September 17, 2013

PETA says Maine lobster processor has cruel 'kill' method

But it's unclear whether the practice is outside the industry's norms, and unproven that crustaceans feel pain.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A controversial animals-rights group is targeting a Maine lobster processor for what it considers inhumane slaughtering methods, although it's unclear whether the methods are outside the industry's standards.

click image to enlarge

This photo taken from a video shot by PETA shows a worker holding a lobster after its shell was removed while it was still alive.

Courtesy PETA

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals plans to release video footage Tuesday that it says was taken in a processing plant in Maine, the state that's synonymous with lobster.

The organization, which has conducted and publicized hidden-camera investigations into factory farming of chickens and dairy cows, among other animals, called the methods shown in the video cruel. It said it plans to file a complaint with local authorities Tuesday alleging that the lobster processing plant violates Maine's animal cruelty statute.

However, there are no state or federal laws that govern how a lobster should be killed during processing, and it has not been established whether crustaceans feel pain.

The video, captured with a hidden camera by a PETA investigator who worked at the plant briefly, shows an unidentified worker grabbing a squirming lobster.

He rips off one claw, then another. He then takes the body and drives it against a sharp stake mounted to a machine, which separates the shell surrounding the head and body. The lobster twitches after its limbs are taken off.

"Are they still alive when they go through there?" the camera operator asks.

"Oh yeah," the worker replies.

Later in the video, piles of lobsters wriggle in a giant crate -- presumably alive -- although their claws, legs and shells have been removed.

Although PETA has told the Portland Press Herald where it was shot, the video does not identify the facility. The Press Herald is not identifying it because the newspaper could not independently verify the location on Monday. PETA said it will publicly identify the processor on Tuesday.

The video was edited for brevity and the processor was not identified in the video because PETA felt it was more important to show what was happening to the lobsters than where it was happening, said Dan Paden, an evidence analysis manager with PETA.

It's not clear whether the practice is unusual for the industry.

Matt McAleney, general manager of New Meadows Lobster in Portland, a distributor that used to process lobsters, did not see the video but said after the method was described to him that it sounded standard for most of the industry.

Paden said his organization has never seen such video, clearly showing "intentional mutilation" of an animal, which will be a violation of Maine's animal cruelty laws if crustaceans can be classified as animals.

PETA has a history of activism and claims more than two million members. Among its biggest causes is opposing the use of animal furs for fashion.

PROCESSING 'KILLS' UNREGULATED

There appear to be no state or federal laws governing how lobsters should be processed.

Processing plants in Maine must be licensed through the Department of Marine Resources, and state officials can inspect them at any time. But Jeff Nichols, a department spokesman, said nothing in state law or regulations specifies a method of processing.

"Rather, Marine Resources statute and regulation apply to the parts of the lobster processed, the facility in which they are processed, inspections to ensure compliance with conservation laws, containers and labeling and record-keeping," he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees all food processing facilities but has no regulations for how lobsters should be treated during processing.

Many lobster processors declined to talk about their operations when contacted Monday by the Press Herald. Others did not return calls for comment.

A representative for the Lobster Council of Canada said that although there are many rules and regulations for processors, nothing restricts how a lobster can be killed in Canada.

(Continued on page 2)

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