Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) wants the UK government to recognise lobsters and octopuses as sentient beings that can experience pain and joy.

Octopuses and lobsters have feelings and should be included in the animal sentience bill, a group of Conservative MPs has said.

The influential Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF), which counts Carrie Johnson and the environment minister Lord Goldsmith as patrons, has been meeting with the government to ask them to recognise the sentience of invertebrates.

The bill, now at second reading stage in the House of Lords, recognises that fish and other vertebrates feel pain and should be protected, where possible, from suffering. However, the group of MPs has argued that some invertebrates are extremely intelligent and should be included in the bill.

A new report by the CAWF has found that the UK fishing fleet lands more than 420 million cephalopods and crustaceans each year. This is a total of 73,600 tonnes of crustaceans and 12,100 tonnes of cephalopods. The report, backed by MPs including Sir David Amess and Sir Roger Gale, argues that these animals are discriminated against in legislation because their “neurological architecture differs from our own”. It concludes: “Common arguments against crustacean and cephalopod sentience focus on distinctions between these animals’ anatomy and human anatomy (such as that they process information outside the brain, eg in ganglions). However, this anthropocentric view fails to capture what it means for an animal to be sentient.

“Crustaceans and cephalopods undoubtably experience the world in extremely different ways to ourselves. What matters, though, is whether that experience entails conscious experience of pleasure and pain. We believe that the evidence is sufficient to show that these animals do experience pleasure and pain.” It cites scientific studies showing that the animals know to avoid predators, and that some of the more intelligent invertebrates can weigh up options and make trade-offs between pain and predator avoidance, between pain and undesirable environments, and between pain and feeding.

It is well known that octopuses are intelligent, and they have been found to be excellent at solving puzzles. The Netflix film My Octopus Teacher, released last year, brought the issue to a large audience, as hundreds of thousands of people were charmed by the relationship between human and inquisitive octopus.

Lorraine Platt, founder of CAWF, said: “All but a very small minority of scientists agree these are sentient animals capable of pain and suffering. It’s very important they are kept in the animal sentience bill. My Octopus Teacher is a very moving film about a female octopus, about how clever she is, how she can avoid predators, sharks, on a daily basis. If I feel this way I am sure many others feel the same way. Why are they excluded? I am sure there are concerns from industry because it throws light on how these animals are killed, stored, transported. This quantifies why they should be included in the bill. We are talking about millions of animals here. They are afforded protections in Norway, Sweden and Austria but not here.”

The new animal sentience legislation will mean that any new government policy will have to take into account that vertebrate animals can experience feelings including pain or joy. This will be decided by a committee made up of animal experts from within the field.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We’re proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and we are fully committed to strengthening them further to ensure all animals avoid any unnecessary pain, distress or suffering. “We have already commissioned an independent external review of the available scientific evidence on sentience in the class Cephalopoda, which includes octopus, cuttlefish and squid – and we will carefully consider the results of this review.”

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com