In a recent case in North Carolina, Smithfields, an industrial pork farming concern versus around five hundred local residents, and who were mostly black, and who had filed almost two dozen lawsuits complaining of the stench, flies and buzzards attracted by their farming practises was won by the residents after a six year court battle when Smithfield sued to settle.
One of the judges in the case, J Harvie Wilkinson III, denouncec
the outrageous conditions ... conditions that there is no reason to suppose unique to that facility.
He goes on to add:
What was missing from Kinlaw Farms and Murphy-Brown [the former name of Smithfields] was the recognition that treating animals better will benefit humans. What was neglected is that animal welfare and human welfare, far from advancing at cross-purposes, are actually integrally connected. The decades long transition to concentrated animal feeding operations lays bare this connection, and the consequences of its breach, with startling clarity.
He described a system where they expected to live in enclosures that they had outgrown, reducing them
to almost suffocating closeness ... the dangers endemic to such appalling conditions [are] always manifested first in animal suffering.
In such cases, I've noted that how we are to treat animals is linked, as in this case, to the benefit of hums beings. This is, as far as I understand, a utilitarian argument.
Q. Can legal arguments be advanced in situations of this kind to treat animals well simply because it is right?
Obviously, a court can only take into account what has been legislated into law. So more broadly speaking:
Q. Have such arguments been advanced to the legislating body, the body that actually writes the law?
It's probably worth adding that punitive damages of around 500 million dollars were originally granted. (But was reduced to 90 million on dollars on appeal by Smithfields).
@Ryan M: I haven't invalidated my earlier question, as you can observe, I've said it's a more broadly based question. And a good answer can address both.
Legislatures consider moral questions and this has an impact on legal discourse, so it's a judicial question as well as being a political question; though in my opinion, more moral than political. I've tagged it jurisprudence to point this out.