Lobsters Are Unlikely To Feel Pain, Report Says

DISCOVERIES

February 18, 2005

COSTOCHONDRITIS — A new study concludes it's unlikely that lobsters feel pain, stirring up a long-simmering debate over this question: Does one of the world's favorite seafood dishes suffer when it's cooked?

Animal activists for years have claimed that lobsters are in agony when being cooked, and that dropping one in a pot of boiling water is tantamount to torture.

The study, funded by the Norwegian government and written by a scientist at the University of Oslo, suggests lobsters and other invertebrates such as crabs, snails and worms probably don't suffer even if lobsters do tend to thrash in boiling water.

"Lobsters and crabs have some capacity of learning, but it is unlikely that they can feel pain," concluded the 39-page report, aimed at determining if creatures without backbones should be subject to animal welfare legislation as Norway revises its animal welfare law.

Lobster biologists in Maine have maintained for years that the lobster's primitive nervous system and underdeveloped brain are similar to that of an insect. While lobsters react to different stimuli, such as boiling water, the reactions are escape mechanisms, not a conscious response or an indication of pain, they say.

"It's a semantic thing: No brain, no pain," said Mike Loughlin, who studied the matter when he was a University of Maine graduate student and is now a biologist at the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission.

The Norwegian report also reinforces what people in the lobster industry have always contended, said Bob Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute, a research and education organization in Orono, Maine. "We've maintained all along that the lobster doesn't have the ability to process pain," Bayer said.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights organization based in Norfolk, Va., has made lobster pain part of its Fish Empathy Project, putting out stickers and pamphlets with slogans such as "Being Boiled Hurts. Let Lobsters Live." Group supporters regularly demonstrate at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.

PETA's Karin Robertson called the Norwegian study biased, saying the government doesn't want to hurt the country's fishing industry. Robertson said many scientists believe lobsters do feel pain. For instance, a zoologist with the Humane Society of the United States made a written declaration that lobsters can feel pain after a chef dismembered and sauteed a live lobster to prepare a Lobster Fra Diavolo dish on NBC's Today show in 1994.

It's debatable whether the debate will ever be resolved.

The Norwegian study, even while saying it's unlikely that crustaceans feel pain, also cautioned that more research is needed because there is a scarcity of scientific knowledge on the subject.

-- Associated Press

Quick Takes

Slope style

If you've hit the local slopes this winter, you may have noticed a lot of Under Armour gear.

The Baltimore company, known initially for its high-tech garments for football players, has turned its attention to the skier and snowboarder. Two hot products are the Cold Gear Mock Turtleneck and the Cold Gear Action Leggings. Both are $50, and designed to keep athletes warm without weight.

Raphael Peck, Under Armour's vice president of product creation, says the company stumbled onto the mountain market almost by accident after customers asked for the gear.

People bought Under Armour for football and soccer, then started wearing the stuff beneath their ski parkas, Peck says.

Today, the company's Cold Gear generates 30 percent of sales. That may be the tip of the iceberg. More skiing apparel is on the drawing board: a Cold Gear Striker Quarter-Zip and a Microfleece Quarter-Zip.

Bottom Line: If you splurge on Under Armour for the slopes, you'll look hip -- better yet, you'll stay warm. -- Mary Beth Regan

Did you know...

Costochondritis -- the most common cause of chest pain originating in the chest wall, not in the heart -- is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). It can be felt as sharp, fleeting pain or a dull ache that persists for days.

-- Mayo Clinic

In Brief

Doctors' experience vs. training

Do age and experience make a better doctor? Not necessarily, according to a Harvard Medical School study. Researchers there concluded that as a group, older doctors know less, provide lower-quality care and may expose patients to greater risks than physicians recently out of medical school.

Analyzing nearly 40 years of research into forces that shape health care quality, researchers cited a study showing that heart-attack patients were 10 percent more likely to die in the care of a doctor 20 years out of medical school compared with a recent graduate. The study appeared in this week's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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