Friday, February 09, 2007

A Lobster's Quality of Life

A few years back, a Whole Foods Market opened up in this tony new shopping plaza in Hingham. "Derby Street Shoppes," the place is called, and it has the pre-eminent array of yuppie establishments: Williams-Sonoma, Barnes & Noble, Apple Store, Crate & Barrel, Talbot's, Smith & Hawken. It is an exceedingly popular place for the crunchy set, judging from the impossibility of finding a parking space. The place resembles a market the day before a blizzard is due. Parking lot chocked with Lincoln Navigators and Birkenstocked people cramming the aisles with baskets full of lentils, swiss chard and organic Chardonnay.

Whole Foods is known for its "animal compassionate" practices, and made big news last summer when it
announced that it was banning the sale of live lobsters and crabs because they could not be certain that, from seabed to market, the creatures didn't "suffer along the way," and therefore could not ensure the creatures are "treated with respect and compassion."

At the time, PETA was elated. "The ways that lobsters are treated would warrant felony cruelty to animals charges if they were dogs or cats," was how spokesman Bruce Friedrich put it.

The basis for Whole Foods position was "a November report from the European Food Safety Authority Animal Health and Welfare panel that it said concluded all decapod crustaceans, including lobsters and crabs, appear to have some degree of awareness, feel pain and can learn." (If you care to read the report, it is

This came as nonsense to scientists and seafood industry officials who noted that "lobsters have such primitive insect-like nervous systems they don't even have brains and can't experience pain the way animals and humans do." (Query how a creature without a brain "can learn.")

But the EFSA report was all Whole Foods needed to eschew live lobster, until it was convinced that there was a process that assured the creatures' wellbeing.

Well this compassion for the welfare of crustaceans presented a
market opportunity for the Little Bay Lobster Company of New Hampshire, which has designed a process of delivering lobsters from the sea to the market "from boat to store with minimal contact with humans and other lobsters." That was the ticket for Whole Foods, who agreed to resume sale of live lobsters delivered in this manner.

And to spare them the "torture" of being boiled alive? "Workers will use a 'CrustaStun' device to instantaneously kill lobsters with 110 volts rather than steaming, which Whole Foods considers unethical because it can take several minutes for the hard-shelled animal to die." (I was taught that if you put the lobster in eyes-first, he dies instantly.)

Sort of a super-taser for lobsters.

But for those otherwise-gentle customers of Whole Foods who prefer the more barbarous approach, take heart. "Customers will still be able to purchase live lobsters and kill them at home."

I wonder. Can any Whole Food customer make it from the seafood counter to checkout with her live lobsters in hand without withering under the glares of all those Whole Food employees and customers who glory in the compassion of the crus-taser?

As one crusty Maine lobsterman put it,"A lobster electric chair? I wonder how that will sound for their public relations, that they're going to give the lobster the electric chair."

Personally, I'm glad I don't have to consider the cruelty that my lobster endures. I pick him up at the end of my street from guys still in their waders.

I haven't checked to see if they washed their hands first.

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