No Animal Left Behind: 5 myths about octopus farming


No Animal Left Behind: 5 myths about octopus farming

30 May 2023

Did you know there are plans underway to open the world’s first octopus factory farm in Spain? For the welfare of these sentient beings and the good of the planet, this new industrial farming system cannot be authorised. The European Commission must ban octopus farming to protect these wonderful animals from futures full of suffering.

The last thing Europe’s animals need is a new type of factory farm to rear its head. Evidence by bodies such as EFSA shows that animals raised in these industrial systems far from have their needs met - in fact, these poor sentient beings often spend each day in acute suffering, trapped in darkness and filth while experiencing boredom, anger, sickness, terror and anxiety. Factory farming has also been linked to some of the biggest problems our planet faces today, including climate change.

Yet, despite these ugly truths and the efforts of animal protection organisations to end factory farming entirely, the world’s first octopus factory farm is on track to be built in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Industry players claim this system would have many positive effects on Europe’s food and farming sectors. It’s critical that the EU’s policymakers do not take heed of these misleading narratives, and proceed with a ban on octopus farming - we break down some of the biggest myths (and what’s really ahead if the plans for this octopus factory farm are realised) below.

Myth 1: Farming octopuses will improve food security in the EU

Reality: Octopus meat is a niche food for most of the world. The market growth is directly related to factors such as increased disposable income and the popularity of trying new exotic foods.

By opening such a farm, the EU would perpetuate the many problems that factory farming causes to people, animals and the planet - and this senseless move would only serve to satisfy the increased demand for octopus meat in affluent communities. Europe’s food security issues would thereby not be addressed, but a new ‘delicacy’ would be destructively and needlessly added to the market for industry to profit from. 

Myth 2: Farming octopuses will alleviate pressure on wild populations

Reality: Octopuses are carnivorous animals. To farm them at scale, millions of wild fish would need to be caught to feed them in the form of fish oil and fishmeal  - a highly unsustainable practice which leads to more overfishing..

In turn, this could create big problems for the dynamics between aquatic life forms in general. Fish oil and fishmeal are largely made from forage fish like anchovy, sardines, herring, and mackerel. These fish play a vital role in transferring energy from primary producers to higher-trophic level species, like large fish, marine mammals, and seabirds. Wild populations will not thrive if octopuses are taken out of the equation - they will suffer. 

Myth 3: The newly proposed octopus farm in the Canary Islands will ensure the wellbeing of octopuses according to EU legislation

Reality: As invertebrate species, octopuses are currently not protected  under any EU farm animal welfare legislation. This means Nueva Pescanova will set the industry standard if they are able to go through with opening their octopus factory farm, and the planned operations are far from animal welfare-friendly. 

For one thing, they recommend that octopuses should be slaughtered in ice slurry - an incredibly cruel form of slaughter that has been scientifically proven to cause fear and suffering, as well as a painful and prolonged death. In some cases, it can take fish up to several hours to die this way

What’s more, to increase reproduction, the plans for the octopus farm propose to expose octopuses to extended periods of unnatural light. Octopuses are light-averse animals who can sense light through their arms to quickly avoid it before their eyes even see it. These conditions will only cause them further discomfort in captivity.

As intelligent and wilful creatures, octopuses would not adapt well to a life in artificial confinement. They are unsuited to farming structures in a physical sense, as well. As octopuses lack a skeleton and have fragile skin, they are likely to sustain injuries living in crowded tanks. The natural design and characters of octopuses therefore mean there are likely no measures the EU could take that would adequately protect them from suffering in an industrial farming system. They are simply not suited to it.

Myth 4: Octopuses can live happily together in aquaculture tanks

Reality: By nature, octopuses are solitary creatures - and when forced together, things can get ugly. 

If crowded into barren tanks, as Nueva Pescanova’s plans suggest, octopuses are likely to get very aggressive with each other. They may become territorial, and even turn toward cannibalism in an attempt to protect their space.

With 300+ scientific studies pointing to the sentience of octopuses and the fact they can feel both pleasure and pain, it’s unthinkable that they should be forced into leading such stressful and anxiety-inducing lives.

Myth 5: New alternative feed sources will make octopus farming more environmentally sustainable

Reality: It’s true that some parts of the aquaculture industry are trying to favour plant-based feed for carnivorous fish, as it is more environmentally-friendly and less costly to produce than other fish-based feed.

However, this alternative is simply not suitable for all farmed carnivorous fish - and there is not enough of it, either, to replace the current demand for fishmeal and fish oil for feed. 

At Eurogroup for Animals, we are currently advocating for a transition or higher recourse to produce more low-trophic species (i.e. those with plant-based diets in nature). Introducing new carnivorous species such as octopuses into aquaculture is therefore a step in the wrong direction, and contradicts the EU's plan for a sustainable food system transformation.

Say no to octopus farming in the EU! 

As the evidence shows, putting octopuses in factory farms would only cause these incredible animals pain and distress, as well as create further problems for our planet and other aquatic life. Our report with Compassion in World Farming dives into the details about the issues associated with octopus farming and why it should be banned - download it here.

The European Commission has the power to block octopus farming in their ongoing revision to the animal welfare legislation. Add your voice to our call for change.