MONTREAL – A new Swiss law that bans the practice of boiling lobsters alive is eliciting more smiles than concern on this side of the Atlantic.
The rules, which come into effect in March, stipulate the lobsters must be stunned before being killed, either by using electricity or the “mechanical destruction” of the brain.
The Swiss legislation comes amid a contentious debate on whether crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters feel pain.
Research published in Northern Ireland in 2013 found they sought to avoid unpleasant situations, suggesting they did indeed experience pain of some kind.
But other experts are less convinced and have pointed out that an invertebrate’s nervous system is much different from that of other animals.
The scientific director of an association for professional lobster fishermen in Quebec’s Gaspesie region points out that lobsters die very quickly when placed in boiling water.
“It’s a bit of a futile debate, because in any case we never eat live animals, be they lobsters or others,” said Jean Cote. “We have to kill them one way or another.”
Cote, a biologist by trade, said the debate that surrounds killing animals for food can become emotional rather than rational.
“If you don’t want to eat meat and if you believe killing an animal is a thing that shouldn’t be done, you’ll never find a good way to kill, whether it’s knocking it out, electrocuting it or boiling it,” he said.
David McMillan, the owner of several prestigious Montreal restaurants including Joe Beef, admits he found the new law a little funny and wondered if it was the result of public pressure after social media videos showing lobsters being boiled alive.
He pointed out that few people would eat lamb if they had to watch it being killed, skinned and cleaned before cooking.
“One of the only animals people see being killed, online and in social media, is lobster,” he said.
McMillan says it’s important to respect everything that is cooked, including “a four-pound lobster that has been on the planet sometimes for as long as the cook preparing it.”
He says he and most of his restaurant colleagues kill lobsters with a knife incision between the eyes followed by a swift blow, killing them instantly.
McMillan suggests other budding chefs could do the same but Cote believes this might be unrealistic to expect from amateur cooks.
Cote also doesn’t believe the new Swiss law will have much of an effect on the eastern Quebec lobster market, since most of their catch is sold to the United States and Asia.