We can't ask a lobster if it feels pain, though there are some scientific indications that it does. So doesn't it makes sense that we should err on the side of caution and not throw a lobster into a pot of boiling water?
The Swiss government certainly thinks so. Starting on March 1, a new law requires that lobsters will have to be stunned — either by an electric shock or "mechanical destruction" — before being cooked, according to The Guardian. Lobsters and other crustaceans will no longer be allowed to be transported on ice or in icy water either. Instead, they must be transported and held in a more natural environment.
There's also a campaign in the U.K. calling for the end of cooking lobsters (and crabs) alive. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, British Veterinary Association, and more than 50 high-profile people have signed a letter asking the government to recognize the animals as sentient creatures (meaning they can feel and perceive things).
The evidence for pain
The evidence that lobsters and other crustaceans can feel pain is not definitive. Some say that because their nervous system most resembles that of a bug, they don't. Still, some researchers, including Robert Elwood, a professor emeritus of animal behavior at Queen's University in Northern Ireland, disagree.
Elwood has done experiments with prawns and crabs and now says that crustaceans are "very likely" to experience pain, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. When a light acid touches its antennae, a prawn will rub the area repeatedly. And, when a crab is given a choice between a shelter that delivers a shock and a shelter that doesn't, the crab will choose the shock-free shelter.
Elwood says crustaceans should be killed humanely before cooking for one reason: We have a responsibility to "not cause unnecessary suffering to other organisms."
Many say the only humane thing to do is not eat lobster at all — or any other living thing. But there are plenty of not-so-terrible humans who want to eat lobster but definitely don't want it to suffer.
Which leads to another question, what's the most humane way to cook a lobster?
All experts can do is take an educated guess, and it seems that the electric shock and "mechanical destruction" methods — slicing them quickly with a sharp knife to destroy the nervous system — are the best solutions. Unless you're willing to invest thousands of dollars in an electric shock machine meant to instantly stun lobsters like the Crustastun, the quick slice "mechanical destruction" method may be the best option.
This video, which shows the quick slice method, recommends putting the lobster in the freezer first for 20 minutes to numb it slightly. Because lobsters live in colder waters, the freeze is probably not painful for the lobster. (But again, nobody knows for sure.)
One restaurant in Maine believes electric shock and stabbing is still inhumane and uses a more "all-natural" method. Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound uses marijuana to essentially "hot box" the lobsters into a chill, more relaxed state before steaming them.
"The animal is already going to be killed," restaurant owner Charlotte Gill told The Independent. "It is far more humane to make it a kinder passage."
The idea is that by pumping marijuana smoke into the water that lobsters will feel less pain.
And Gill sums it up perfectly, "A happier lobster was a tastier lobster."
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in January 2018.