TORONTO— Prepare to feel particularly guilty the next time you order seafood. York University researchers argue that octopuses, crabs, lobsters, crayfish and other invertebrates are indeed susceptible and can feel pain, anger, fear and happiness. The vast majority of countries do not recognize invertebrates as sentient, but the UK is already considering changes to its animal welfare legislation that would change this.
Previous studies have shown that octopuses are highly intelligent and socially sharp creatures. They are even able to solve puzzles that would give some humans pause and can recognize other organisms they have interacted with before. If universally accepted, the conclusion that invertebrates feel emotions will almost certainly have moral implications for millions of people as they sit down and decide what to eat.
“A London School of Economics (LSE) report commissioned by the UK government found that there is strong enough evidence to conclude that decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are susceptible,” says the study’s co-author. and philosopher Kristin Andrews, York Research Chair in Animal Minds. , in a university statement.
Professor Andrews, together with Professor Frans de Waal, Director of the Living Links Center at Emory University, authored this latest report on the subject of emotions and animals. The report addresses both the ethical and political considerations that would arise if the world considered these animals sentient.
The study points out that until now Western culture has largely proclaimed that other animals do not feel emotions or pain.
“It has even been a real struggle to have fish and mammals recognized as sentient under the Welfare Act. So it’s quite avant-garde what seems to be happening in the UK with invertebrates,” notes Professor Andrews.
Animals avoid pain like humans
It may seem hard to believe now, but until the 1980s, some speculated that “pre-verbal human babies” did not feel pain. Even today, countless people believe that most animals, including invertebrates, do not feel pain and simply react unconsciously to negative stimuli.
These beliefs may be widespread and ingrained in some cultures, but researchers say they are not based on science. Research over the past few decades on mammals, fish, octopuses, and crabs has all produced the same results: animals avoid pain and dangerous situations to the best of their ability in a given situation. Some animals, like cows, even show signs of empathy. A mother cow will often be distressed if her calf is in pain or has problems.
The team suggests that Western culture has been slow to accept invertebrate sentience because of all the ethical and moral questions it raises. Life is certainly easier when someone can order crab cakes or calamari at a restaurant without feeling guilty. It may be an uncomfortable truth, but the study authors say that animals do feel emotions and pain, just like humans. They are simply not as well equipped to express or describe these feelings.
“When we lead our normal life, we try not to harm other sentient beings. So it’s really about recycling how we see the world. How exactly to treat other animals remains an open research question,” says Professor Andrews. “We don’t have enough scientific data right now to know exactly what the appropriate treatment for certain species should be. To determine this, we need greater cooperation between scientists and ethicists.
Will seafood be part of the “moral landscape of our species”?
In conclusion, Professor Andrews believes that a day will soon come when mankind will no longer be able to tell themselves that crayfish, shrimp and other invertebrates are emotionless and invulnerable to pain.
“If they can no longer be considered immune to pain, the experiences of invertebrates will have to become part of the moral landscape of our species,” she concludes. “But pain is only one morally relevant emotion. Invertebrates such as octopuses may experience other emotions such as curiosity in exploration, affection for individuals, or excitement in anticipation of a future reward.
The study is published in the journal Science.