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It was a few years ago but I still remember the company, headquartered in Austin, Texas, that spent months studying the treatment of lobsters in the market place. Their conclusion? The crustaceans aren't treated “humanely.” No big surprise, right? People in Austin, Texas aren't expected to get it right when talking about the handling lobsters. Would you go to Rockland to get expert advice on the proper care and treatment of longhorn steer? ‘Corse not.
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 catching, studying and eating lobsters for thousands of years, but it only took that Texas-based grocer seven months of studying the handling of live lobsters - from boat to supermarket aisle - to determine that the creatures suffered too much along the way.
Have any of these “experts” flown tourist class, lately?
In some of its stores, Whole Foods actually experimented with "lobster condos," filling tanks with stacks of large pipes the critters could crawl inside for a little solitude. Imagine how you'd feel if you were an employee of this company and could only afford to share a cramped apartment with three “roomies.” 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 annoying 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. After a little more thought they decided to sell them “humanely.”
Fortunately, those decisions didn't lead to a collapse of the lobster market. All it meant was that Maine's most famous crustacean wouldn’t be for sale in that particular store.
Fortunately the company soon came to their senses, made a few silly changes, and lobsters returned to Whole Food stores across the country.
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 executives considered all these things and said they think the company can ensure everyone that lobsters and crabs are treated “humanely” throughout the supply chain.
They didn't say anything about what they intend to do about those employees living in cramped Portland apartments.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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