Couple crack open debate on live lobster sales
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Apr 23, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Couple crack open debate on live lobster sales

Stratford Gazette

Jeff Heuchert editor@stratfordgazette.com

Two animal rights activists are petitioning the Zehrs and Sobeys grocery stores in Stratford to stop the sale of live lobsters.

Husband and wife Cody Sebben and Caitlin Beaudry object to what they consider to be inhumane treatment, particularly the commonly accepted method of cooking lobsters when they are still alive in a pot of boiling water. They say there is mounting evidence that the crustaceans do have the nervous system to feel pain. They also say it’s common for lobsters to be stored at facilities, sometimes for months, without food before they are transported and put in tanks for purchase.

“(Lobsters are) the only live thing in the grocery store. Why?” Beaudry asks. “It’s also the only animal that you expect to have on your plate in its original condition. You wouldn’t put a chicken on your plate and crack the wings open and dig into the breast meat.”

Over several weeks Sebben and Beaudry had a booth set up at Festival Marketplace mall where they collected over 300 signatures on a petition that asks the two food retailers – the only in Stratford that sell live lobsters – to reconsider their policy. They spent hours talking with people and listening to both sides of the argument. Some people chose to leave comments with their signature. One women, who described herself as a Maritimer, said she was horrified by the “cruel treatment” of lobsters, while another said humans need to find a way to eat without “exploiting and torturing” their food source.

The couple approached the two local grocery stores last week but was told any policy change would have to be made by their corporate head offices. They have since been in touch briefly with representatives from each and are waiting to hear back.

They hope Sobeys and Loblaw Companies Limited (which owns Zehrs) will follow in the footsteps of Whole Foods Market, a grocery chain south of the border that in 2006 stopped selling live lobsters over concerns about the health and well-being of the shellfish once they are removed from their natural environment.

“Although we discovered significant improvements are possible from capture up to in-store tank conditions, we are not yet sufficiently satisfied that the process of selling live lobsters is in line with our commitment to humane treatment and quality of life for animals,” said a company spokesperson at the time.

Sebben says there are alternatives for people wishing to still eat lobster. In Europe, some supermarkets are now only stocking lobsters that have been killed by what’s called a Crustastun, a device that delivers an electric shock to the lobster, killing it within seconds. It’s also being used in some restaurants, and supposedly the meat tastes better because the lobster isn’t stressed before dying and therefore doesn’t release hormones into its body. Beaudry says the other humane way to kill a lobster is to stick a knife straight through its head, severing its nerves.

When asked how they feel about their chances, Sebben says he is “cautiously optimistic.”

“We’re just going to keep going,” Beaudry adds. “I guess it depends on what they’re going to say.”

Reached via email Monday, the Loblaws public relations department passed along the following statement, attributed to vice president of corporate affairs and communication Kevin Groh:

“One of the most common and frequent requests from our seafood customers is live lobsters. The only way we can provide live lobsters is by holding them in the specially built tanks found in our stores.

“Our seafood colleagues are not only required to display the lobsters in appropriate tanks, they must also maintain the lobsters’ environment carefully.”

Sobeys Ontario’s communication manager, Sarah Stover, provided a similar statement to the Gazette Tuesday:

“Live lobsters are a product that our seafood customers expect Sobeys to carry, and we endeavour to meet that consumer demand by adhering carefully to best practices,” she said. “We are comfortable with our current holding and merchandising techniques.”

Neither Sobeys or Loblaws would respond specifically to the petition started by Sebben and Beaudry.

If neither retailer is willing to budge, Sebben and Beaudry are considering approaching city council to ask for a local bylaw banning the sale of live lobster. They are in the process of providing their petition and related material to City Hall and plan to make a presentation at an upcoming subcommittee meeting.

Sebben notes the only other alternative would be to try to pressure the provincial government to revise its animal protection laws to include invertebrates like lobsters and crabs, which he recognizes isn’t likely anytime soon.

However, he notes there is precedence for both. New Zealand includes crustaceans in its animal protection laws and the Italian town of Reggio Emilia outright banned the boiling of live lobsters in 2005.

“Selling live lobsters is something we’ve been doing for so long, and I just think it’s because nobody has spoken up about it,” Beaudry adds. “But we’re hopeful (for change) at the local level.”

While they are currently not collecting any more signatures for their petition, Sebben and Beaudry have set up an email address – lobsterwelfarestratford@outlook.com – for anyone wishing to share a comment or suggestion.

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