People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently filed a complaint alleging animal cruelty at a Maine lobster processing plant. PETA claims that an undercover video recorded at the processing plant shows lobsters being dismembered while still alive, causing them unjustifiable pain and suffering. Maine’s animal cruelty statute prohibits killing an animal by a method that does not cause instantaneous death, and also prohibits injuring, torturing, or intentionally mutilating an animal. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 1031(1)(B), (1)(D). PETA notes that other companies use alternative methods for killing lobsters instantly by using high water jets or electro-stunning devices.
PETA has tried and failed at this before. When PETA previously filed a complaint about alleged animal cruelty of lobsters by another Maine processing plant, the district attorney refused to prosecute, finding that Maine’s animal cruelty laws were not intended to cover invertebrate species like lobsters and crabs. Maine’s statute defines “animal” to include “every living, sentient creature not a human being.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 1011. This could explain why PETA now cites to research purporting to show that lobsters can feel pain—i.e., are sentient. If PETA can convince this prosecutor that lobsters are sentient and therefore covered by Maine’s animal cruelty act, perhaps its complaint could get past step one this time.
This is only the most recent chapter of PETA’s crustacean crusade. In addition to its previous lobster cruelty complaint, it also unsuccessfully sought to erect a roadside marker dedicated to lobsters who died when a truck crashed at that location, and purchased a billboard in Maryland trying to dissuade people from eating crabs. One seafood restaurant fought back by erecting its own pithy billboards and engaging in a social media campaign promoting consumption of crabs, as previously blogged about here.