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DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE: Here’s more hot air about the lobster-pain debate

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Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:25 pm

They’re at it again. The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is accusing a Rockland seafood plant of inhumane treatment of lobsters.

The most recent argument from PETA says lobsters suffer when their legs and claws are removed when they’re alive. It’s been a long-simmering debate and people on both sides can get pretty steamed up about it.

Do lobsters feel pain when they are steamed in a pot or de-clawed? Millions of lobster lovers– like me – say, “No! Cook ’em up and pass the melted butter.”

Busybodies who don’t want you to enjoy a nice lobster dinner say, “Let lobsters live.” Yet, they don’t show the same sympathy for the treatments directed at the lobster’s land-based relative – the cockroach. I wonder why?

Judging by the number of people who flock to Maine each summer to enjoy lobster, the anecdotal evidence has been clear for a long time. Just check out the crowds at the annual Maine Lobster Festival, where the good people of Rockland gather at the public landing to have a wonderful time steaming about 50,000 pounds of live lobsters for tens of thousands of hungry people.

But years ago, PETA arrived in Rockland to protest the festival and, as such groups are wont to do, tried to make everyone feel guilty. PETA members walked around Rockland’s downtown protesting the cooking and eating of lobsters. To show people that there was “another way,” they passed out brochures with recipes for yummy items like “Seaweed Supreme” and “Dulce Delight.” Mmmmm. Some PETA people even marched up and down Main Street in bright red lobster costumes, handing out informational brochures.

It’s not hard to judge how effective the protest was. Happy, hungry customers standing in line for lobster dinners mostly just waved at the demonstrators, thinking they were from Maine’s Lobster Promotion Council. After all, everyone knows that red is the color of a steamed lobster.

Meanwhile, a study that didn’t get much coverage determined that lobsters feel no pain while being steamed alive or processed. The fancy scientific study funded by the Norwegian government concluded that the old saying —“No brain, no pain”— is true. Lobsters have brains the size of a grain of sand (and those are the smart ones) and therefore don’t have the necessary equipment to feel pain. A lobster might feel uncomfortable, like people on a hot, crowded subway car, but no pain.

The long-simmering argument is over. And not only did the Norwegian study say lobsters feel nothing when boiled alive, but neither do crabs.

Nor do live worms put on a hook for bait. Professor Wenche Farstad, who chaired the panel that drew up the report, said the common earthworm or the ordinary night crawler have very simple nervous systems (like some numb people I know). Farstad said the common worm can be cut in two and continue on with its business (and I’d imagine they’d get twice as much done, to boot).

Norway undertook this study of pain, discomfort and stress in the world of invertebrates to help develop a planned revision of its animal protection laws. Invertebrates cover a range of creatures from insects and spiders to lobsters, crabs and mollusks.

Those killjoys at PETA are trying to deny science, however. According to the Associated Press, PETA responded to the study by saying: “This is exactly like the tobacco industry claiming that smoking doesn’t cause cancer.”

Hmm. I can only imagine what PETA would say about people who smoke mussels?

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at

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