Philosophical Difficulties

Historically, animal welfare scientists have not always agreed on how to prioritize the indicators listed earlier. The use of multiple indicators to determine welfare also leads to an analogue of Arrow's impossibility theorem: Since improvements in one parameter can be correlated with declining measurements in another, there may be no way to create a consistent cardinal ordering of animal welfare under a variety of different production regimes. Another problem associated with comparing production systems is that situational features such as climate and especially husbandry practices may have more impact on the welfare of animals than do the production systems that have been tested empirically. Hence, whereas animal welfare science provides a basis for understanding how animals fare in production settings, well-known problems are associated with summing and comparing individual welfare measurements. As such, like welfare economics, animal welfare is likely to remain dependent on philosophical value judgments.

The classic utilitarian response to externalities has been regulations that require producers to mitigate harm to others. This allows the cost of mitigation to be inter nalized and reflected in the cost of producing goods. However, many animal producers continue to see animal welfare as a personal ethical responsibility and see government intervention in their operations as a form of interference. It may thus be necessary to interpret farm animal welfare as one among several elements that would need to be addressed in a complete approach to animal ethics. Ethical responsibilities associated with traditional notions of stewardship of animals might provide a useful complement to welfare-based approaches to animal ethics.[5,6] Advocacy groups have often argued that a rights approach, stressing constraints on producer behavior, might be required.

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