Why Protect Decapod Crustaceans Used as Models in Biomedical Research and in Ecotoxicology? Ethical and Legislative Considerations

Annamaria Passantino*, Robert William Elwood, Paolo Coluccio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Decapod crustaceans are widely used as experimental models, due to their biology, their sensitivity to pollutants and/or their convenience of collection and use. Decapods have been viewed as being non-sentient, and are not covered by current legislation from the European Par-liament. However, recent studies suggest it is likely that they experience pain and may have the capacity to suffer. Accordingly, there is ethical concern regarding their continued use in research in the absence of protective measures. We argue that their welfare should be taken into account and included in ethical review processes that include the assessment of welfare and the minimization or alleviation of potential pain. We review the current use of these animals in research and the recent experiments that suggest sentience in this group. We also review recent changes in the views of scientists, veterinary scientists and animal charity groups, and their conclusion that these animals are likely to be sentient, and that changes in legislation are needed to protect them. A precautionary approach should be adopted to safeguard these animals from possible pain and suffering. Finally, we recommend that decapods be included in the European legislation concerning the welfare of animals used in experimentation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number73
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 03 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Despite the exclusion of decapods from the European Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes [8], there has been considerable evidence of a shift in views about sentience in this taxon. For example, the UK Government, together with several organizations, are producing a detailed animal welfare manifesto for protecting and improving crustacean welfare following Brexit [101,103,104]. The British Veterinary Association policy document on the slaughter of animals for food [105] states “Evidence indicates that decapods (e.g., lobsters, crabs) and cephalopods (e.g., octopus, squid) are sentient, and experience pain and distress. We therefore support the principle that commercially caught decapods and cephalopods should be stunned before slaughter”. Further, the Royal Society for the Protection from Cruelty to Animals (UK) (RSPCA) [106] states “There is currently debate about whether species like decapod crustaceans (crabs, lobsters etc.) and cephalopods (octopus, squid etc.) are sentient. The RSPCA and many others believe that there is sufficient scientific evidence to indicate that these animals should be considered as sentient, and therefore protected appropriately by legislation. This would help ensure they are no longer subjected to some of the current practices, like boiling crabs and lobster alive, that cause serious pain and distress”. This view is supported by the Humane Slaughter Association (UK), which is currently funding a research project to improve the welfare of decapods at slaughter. Concern for the welfare of invertebrates such as decapods has been expressed in recent guidelines for the ethical use of animals in field settings for research [107,108]. Further, numerous authors have supported the idea of pain in decapods, or at least the need to use the precautionary principle [102,109–113].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • 3Rs
  • Animal welfare legislation
  • Decapoda
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Model organism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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