September 20, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Lobsters feel pain? Let's ask expert

By Bill Nemitz

(Continued from page 1)

"All the experiments are consistent," said Elwood. "Now I can't say I proved pain -- all I can say is, their responses are very similar to those of vertebrates."

The irony is that if Elwood carried out his mildly nasty experiments on, say, the family dog or cat and concluded that it had more than just a reflex reaction, "people would say, 'Well, that's a bit obvious, isn't it? Because they feel pain.'"

Not so in the world without backbones.

"We don't particularly like invertebrates," noted Elwood. "We don't treat them with any regard."

Explaining that is a task better suited for the psychologists and philosophers. Not surprisingly, however, Elwood has become the go-to scientist for PETA, which showed him the alleged Linda Bean's video and got him to say that the process, as recorded, "is not designed to minimize the potential for suffering."

But how about actual suffering? Can anyone prove that?

"No," Elwood replied. "This is the sad thing about all (animal) welfare studies. You cannot prove what an animal is feeling. You can't prove consciousness, you can't prove sentience, you can't prove pain."

Elwood's suggestion: Give lobsters and other crustaceans the same "benefit of the doubt" we give warm-blooded links on our food chain.

How so?

Instant death, that's how.

Elwood, while stressing that he's in no way affiliated with the manufacturer, directed my attention to the "Crustastun," a British-made device that essentially electrocutes the lobster seconds before its meat is removed – much as cattle are stunned just before slaughter.

With the nervous system completely "denatured," Elwood said, "there's no longer any welfare concern. You could stun it and you're away."

Fellow Mainers, I give you Crustastun's "batch stunner." According to the company's website (, it zaps as much as two tons of lobsters per hour and "can pay for itself in six months" through "reduced operational costs."

But wait, there's more!

"The animals do not get stressed during the process," the company boasts. "And, as a result, the meat tastes better." Now we're onto something.

While Elwood is very careful about how his research is cited by PETA, he suspects Maine's lobster industry could add a pre-shelling shock to the front of its assembly line without going belly-up.

"I think people should be concerned about animal welfare," Elwood said. "Some people take it to extremes – and I have to point out I'm not a campaigner. I'm a scientist who eats lobsters, given the opportunity. But I would like to think they've been killed swiftly."

Me too – although, considering its price of $3,500-plus, I'm not quite ready to become the proud owner of a Crustastun "single stunner."

Next time I lower our lobsters into the pot, I'll just toss in the wife's hair dryer.


Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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