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So you must have heard by now about a company, headquartered in Austin, Texas, that spent months studying the treatment of lobsters in the market place and concluded that the crustaceans aren't treated “humanely.” No big surprise, right? People in Austin, Texas aren't expected to know anything about handling lobsters. Would you go to Rockland to get expert advice on the proper care and treatment of longhorn steer?
The company doing the study was Whole Foods Market and based on the study's findings, the natural-foods grocery decided to stop selling live lobsters and crabs on the grounds that the whole business was inhumane.
People here in Maine have been studying lobsters for almost 400 years, but it only took that Texas-based grocer seven months studying the sale of live lobsters from boat to supermarket aisle to determine that the creatures suffered too much along the way.
In some of its stores, Whole Foods actually experimented with "lobster condos," filling tanks with stacks of large pipes the critters could crawl inside. Imagine how you'd feel if you were an employee of this company and could only afford to share a cramped apartment with three roommates. Then, you learn that your employer is looking to provide fancy condos for … lobsters.
Company experimenters even moved the lobster tanks behind seafood counters to get them away from children's tapping fingers. Again, employees might ask what the company plans to do to protect their human workers from annoying customers?
Ultimately, Whole Foods management decided to immediately stop selling live lobsters and soft-shell crabs, saying they could not ensure the creatures are treated with respect and compassion.
Fortunately that decision didn't lead to a collapse of the lobster market. All it means is that Maine's most famous crustacean won't be for sale when the supermarket opens a 45,350-square-foot store in Portland that is currently under construction.
As you'd expect, animal rights activists were thrilled with the decision, not just because of the way lobsters are trapped, shipped and stored but because of the fate that awaits them -- being dropped alive and kicking into a steaming pot of boiling water. In making its decision, Whole Foods pointed to a report from the European Food Safety Authority Animal Health and Welfare panel that concluded all decapod crustaceans, including lobsters and crabs, appear to have some degree of awareness, feel pain and can learn.
Smart as they may be they're not clever enough to get in and out of a lobster trap without getting caught, are they?
Other scientists and seafood industry officials say that lobsters have such primitive insect-like nervous systems - like some people we know -- that they can't experience pain the way animals and humans do.
Marine biologist Diane Cowan, who studies lobster behavior, said lobsters can shed a claw that's stuck between two rocks and move on like nothing happened. Did the food people know that?
In case you're curious, about 183 million pounds of lobster are caught each year in the United States and Canada and about 25 percent of that is sold live, according to the folks at the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine.
Whole Foods leaders will reconsider the decision if they see evidence that it's possible to ensure lobsters and crabs are treated humanely throughout the supply chain.
They didn't say anything about employees living in cramped apartments.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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