Tag Archives: Trevor Corson

More on Lobsters and Whole Foods

Snappy the Clam has some problems with my previous post. They write:

Recent information from Norwegian research has shown that Lobsters do not feel pain. Bob Bayer, who heads the Lobster Institute and is a University of Maine professor, has said that “They have no brain, he said. Therefore, they do not feel pain. It’s a judgment based on the anatomy of the nervous system. No brain (means) a lack of processing system”.

As this Norwegian report has been around since a least Feburary of 2005, Whole Foods has most likely been aware of it. So what other motivation could they possibly have in discontinuing lobster sales?

More foodie justification. In the first place, this is one study out of Norway. Not a lot of corroboration.

Second, with regard to Mr. Bayer. He is indeed a professor at the University of Maine. However, rather than being the professor of marine biology you might expect to have authority in this area, he is a professor of nutrition and food science. Secondly, that Lobster Institute he’s the director of? Here’s its mission, from the Lobster Institute website:
Located at The University of Maine, the Lobster Institute is the only organization of it kind. It was founded jointly by Maine’s lobster industry associations and the University – and quickly spread to be an international presence. We now work for and with lobstermen and all sectors of the lobster industry from Long Island Sound to Newfoundland.

I have a couple of points to make here in response…

  1. The point of the post was not to debate whether lobsters feel pain. The point was to explore other possibilities for Whole Foods decision, aside from the quite questionable and quite possibly hypocritical one of “It’s inhumane to lobsters”.
  2. The mission statement of the Lobster Institute is incorrectly quoted by Snappy.Their mission statement is actually:

    The Lobster Institute, with guidance and involvement from fishermen and all constituents within the lobster industry, and with both a community and global perspective, conducts and provides for research and educational outreach focused on protecting, conserving, and enhancing lobsters and lobstering as an industry…and as a way of life.

    We feel this mission can best be accomplished by an independent, non-political research and education-based organization – working in cooperation with a knowledgeable and involved public, harvesters, industry, environmental organizations, management agencies, and research community; and with the necessary resources to provide for long-term excellence and the freedom to work creatively and in a timely manner to fulfill its goals and objectives.

You can find the Lobster Institute’s mission statement here.

Snappy also would like more than one study to corroborate the Norwegian study. Although I could not find additional reports, I was able to find other scientists view on the subject:

Peter Fraser, a marine biologist at the University of Aberdeen was interviewed by the UK Guardian on the Norwegian report and was on the record as saying “crabs and lobsters have only about 100,000 neurons, compared with 100bn in people and other vertebrates. While this allows them to react to threatening stimuli, he said there is no evidence they feel pain.”

Eric H. Chudler, Director of Education and Outreach for the University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials has written “… the part of the brain responsible for the conscious perception and emotional significance of pain, the cerebral cortex, is absent in the lobster. Therefore, in my opinion, it is very unlikely that lobsters experience pain in the same way as humans.”

Currently, there is very little in the way of proof whether lobsters feel pain, and if they do, to what extent.

But again, that wasn’t the point of my initial post. My point was that Whole Foods was taking credit for political correctness, when in fact, there’s some questions surrounding their motivations in removing the lobster tanks. I’m not the only one who has such questions. Trevor Corson, writer of “The Secret Life of Lobsters” writes the following paragraph in an article for the Boston Globe Magazine:

In 2005, the Maine Lobster Promotional Council commissioned a survey on people’s attitudes toward lobster. Only 15 percent of Americans, mostly in the Northeast, qualified as “traditionalistsˮ who wanted their lobsters alive. An equally small number, just 13 percent, objected to the retail sale of live lobsters for reasons of cruelty. For Whole Foods, the smart business decision is to target the silent majority—the 50 percent or so of Americans who would love to buy fresh lobster if only it were easier to prepare.

Mr. Corson believes that the decision was made, not out of altruism to lobsters (or even for money, as I surmised), but rather to make the product more accessible to their customer.

And how does Whole Food intend on providing fresh lobster meat without putting the consumer in the position of killing the lobster? According to Mr. Corson, by using a machine called the Avure HPP. Here’s how it works:

The animals are locked inside the tube, alive, and the pumps whir and the water pressure is compressed around the lobsters to three times the deepest trenches in the ocean. The lobsters die, of course — just think what the pressure on your ears is like when you dive a few feet underwater.

At the same time, all the muscle flesh inside the lobsters conveniently separates from the shell. For the first time in human history, people have finally devised way to extract the meat of a lobster without cooking it.

For a company claiming that the lobster decision was based on moral issues, I find it peculiar that they would use a machine that crushes a live lobster with water, while at the same time stripping the shell away from their body.

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