Electrocuting Lobsters

David Cassuto

So here we have a device (which sells for £2,500 — or roughly $4,400) that kills lobsters almost instantly by electrocution rather than forcing them to endure the 3-4 agonizing minutes they typically spend being boiled or roasted alive.  Is this a step forward?  Will it lead to more lobster consumption — a prospect fraught with ethical and environmental complications — or will it simply ease the agony of those already destined for dinner plates?  

In short, this issue is a microcosm of the incrementalism vs. abolitionism debate.  So, what do you think?  Do such inventions advance or retard the progress of animal advocacy?

2 Responses

  1. Tricky question. I’m inclined to side with abolitionism, for the same reasons that some of the top scientists want the Copenhagen talks to fall apart completely; drastic failure may generate more action than weak agreements. In that line of thinking, I hesitate to make lobster consumption “more ethical.” Then again, I’m not the lobster, and if I am truly concerned with the welfare of each animal, those three minutes are crucial. If, for instance, there was an instant killing mechanism introduced in the beef industry that did not involve hanging upside down to get a maybe-kill from the nail gun, I’d support it, mostly because to slaughter in a humane way would pave the way to better practices in the industry all around. Unfortunately, lobsters and fish are not even close to the miserable terran-based meat in terms of “rights.” Ultimately, I think in this particular case I am siding with the environmental implications of lobster trapping, a practice I would like to see abolished, and thus I cannot encourage new technology that makes it more ethical. Vote: Retarding the effort.

  2. i don’t think that too many people refrain from ordering lobster due to the suffering entailed by boiling, so i don’t think that the device will have any appreciable effect on the amount of lobster ordered by diners. thus, i think that the device has no effect on the AMOUNT of trapping, which is the environmental issue, or the FACT of trapping for consumption, which is the ethical issue.

    i don’t see it as much more than a mitigating measure for the ethical issue. and from a practical perspective, the device is too expensive (and probably too cumbersome) to make a dent in widespread practices. it is not ‘cruelty-free’, but the goal of avoiding boiling to death could be most effectively replaced by advocating for quick and simple methods of killing the lobster before it goes into the pot–use a knife. merely tell the chefs that the animal suffers tremendously, and that they’d be doing it a favor by getting it over quickly. a busy, stressed chef will be far more accommodating than if encouraged to use an electrocution device.

    then advocates can spend the rest of their time and money addressing trapping.

    however, if the electrocution device were required, it might drive up the price of lobster, leading to less consumption and, thus, trapping. i don’t think it likely, though; perhaps there are better ways (through regs addressing trapping and/or curtailing supply) to drive up the price.

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