Some would argue that if the problem consists in the fact that animal interests are external to decision making in animal agriculture, the most direct legal response is to provide an actionable basis for advocates to intervene in policy and production practices. Recognizing animal rights as the basis for human's ethical responsibility to animals provides philosophical support for legal action on behalf of animals. Animal rights philosophy has been advocated by Tom Regan (b. 1938), who argues that the utilitarian arguments in Peter Singer's (b. 1946) widely read book do not provide a strong enough basis for protecting animal interests.
Effective legal rights allow affected parties (or their representatives) recourse against harms or costs that are inflicted on them by others. Once such rights are in place, affected parties may enter into negotiations for compensation, allowing formerly external costs to be reflected in normal economic activity. Animal rights may thus represent an alternative response to the problem of external costs to animal welfare. This intervention might take the form of government regulation of animal production, or the creation of new legal standing that would allow court cases to be brought on animals' behalf.
It is not clear how such an approach would be operationalized as a response to problems in farm animal welfare. One question concerns who would be entitled to represent the interests in a legal or regulatory proceeding. If animal advocates were to take on this role, there would be a considerable shift in the property rights traditionally held by producers, and the economic repercussions of this shift might be considerable. Furthermore, the rhetorical use of animal rights as a catch-phrase representing an extreme position on the human use of animals may serve as an additional political barrier to any use of rights reform as a strategy for addressing farm animal welfare. As such, an animal rights approach represents at best one among many possible responses to resolving the problem of farm animal welfare, rather than a clear alternative to utilitarianism.
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