Oysters. Do they feel pain? Are they vegan?

There is much debate over whether oysters are vegan or not. Some are very passionate about this specific topic. 

Oysters are bivalves which are by definition aquatic mollusks that have a compressed body enclosed within a shell with a hinge.We will be exploring together each side of this ongoing debate. Our goal is to come to a conclusion to the question, “Can you call yourself a vegan if you eat oysters?

What is an oyster?

Above I explained that oysters are bivalves, which are aquatic mollusks. These mollusks can be eaten either raw or cooked. They are mostly found in coastal regions and can be anywhere from three inches long to fourteen inches long. Oysters are filter feeders which means they filter food particles from the water for sustenance. They have a hard, smooth shell and a soft sponge-like body. Oysters are very resilient and can live upwards of twenty years. Oyster shells are very similar to clam shells, two hinged shells connected by a muscle. Oyster shells are made up of calcium carbonate. Depending on the water conditions, Oysters have started to adapt by changing the size, shape or both of their shells. Amazingly enough, these little creatures can change genders throughout their lifetime. 

Oysters are a very popular food. There are other uses for oysters other than satisfying our taste buds. Oysters have been used for centuries in construction and decoration. With that being said, we can’t forget the best gift of all that comes from oysters, pearls. Pearls are a valuable gemstone in the jewelry business and symbolize strength, prestige and confidence. 

Oysters have many natural predators other than humans. Crabs, Seabirds and Starfish all like to feast on these amazing squishy bivalves. No worries humans, There’s plenty to go around!Oysters are crucial to the environment which many people are unaware of. They help filter the water and improve its quality. One little oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, like I said, amazing creatures!

The Bivalve Industry 

Bivalves are shellfish such as clams, mussels and oysters. They are a very popular food and are harvested from the wild and aquatic farms.  The bivalves that are for human consumption are over 3.307 x 10 to the 10th power pounds which is around fifteen perfect of the world's marine output. Eighty-nine percent of bivalve production is caught from farms while a mere eleven percent in the wild. The bivalve industry is extremely profitable and reaps benefits from mass murdering oysters every year. 


There are two methods to consider when talking about the harvesting of oysters. First we have dredging. Dredging is where a large machine drags an oyster bed to collect them. This can be very damaging to the ocean floor and can cause death of other species not involved. This includes other shellfish, crabs and fish. 

Hand collecting Is a more delicate and environmentally friendly way of harvesting oysters. It is where one takes a rake and tongs to collect oysters from the ocean floor. In some areas dredging is banned so this would be the next option for collection. 

After being harvested or collected the oysters are taken to a processing facility. There they will be sorted and graded. High quality oysters are opened and sold to grocery stores and restaurants. While the lower quality oysters are canned or turned into fishmeal and fertilizer. 

Pearls are often labeled as an oyster by-product. The controversy here is that it may be the reason so many oysters are farmed. The pearl industry is a twenty billion dollar market. China produces ninety-eight percent of the world's pearl supply. Most of these pearls are not natural, they are cultured freshwater pearls. Salt water pearls are usually more valuable due to their rareness since they make up the remaining two percent. Freshwater pearls are man made by putting a tiny piece of mantle tissue from another m mollusk in the oyster. The mantle tissue is then covered with a bead made of either glass or mother-by-pearl. After that process is completed, the oyster is placed back in the water where the pearl will grow for many months or even years. The pearl is formed slowly after the oyster produces nacre which is a substance that coats the bead. Saltwater pearls are produced in a similar way. They are usually placed in an enclosure made up of nacre. The enclosure protects the oyster and expedites the pearl making process. 

Now that you’re an oyster expert, we can dive into if it is morally justified to consume oysters and why some people disagree.

Reasons Why Oysters are Vegan

Oysters do not feel pain. They do not have a basic nervous system and have no brain. With that being said it is believed they do not and can not process pain like other animals. Vegans use this same argument to give justification for consuming plants. Oysters are farmed in a sustainable manner. Oysters are not taken from their homes in the wild therefore their population is not affected negatively. Some even believe oyster farms help improve the water quality. Other than water, Oysters can also improve the habitats of other marine life. Oysters have nutritional benefits that could help vegans get their essential daily nutrients. Small oysters produce approximately five grams of protein and large oysters about ten grams. They are also a great source of vitamin B12.

Counter Argument 

Some believe oysters do feel pain. Even though they have no brain they do have a heart, kidneys, stomach and intestines. They even have ganglia which are nerve bundles that process information without a brain. With that being said, it is inconclusive whether they feel pain or not but it is a possibility. Oysters are in fact animals. They are in the phylum Mollusca which also includes snails, clams, slugs and octopuses. Some mollusks have brains where others don’t therefore there are inconsistencies when stating eating oysters is fine but eating other mollusks is not. We don’t know enough about oysters or even plants to understand the lack of a central nervous system. They could feel pain or they could not, we really need to give them the benefit of the doubt. For centuries humans have consumed oysters without considering it ethical. 


We don’t have enough research to learn one way or the other so it is up to the consumer for now. If eating oysters means more people would be open to being vegan, I think that is a step in the right direction. It is called ostrovegan, which is a vegan who occasionally eats oysters.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below! 

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