FREEPORT – Despite a highly publicized campaign by animal rights group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) charging Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster Co. with animal cruelty for the company’s method of processing lobster and crabs, no changes are expected, according to representatives of the company.
Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern in Freeport was the site of a demonstration last Saturday by PETA, which accuses Bean’s Maine Lobster Co. of engaging in inhumane mutilation of live lobsters and crabs at its Rockland processing facility.
A dozen or so demonstrators from PETA, separated from the entrance by police barricades, stood outside the restaurant distributing literature in support of their cause.
Many in the bustling Saturday afternoon crowd, a mix of leaf-peeping tourists, shoppers and locals, reacted with a mixture of indifference and curiosity.
“I love animals, but I’m not sure if that includes lobsters,” said Josh Arnedt, a Bath resident who was shopping with family. “In fact, I’m planning on having a lobster roll today.”
In addition to the PETA protestors, a few individuals engaged in a counter demonstration by holding signs charging the organization with killing Maine jobs.
“To me this is ridiculous,” said Maria Burgess, who was one of three anti-PETA demonstrators. “My parents had a seafood business for 35 years and I don’t think what PETA is saying about the processing is fair.”
The demonstration lasted until 1:30 p.m. and police reported no incidents.
“Linda Bean’s customers should be disgusted to see the lobsters and crabs in her slaughterhouse being painfully torn apart and left to die,” said PETA president Joanna Newkirk, who participated in the demonstration. “PETA is calling on anyone who buys from Bean to stop doing so until, at the very least, the factory installs a humane stunning device.”
Two weeks ago, the organization filed a complaint in Knox County charging Maine Lobster Co. with animal cruelty. In response, Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said he will not pursue charges as the law was not intended to cover animals without backbones.
“Because it is far from clear that the Legislature intended to include lobsters and crabs within this definition, and the opposite intention is more likely, I conclude that the conduct you describe in the materials submitted is not prosecutable under Maine’s cruelty to animals statute,” said Rushlau on Oct 1. “I will not ask the Rockland Police Department to conduct any additional investigation, nor file a complaint based on your investigation.”
The organization released a statement later that day disagreeing with Rushlau’s decision.
“PETA appreciates District Attorney Rushlau’s thoughtful review of the evidence that the law covers sentient animals, which would include live, fully conscious lobsters and crabs who are ripped apart at Linda Bean’s factory, but we disagree with his decision not to prosecute because the tortured animals happen to be invertebrates,” according to the statement. ““We firmly believe that the law affords protection to all sentient animals, and we will be following up with him on that point and others and do not consider the matter closed.”
On Sept. 16, the animal rights organization released a hidden camera video as proof of what the group claims was inhumane mutilation of crabs and lobsters. The video was filmed by an operative of PETA, who had obtained a full-time job at the Rockland processing plant, according to Dan Paden, a PETA research associate.
A similar protest was staged outside a Delray Beach, Fla., restaurant also owned by Linda Bean on Sept. 24.
Whole Foods, a Texas-based organic grocery store chain, came under scrutiny in 2007 when it broke a longstanding rule against selling live lobsters after opening a store in Portland. In what the company claimed was an act of compassion, lobsters are kept in private compartments instead of being piled on top of each other in a tank, and employees use a device that zaps them with a 110-volt shock instead of being boiled alive in a pot of water. The shock method, which some lobster industry leaders say is prohibitively expensive, was cited as an alternative method by PETA for the Rockland processing plant.
“Part of what today is about is outreach to consumers so they can make informed choices,” said Lindsay Rajt, associate director for the Norfolk, Va.-based organization. “I know back in the days when I ate seafood, I wouldn’t after seeing a video like this. We’re asking Linda Bean to end the cruel and tortuous method of processing lobsters and switch to something quicker like an electric shocker.”
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said the PETA accusations are an “insult to the backbone of the Maine economy.”
“It’s offensive to have people from away insult who we are and how we conduct our business,” said McCarron. “Linda Bean’s operations are completely compliant with state of Maine regulations. I don’t understand what their (PETA) endgame is and I think it’s misguided.”
The sight of protestors on Saturday did not disrupt business at the Main Street eatery, according to Matt Morrison, manager for the restaurant.
“It was actually a banner day,” he said.