Scientists: Prawns do feel pain

Thought you could tuck in to a prawn cocktail guilt-free? Maybe not, say scientists

MOST OF US happily munch our way through a prawn sandwich with the belief that, as an invertebrate, it didn’t feel any pain – but new research has challenged this idea, and suggests that prawns might, in fact, suffer.

Scientists have long argued that crustaceans, like lobsters, don’t feel pain, even when cooked alive in boiling water. But research by a British biologist is challenging this theory and suggests that prawns, at least, do feel pain.

Professor Robert Elwood dabbed acetic acid, the main ingredient of vinegar, on to the antennae of 144 of them.

The prawns reacted by rubbing the affected parts of their bodies for up to five minutes.

This reaction, he says, was exactly the same as that seen in mammals exposed to painful irritants.

He told New Scientist magazine: ‘The prolonged, specifically directed rubbing and grooming is consistent with an interpretation of pain experience.’

Most scientists believe that animals with no backbone and limited nervous systems do not feel any pain – and Elwood’s research has not convinced everyone.

Dr Richard Chapman, of the University of Utah’s pain response centre, said there was a difference between responding to an acidic chemical and actually feeling pain.

Most animals have sensors that react to irritants, he said, adding: ‘Even a single-cell organism can detect a threatening chemical and retreat from it. But this is not sensing pain.’

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