Switzerland has become the first country to ban boiling lobsters alive while they are still conscious.

The unprecedented national legislation, which will take effect on March 1, will require cooks to “render them unconscious” before putting them in the pan.

The law follows a study by Queen’s University in Belfast that found crustaceans are sentient.

“These studies show that lobsters, like other animals, experience pain and distress,” said Stefan Kunfermann, a spokesman for the Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs.

Those wishing to eat the crustaceans cruelty-free are advised to either electrocute them or place them in salt water to sedate them before stabbing them in the brain.

The legislation was brought under a part of the Swiss Constitution that guarantees “animal dignity”.

The unique law means that those keeping animals must conform to basic standards for care including that they must have social contact.

It requires that cats kept as domestic pets must have daily visual contact with other cats.

Activists in the UK have urged the Government to follow Switzerland’s lead in crustacean compassion.

More than 50 campaigners signed a letter to Michael Gove, the environment secretary, calling for lobsters and crabs to be recognised as animals with rights.

They wrote: “Decapod crustaceans are protected under animal welfare legislation in Norway, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand and some Australian states and territories; as well as in some regions of Germany and Italy.

“Yet in the UK, decapods fall outside of the legal definition of ‘animal’ in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and so there is currently no legal requirement for food processors, supermarkets or restaurants to consider their welfare during storage, handling or killing.’ ”