A shellfish rights group whose aim is to ban the eating of shrimps, lobsters and oysters has launched a campaign targeting restaurants and fish markets they believe are treating crustacea cruelly.
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 around the country as well as scores of caterers, chefs and foodies.
Two barristers, concerned about steaming crabs and lobsters alive, are personally funding the invention of a humane "stunning" tank for lobsters, shrimps and crabs.
The Network is backing the development of Crusta-Stun, which will render shellfish unconscious with an electric shot before they are boiled. The invention will be presented next month at an international aquatic life conference, World Aquaculture '99, in Sydney, Australia.
The prototype stunning tank, designed at Bristol University's School of Veterinary Science, has been personally funded by Simon and Charlotte Buckhaven, who specialise in criminal and civil law. They decided to research 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 have put up pounds 35,000 of their own money for the invention of the tank and recently received a substantial development grant from the Humane Slaughter Association. They plan to develop it on an industrial scale and adapt it for mussels and crayfish.
"We have always felt sorry for lobsters, crabs and shrimps. I worked once in a restaurant as a student and you see them boiled and they squeak," said Mrs Buckhaven. "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, whose aim is to "to ban cruelty to shellfish" is run by Joe Solomon, a former kitchen porter who took up the crustaceans' cause after being asked one time too many to transport lobsters to the pot.
The network, whose slogan is "fighting neglected cruelty", wants restaurants to give up serving shellfish or at least to try more humane methods of killing such as putting crabs in a deep freeze to render them unconscious before they are boiled.
Kitchens throughout Britain have already been sent detailed information sheets about the nervous systems of whelks, scallops and oysters and warnings 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 plans to lobby MPs and Eurocrats to draft legislation giving shellfish the same rights as mammals.
The Shellfish Network intends to target chefs around the country including celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein and Gary Rhodes. The campaign group also monitors cookbooks and TV cookery programmes for evidence of cruelty.
Shellfish do not have brains but research by Bristol University's school of veterinary medicine has shown that lobsters and crabs show signs of feeling discomfort while being boiled. They try to escape from the pot, flip their tails as an escape mechanism and run around 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".
"The RSPCA has been concerned for years about the cruel methods of killing lobsters and crabs," said a spokeswoman. "There is scientific evidence that invertebrates are capable of suffering and we welcome any efforts to develop more humane killing methods. We don't have a policy on mussels."Reuse content