An orange squid floats in blue water

We're Calling on NIH to Admit: Octopus Feel Pain, Too

The Rise for Animals Team, June 24, 2020

Cephalopods—animals like octopus and squid—are not included in the definition of “animal” at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

You read that correctly: the NIH spends billions of our tax dollars on animal experiments each year and they don’t even know what animals are. With help from Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, we aim to change that.

Harvard’s Law Clinic has submitted on our behalf a petition asking the NIH to include cephalopods—octopus, squid, and cuttlefish—among the “animals” entitled to humane treatment by animal experimenters receiving our tax dollars.

A coalition of organizations and scientists—including the the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; the American Anti-Vivisection Society; the Humane Society of the United States; the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Jennifer Jacquet, PhD; Becca Franks, PhD; Judit Pungor, PhD; Jennifer Mather, PhD; Peter Godfrey-Smith, PhD; Lori Marino, PhD; Greg Barord, PhD; Carl Safina, PhD; Heather Browning; and Walter Veit—have joined us in this effort.

Like most animals, cephalopods feel pain and suffer. They rely on learning throughout their lives and avoid anything that will cause them discomfort.

Here’s what our Executive Director, Nathan Herschler, had to say:

Octopus and other cephalopods are the most fascinating invertebrates in the world. They’re highly intelligent masters of escape who have been around since at least the age of dinosaurs. That we don’t give them even the most basic legal protections afforded to other animals under law simply because they don’t have backbones is absurd.

Current policy at the NIH does not require any invertebrates receive “humane treatment” by experimenters. Intelligent cephalopods are an increasing focus of much federally funded research. NIH-funded institutions are at the forefront of cephalopod research in the United States. Currently, the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Massachusetts is the NIH’s largest supplier of cephalopods used in research.

With this petition, we are asking the NIH to change its existing policy to include cephalopods in their existing definition of “animal” and to develop appropriate standards for the humane handling of all such animals in all federally funded research.

We’ll keep you posted on progress with this petition.

You can check out an update on the cephalopod issue here.