By Paula Moore
Every five years, the government reminds Americans that we need to start eating better—more fruits and vegetables, less sodium, less sugar, less meat. The latest incarnation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which was just released, also includes a specific recommendation to eat more fish. On average, Americans eat about 3 1/2 ounces of seafood per week, but according to the new guidelines, adults should up that to at least 8 ounces per week.
Here’s why you shouldn’t.
In slaughter facilities across the country, fish are killed in ways that make medieval torture look tame. Animal advocacy group Mercy For Animals has released a new undercover investigation of a fish slaughterhouse in Texas, where fish are suffocated, skinned and sliced in half—all while they’re conscious and able to feel pain.
The gruesome video shows workers using knives to slice off fins and pliers to peel away strips of skin from conscious, struggling animals. Dozens of fish are crammed together in buckets, struggling for oxygen. Skinned fish writhe on the cutting table. Workers violently tear off the heads of live fish.
If dogs or cats were the victims of these abuses, there would rightly be a public outcry. But because it’s “just fish,” many people turn a blind eye to the suffering that these animals endure before they end up on our dinner plates.
Yet we know that fish can feel pain, just as dogs and cats do. They possess pain receptors, their brains produce natural painkillers and studies have shown that they will avoid painful stimuli. According to Dr. Temple Grandin, the world’s leading expert on farmed-animal welfare, “Research shows that fish respond to painful stimuli in a manner that is not just a simple reflex.”
In her book Do Fish Feel Pain?, biologist Victoria Braithwaite says that “there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals—and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.”
Yet the U.S. has no regulations to ensure the humane treatment of fish, and slaughterhouses almost never make an effort to stun fish before they are killed. Fish’s gills are cut, and they are left to bleed to death, convulsing in pain. Large fish such as salmon are sometimes bashed on the head with wooden bats; many are seriously injured but still alive and suffering when they are cut open. Smaller fish are sometimes killed when workers simply drain away their water and leave them to suffocate slowly.
If you eat fish to boost your heart health, as the new dietary guidelines suggest, there are better sources of cardio-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, including walnuts, flaxseed oil, spinach and soybeans as well as vegetarian supplements made from microalgae—which is where fish get omega-3s in the first place.
It may not be convenient to do so, but it’s time for us to acknowledge that fish are not swimming vegetables. They can suffer and feel pain as all animals do, and their welfare deserves our consideration.
Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.