The Shellfish Network, which believes in peaceful direct action and boycotting restaurants which boil or steam live lobsters, will next month present a 7,000-strong petition to Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, asking the Government to end "the exploitation of shellfish for human consumption".
The campaign is being backed by the RSPCA and animal rights groups as well as caterers, chefs and foodies.
Two barristers put up pounds 35,000 to invent a humane "stunning" tank for lobsters, shrimps and crabs before boiling. The Crusta-Stun, which knocks out shellfish with an electric shot, will be presented next month at an international life conference, World Aquaculture '99, in Sydney, Australia.
The prototype tank was designed at Bristol University's School of Veterinary Science. Simon and Charlotte Buckhaven, who specialise in criminal and civil law, researched humane slaughter methods after they were asked to select a live lobster for boiling at a restaurant where they were celebrating their son's birthday.
They recently received a substantial development grant from the Humane Slaughter Association, and now they plan to develop the tank on an industrial scale, adapting it for mussels and crayfish.
"We have always felt sorry for lobsters crabs and shrimps," said Mrs Buckhaven. "I worked in a restaurant as a student and you see them boiled, and they squeak. In some recipes they say you should hack lobsters in half alive and put them under the grill. Our stunning tank puts the lobster out for at least 10 minutes so they can't feel anything when they are killed."
The Shellfish Network is run by Joe Solomon, a former kitchen porter. The network, whose slogan is "Fighting neglected cruelty", wants restaurants to give up serving shellfish, or to at least try more humane methods of killing such as putting crabs in a deep freeze to render them unconscious before they are boiled.
The Shellfish Network monitors cookbooks, and TV cookery programmes for cruelty and intends to target chefs including celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein and Gary Rhodes.
Kitchens through Britain have been sent detailed information sheets describing the nervous systems of whelks, scallops and oysters and warning about the cruelty of boiling mussels, crabs, shrimps and lobsters alive.
Unlike pigs, sheep and cows, there are no laws defining how crustaceans should be killed, and the network will lobby MPs and Eurocrats to draft legislation giving shellfish the same rights as mammals.
Shellfish do not have brains, but research by Bristol University's school of veterinary medicine has shown that lobsters and crabs show signs of distress while being boiled.
They try to escape from the pot, flip their tails as an escape mechanism and try to run before dying.
But there is little research into molluscs, invertebrates including winkles, limpets and mussels which have only one shell and "can stick their head and foot out at the same time".
An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "We welcome any efforts to develop more humane killing methods. We don't have a policy on mussels."Reuse content