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Alison Hills, 'Do Animals Have Rights?'

Icon Books 2005; ISBN 1 84046 623 5; £7.99

The back-cover blurb describes this book as "superbly accessible" - a phrase I greet with caution as it usually indicates a subject the publishers don't actually expect their readers to understand.

This time, however, it is the author's background rather than her subject which caused the publicity department to pull out the reassuring language. Alison Hills is a philosophy lecturer, so her book debates the status of animals against a formal framework of moral ethics.

As promised, the arguments for and against granting "rights" to animals are presented in a very straightforward, easily readable manner. Questions of suffering, reason, intelligence and equality are examined in turn before chapters debating the rights and wrongs of using animals for food, sport, science and companionship.

For anyone already versed in the passionate arguments that either defend or challenge the concept of animal rights, Hills's approach is striking for its cool detachment. The introduction declares that "this book defends the moderate view", and it does so in an intelligent, logical fashion. Nevertheless, the author's reasonable - and well reasoned - arguments come to some very confident conclusions that may have more radical consequences than she cares to admit: factory farming should be banned but fox hunting should not have been; scientific experiments on animals can be justified, but only in certain circumstances; it is okay to treat dogs better than other animals because "we can be friends with dogs".

Devoid of both the activists' rallying cry and the establishment's arrogance, this book failed to satisfy my appetite for a really juicy debate. It is, however, a useful, concise and genuinely "accessible" examination of many issues raised by our relationship with non-human animals.

Topics: Animal Rights