Animal sentience and welfare

We’re working with industry and government to provide advice and guidance on animal welfare issues.

This includes supporting the development of best practice approaches for handling shellfish, and fish welfare risk mitigation.

This page has information on:

Why animal welfare is important

For the seafood sector, animal welfare relates to the handling of live animals throughout the supply chain. At some point animals destined for human consumption must be killed. Despatch can be challenging but it should always be managed in a way that ensures any unnecessary stress is avoided or reduced.

Animal welfare is an issue that the UK seafood industry takes seriously. Managing animal welfare is already a priority for many seafood businesses who have good handling and despatch processes. In addition to supporting welfare, there are also food quality and economic benefits to be gained from careful handling of the catch.

The shellfish sector is worth £565m in export revenue which includes the export of langoustines, crabs and lobster. How shellfish are treated has always been important because crabs and lobsters that are alive and in good condition attract the best price. Practices designed to reduce the stress to the animal and maximise survival are in place throughout the shellfish supply chain.

Photo of a lobster
Crustacea welfare includes handling of live lobsters across the shellfish supply chain

Review of sentience in cephalopods and crustaceans

Defra recognised concerns around animal welfare and sentience in relation to some species which were not included in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. They commissioned an independent review of the evidence for sentience in cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans. This review was undertaken by the London School of Economics (LSE). A final report on the review was published in November 2021.

The LSE report defines sentience as the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy comfort and excitement. Researchers drew on over 300 scientific studies to evaluate evidence of sentience in:

  • cephalopod molluscs – including octopods, squid and cuttlefish
  • decapod crustaceans – including crabs, lobsters and crayfish

The LSE report is available on their website, you can download a pdf copy from the link below:

Following the publication of the report, Defra tabled an amendment to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. Further information on the Bill can be accessed from the UK Parliament website:

Review of industry practice in crustacea handing and despatch

To coincide with the independent scientific review, we commissioned review of current practice in handling and despatch of live shellfish within the UK seafood industry.

We worked with independent consultant Stephen Cadwallader to carry out a review of practices across the shellfish supply chain. A summary report on the findings will be published shortly.

Photo of two brown crabs
Work is underway on best practice guidelines for crustacea handling to support shellfish welfare

Developing best practice guidance for industry

We are currently working in collaboration with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB) and the Crab and Lobster Management Group (CMG) to develop best practice guidance for handling and despatch of live shellfish.

The project to create these guidelines splits work across two phases. Phase 1 is focused on establishing the form the guidance will take, how it will be implemented and how adherence will be monitored. It will also consider which stakeholders need to be actively involved in guidance development and what process should be followed to ensure maximum success.

Phase 2 will focus on establishing the guidance across each part of the supply chain. This will include catching, transportation, processing, sales direct to consumers and import/export trade. The proposed approach will be to establish targeted working groups to help develop this guidance at each stage of the supply chain.

While this work is industry led, input from government and the NGO community will be key to the success of this initiative. Representatives from these organisations will be encouraged to participate in the Phase 2 working groups.

You can read more about plan for developing the guidelines in the news article on our website linked below:

If you are interested in getting involved in this project please contact Oscar Wilkie by the details in the Get in touch section at the bottom of this page.

Further information and resources

We recently helped fund the publication and distribution of an advice leaflet on crustacea storage and transport produced by the SAGB. This is available digitally as a pdf from the link to their website below. Hard copies are available directly from the SAGB.

Additional information on welfare is available from the link to an older guide on handling and storing live crustacea below:

Get in touch

If you have any queries about our work relating to animal sentience and welfare please contact:

Oscar Wilkie
Economic Researcher
0131 524 8607
07876 035 759