Especially before boiling them.
The scenario has become a bit of an animal rights cliché: the torturous choice of having to throw a live lobster into a pot of boiling water just to enjoy a fancy seafood dinner. But in Italy, justice for lobsters goes beyond life or death: A recent ruling upholds the idea that before their inevitable final hot dunk, the crustaceans must be kept in comfortable conditions.
According to Reuters, on Friday, Italy’s highest court ruled that lobsters should not be kept on ice while awaiting their turn on someone’s dinner plate. The case stemmed from a complaint by an animal rights group against a restaurant near Florence that it said inhumanely stored its live lobsters this way. The court agreed that this method caused unnecessary suffering. “While the particular method of cooking can be considered legal by recognizing that it is commonly used, the suffering caused by detaining the animals while they wait to be cooked cannot be justified in that way,” the judges reportedly wrote. The restaurant owner was ordered to pay a 2,000 euro fine as well as 3,000 euros in legal fees.
Apparently, a distinction was made between cooking a lobster alive, which though debatably not the nicest way to treat a shellfish, is at least “common,” and keeping lobsters in frigid conditions (which even the University of Maine recommends to “reduce movement”) is less common. Instead, the court pointed out that typically lobsters at restaurants and markets are kept in oxygenated water tanks left at room temperature. Essentially the court took the opinion that icing lobsters to stall their motor functions amounts to another kind of cruelty on top of, you know, the scalding water.
As for whether its humane to boil a lobster alive at all, that question is difficult to answer. In a 2013 article, Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute in Maine suggested that a lobster’s nervous system is similar to that of an insect’s and that the crustacean’s brain isn’t complex enough to feel pain like other animals. “Do you have the same concern when you kill a fly or a mosquito?” asked Bayer. “Cooking a lobster is like cooking a big bug.” Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, PETA claims many scientist believe lobsters feel pain and concluded, “While the experts couldn’t seem to agree on which method would cause the least suffering, they do agree that there is really no humane way to kill these sensitive and unusual animals.” If that’s the case, more lobsters may want to consider heading to the warm waters off the coast of Italy.