Eight Legs and Ethics

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A Spanish company is planning to open the world’s first commercial octopus farm next year, raising questions among scientists over the ethics and environmental impact of such a venture, Reuters reported.

The company, Nueva Pescanova, said the proposed farm is set to be built on Spain’s Canary Islands and will cost about $74 million. It is currently pending environmental approval from local authorities.

The firm’s representatives said the farm will produce more than 3,000 tons of octopus meat per year by 2026 for domestic and international food chains. They added that it would also create hundreds of jobs on the island.

Nueva Pescanova noted that its project is built on decades of academic research and the company has beat rival ones in Mexico and Japan to perfect the conditions of industrial-scale breeding.

However, many scientists and animal rights groups have questioned the viability of such a farm, while also worrying about the welfare of octopi. They explained that these creatures are very intelligent and do not do well in captive conditions.

Previous attempts to farm the cephalopods failed due to high mortality and issues with aggression, self-mutilation and cannibalism.

Last year, a scientific review by the London School of Economics found that the cephalopods were sentient beings that can feel distress and happiness.

Even so, the European Union’s laws on the welfare of animals do not apply to invertebrates, and Spain’s new reforms on animal protection do not include octopi.

Meanwhile, traditional octopus fishermen worried that the plan could lower the price and undermine their reputation for quality produce.

According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures, the worldwide trade for octopi increased from $1.30 billion in 2010 to $2.72 billion in 2019.

Demand for the cephalopod is booming in Italy, South Korea and Spain – the world’s biggest importer – despite concerns from animal rights groups.

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