Philosophy > Morality
Seafood Pain

[opinion from Macleans]

Could the Whole Foods lobsters-feel-pain ruling dampen our lust for oyster murder?
It was in jest that Bertrand Russell uttered his famous quip about animal rights: "Where will it end?" he asked. "Votes for oysters?" But, today, the British philosopher deserves points for prescience: the latest frontier of ethical dining is aquatic, with talk of fish pain thresholds, caught fish smothering to death, even oyster quality of life. Last month, Whole Foods threw down the gauntlet on the "do-lobsters-feel-pain?" debate, announcing it would no longer sell live lobsters because it could not guarantee humane treatment on their journey from sea to table. The food blogosphere reacted quickly. "Where will it end?" one poster griped. "A yogourt liberation league, protecting the rights of bacteria?" Chef and author Michael Ruhlman vented on megnut. com: "No more salmon roe! Think of all those unborn salmon you're smearing on your toast and dotting on your blini! All the good salmon deeds that will remain undone!"

Sparking the most vitriol, though, were reports Whole Foods Market was zeroing in on treatment of clams and oysters. Company spokeswoman Kate Klotz clarifies the confusion: "Whole Foods is examining the treatment of crawfish and Dungeness crabs, and has no plans to review oysters," she says. "But we can't say for certain we won't."
Considering the oyster too closely, obviously, blurs perspective. "People don't know how to think about this," says Ruhlman. "Oysters are not people; they don't feel pain; there's no consciousness." He believes preoccupation with treatment of luxuries such as lobster and foie gras-producing ducks has taken focus off factory farming where the greatest abuses take place. "My definition of humane treatment is to let animals live according to the way they are built, not according to agri-businesses' law of cost-efficiencies," he says.

Rodney Clark, the founder of Rodney's Oyster House in Toronto, laughs at the suggestion oysters could be subject to inhumane treatment. "I've never heard one complain," he says. "The farmed oyster is a manageable, renewable mollusk, monitored for safety." He believes that there are more important campaigns to fight, such as the corporatization of the fishing industry. The second-generation oyster purveyor does practise seafood ethics, however, refusing to serve wild shrimp or endangered fish like Chilean sea bass. "It's a desecration of nature," he says. He too wonders where it will end. "Cruelty to cut lettuce?" he suggests. That's a joke, for now.

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