Brad Taylor points out that domestic pig farmers are making the best of some bad press by using the video in a bootleggers-and-baptists move: they argue that they're forced to use crates despite their better wishes because of the existence of foreign competition; if only tariffs protected them, they could change their methods. Paul Walker argues that the foreign competition angle is a red herring so long as barn raised pork is the cheaper production method; even with an import ban, producers would have a strong incentive to choose the cheaper option. Matt Nolan suggests that separate markets in free-range and barn raised pork solves most issues insofar as we only count animals' utility as it enters into human utility functions; if animals have intrinsic rights then a Pigovean tax (he calls it an externality tax, but Pigovean seems uniquely appropriate) on animal suffering solves things in the absence of Coasean bargaining.
A few years back, Tyler Cowen wrote an interesting piece on animal welfare. Relevant points:
- If animals can be shifted among sectors of varying welfare, then a tax on meat-eating is of ambiguous consequence: there's no apriori reason to expect more to shift to the higher welfare sector than to the lower.
- If regulation specifies a minimum standard of animal welfare such that we'd all view those animals as being happier having lived and been eaten than never having lived at all, vegetarianism is strictly harmful: fewer animals get to be born (and later eaten) when the demand curve is closer to the origin than it could be if vegetarians did their part in helping to defray these animals' costs of existence.
"Some animal advocates argue for both mandatory care standards and for taxes or restrictions on meat consumption. But in fact, if we are at a care standard where animal lives are worth living, mandatory care standards should be combined with subsidies to animal breeding, not taxes on animal breeding."
- If regulation specifies a minimum standard of animal welfare much higher than the animal enjoying epsilon utility, there's a tradeoff between number of animals and happiness of animals (imagine Parfit's repugnant conclusion, but with the conclusion as starting point and working backwards).
I'd follow up on Matt's argument by suggesting that the two-sector model (people who care about animal welfare buy free-range; others buy barn-raised) isn't sufficient to induce efficiency where folks who care about animal welfare care not only about the animals they themselves eat (or abstain from eating if vegetarian) but also have Pareto-relevant preferences concerning the animals eaten by others. In that case, they'd be willing to pay some money to subsidize barn-pork consumers to switch to free-range. Presumably a charitable organization could achieve that end. However, if there are some people who now don't eat meat because they can't afford the free-range variety and are unwilling to eat barn-raised for ethical reasons, and if vegetarians with Pareto-relevant preferences concerning animal welfare would prefer that nobody eat meat but that any meat eaten be free-range, then the charity doesn't unambiguously solve the problem for them: the negative effects on the extensive margin, as they see it, may outweigh the positive effects on the intensive margin. Unclear that there are enough vegetarians with Pareto-relevant preferences (ie willing to put their money where there mouths aren't) for the latter bit to be a major issue, in which case the charitable organization would be sufficient, but fun to ponder.