Application to Farm Animals

The externality model applies to the welfare of farm animals. Historically, farm animals have been held as chattel by producers. Concern for the welfare of farm animals has traditionally been understood as a personal ethical responsibility of individual owners. However, as the livestock industries have become highly competitive, producers are under increasing pressure to utilize the most cost-effective methods for raising and handling animals. Although some adverse effects on livestock affect producer profitability, those that do not affect profitability represent costs that are borne by animals, rather than being internalized in those production costs that are eventually passed on to consumers. These external costs costs above and beyond those reflected in the normal profitability of livestock farming represent the basic problem of farm animal welfare. How should these external costs be understood, and what responses are appropriate?

The model for answering these questions that has been most widely adopted in the animal sciences has been to utilize a blend of standard veterinary health indicators, physiological stress measures, behavioral studies, and cognitive performance measures to form an estimate of how animals are faring in a given setting. This approach to animal welfare has been applied to develop comparative estimates of farm animal welfare relative to alternative housing and production methods, including cage and pen size, water and feed mechanisms, gestation stalls, and the use of methods for production practices such as beak trimming, milking, and molting (see Animal Welfare Science). Once such measures were available, one would then use them to reflect costs borne by animals in a given production system, and these costs could, in principle, be compared to costs and benefits that would be borne by humans in the form of higher production cost and increased food prices.[3'4] This general model follows the basic outline of utilitarian ethics in that each production option is evaluated in terms of its expected impact on the welfare of affected parties (human and animal), and then the option producing the greatest good is the one seen as ethically justified.

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