The Swiss government has apparently considered the lobster, and decided the crustaceans must now be “stunned” before going into boiling water. As part of a big overhaul of Switzerland’s animal-rights laws, legislators in Bern have issued a ruling that says, as of March 1, “the practice of plunging live lobsters into boiling water, which is common in restaurants, is no longer permitted,” according to the Agence France-Presse. Citizens looking to skip the fondue and enjoy lobster Thermidor instead will have to humanely zonk them out somehow first.
Animal-rights advocates argue lobsters know they’re being boiled alive. (There’s even a myth they “scream,” although they lack vocal cords.) But it’s actually a long-standing debate about whether invertebrates can feel pain, and if so, how much. Researchers often point out “pain” is sort of subjective, but that the lobster’s nervous system — roughly 100,000 neurons in size, compared to 100 billion in humans — probably isn’t advanced enough to do more than twitch instinctively at the stimulus of heat. Maybe not, but critics will quickly note the creatures can still look super upset when it happens: They’ll flail around, or even jab a claw into the air.
The Swiss government has not made solving this quandary easy. It wants citizens to, in some form or fashion, numb their dinner before killing it. Great, you may think — I’ll put my lobster on ice. But not so fast: Switzerland’s new ruling also forbids putting live marine animals on ice or in icy water, saying they must “always be held in their natural environment.” Which you could argue is ironic, considering nothing about landlocked Switzerland is “natural” for lobsters — but it’s the new law either way.
The government does offer two acceptable ways to prepare your crustacean for its final demise: electric shock of some kind, or the “mechanical destruction” of its brain.