shrimps, crayfish, etc.) the same status of “sentient beings” as this Bill gives to vertebrate animals. 

After a campaign protesting for the absence of these invertebrates in the list of sentient beings, on 19th November 2021, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs published the proposed amendment adding decapods and cephalopods to the list.

Since 2009, the EU already has recognized animals as sentient beings in its Lisbon Treaty. However, the UK lost that recognition when it left the EU, as British law did not have an equivalent formal recognition. Therefore, in December 2017, the government stated that it “must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy”, and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill was proposed for this purpose. But at that time, it only recognized vertebrate animals (fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals) as sentient beings.

The UK already protects cephalopods from certain experiments under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act (Amendment) Order 1993, so not including them in the new Bill seemed a step backward. No UK law, however, had protected any crustacean so far.

Several animal protection organizations began campaigning asking for the inclusion of invertebrates in the Sentience Bill, in particular the molluscs and crustaceans where there is clear evidence of sentience. In 2018, 55 leading experts and professional bodies plus 41 animal welfare organizations supported the Crustacean Compassion’s campaign in an open letter to protect decapods. The British Veterinary Association had publicly accepted their sentience and supported the principle of humane stunning before slaughter. Also, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission recently issued a statement on animal sentience recognising the sentience of decapods and cephalopods.

All this pressure has worked, and the government has now amended their Bill to include them, saying they added them because of the findings of a report from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on decapod and cephalopod sentience. The government also said that existing industry practices will not be affected and there will be no direct impact on shellfish catching or in restaurant kitchens, which makes this change, although important, mostly symbolic. Several other countries have already given protection to these invertebrates. In Switzerland, the Animal Welfare Ordinance 2008 protects decapods. The New Zealand Animal Welfare Act 1999 protects crabs, lobsters and crayfish from being killed by inhumane methods. Decapods are also included in the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act 2009. Canada, Australia, Italy, and Czechia have laws that protect octopuses and squid but not yet crustaceans. And this year the capital of the Netherlands announced that, from 2022, it will be illegal to sell live lobsters and crabs in any of Amsterdam’s 34 markets. The UK could now be the next if the government does not change its mind as recently did with its proposal to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered species (no longer in this year’s list of proposed Bills) and in the end both houses of parliament vote for the amendment.