Even though it is clear that octopuses are highly intelligent species, there is still an ongoing debate around the world as to whether or not they qualify as sentient. However, this debate has formally been settled in UK as octopuses, squid, cuttlefish, and other organisms classified as cephalopod mollusks, and decapod crustaceans, which include animals like crabs, lobsters, and crayfish are now officially been included as sentient beings under a new amendment to UK law.
Sentience refers to an organism’s capacity to consciously perceive or experience feelings and sensations like pain or harm. And due to octopuses’ and other similar invertebrate animals lack of backbone, these animals struggled to be recognised as sentient.
However a change came after recent scientific evidence proved that these animals have the capacity to experience pain or distress. These findings emerged from a government-commissioned independent review led by Dr. Jonathan Birch from the Department of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics. The final review came from crucial research of over 300 existing scientific studies which evaluated the evidence of sentience in these creatures in order to draw the final conclusion. This evidence led to the UK making the decision to also include decapod crustaceans and cephalopod mollusks in the protection of its Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.
Dr. Birch explained, “The amendment will…help remove a major inconsistency: octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have not received any protection outside science until now. One way the UK can lead on animal welfare is by protecting these invertebrate animals that humans have often completely disregarded.”
The new amendment emphatically recommends against certain common commercial practices, such as live boiling without stunning them first; transporting them in icy water; using extreme and inhumane slaughter methods, and selling live decapod crustaceans to untrained handlers.
However, even though the new bill won’t immediately affect any existing industry practices, it will help to ensure that animal welfare is taken into consideration in future decision-making. When the bill becomes law, it will establish an Animal Sentience
Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith explained, “The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.”