- Corporate campaigns for layer hen, broiler and fish welfare constitute the majority of current animal welfare projects in the Effective Altruism community.
- Open Philanthropy and major Effective Altruism institutions also allocate the majority of their funds to this area.
- Although there exist multiple podcast episodes, YouTube videos, case studies, reports, blog posts and forum posts there is not a single, or at least a sufficient number of, comprehensive books making the case for corporate animal welfare campaigns.
- Books are instrumental and crucial for providing in-depth knowledge, authority, persuasion power, reach, and value-alignment for a cause area.
- Other cause areas already have multiple books which are making the case for themselves: Doing Good Better, The Life You Can Save, 80000 Hours, The Precipice, What We Owe the Future, Superintelligence etc.
- Existing animal rights advocacy books are mainly focused on animal ethics, veganism, diet change promotion, alternative protein adoption and (auto)biography of activists.
- Current funding schemes do not provide enough incentives for potential authors who would write a book on corporate animal welfare campaigns.
- A writing contest organized and/or funded by Open Philanthropy would fix this problem.
Animal welfare is one of the main cause areas in the Effective Altruism community. There exists and will exist billions of sentient beings suffering immense pain in factory farms. Numerous organizations and hundreds of activists are currently working on corporate animal welfare campaigns. The majority of Effective Altruism animal welfare funding is provided to corporate campaigns (link). Corporate campaigns were a great success until now. Many corporations committed to cage-free standards and adopted European chicken commitment for broilers. But there is still so much to do. Cage systems still exist to a large extent in the developing world and are still legal in developed countries. Broiler reforms did not reach the same level of success as cage-free reforms. Fish welfare reforms are just beginning to mature.
Given the constant increase of animal protein consumption in the world and relative low adoption of plant-based diets, and uncertainties around alternative protein technologies and their market success, corporate animal welfare campaigns will continue to be the best, or at least one of the best, interventions to do good for billions of animals in the future.
The case for corporate animal welfare campaigns is not currently supported by a comprehensive and authoritative book. This constitutes a major shortcoming. Books are crucially important, especially in a field like animal advocacy which requires movement building and social struggle.
In this essay I will first look at the current animal advocacy literature, its shortcomings regarding corporate animal welfare campaigns and insufficient conditions for new publications covering this topic (I. Neglectedness). Secondly, I will explain how books are important, especially for animal advocacy (II. Importance). Thirdly and finally, I will explain how the effects of books are tractable and speculate how a comprehensive book about corporate animal welfare campaigns would look like and a writing contest would function in order to achieve good results (III. Tractability). I will take the effectiveness of corporate animal welfare campaigns for granted and will not argue further on that point (on that point, one may look at this: link).
Existing animal rights advocacy books are mainly focused on animal ethics, veganism, diet change promotion, alternative protein adoption, and (auto)biography of activists. One can say that the first “wave” of animal rights literature started with ethics professors’ writings (for example Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan). This is understandable because at the start, one needs to make a moral case in order to include non-human beings into consideration for moral action. Authors in this category largely focused on ethical considerations and concluded that being vegan is the morally correct action.
Perhaps by the unfortunate relatively low adoption of plant-based diets and no sign of mass adoption in near future, some animal advocates focused on the question of “how can we convince more people to become vegan?” rather than “why one should be vegan?”. One can count Nick Cooney’s Veganomics and Change of Heart and Tobias Leenaert’s How to Create a Vegan World in this category.
Another category might be “alternative protein” books. Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro, Clean Protein by Kathy Freston and Bruce Friedrich are focused on cultured meat and alternative protein technology and its hopeful adoption in near future.
Final category is books which cover valuable experiences of leading activists. For example, Striking at the Roots edited by Mark Hawthorne, In Defense of Animals and Ethics Into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement edited by Peter Singer. These books cover a wide range of activists working on various fields such as zoos, labs, humanoid chimpanzees, wild animals etc.
All of the mentioned books are immensely valuable and well written. All have its place in the bigger picture of animal advocacy but there is an important part that is missing. They either do not cover, or cover very partially, the intervention that is most worked on, most funded and most important (at least for me, and probably for the major funders, and for numerous activists working on it): corporate animal welfare campaigns. And it shows. Most activists and the general public perceive that veganism and plant-based diet adoption is the main and/or the sole issue in animal advocacy. Although corporate animal welfare campaigns gained traction lately, the intellectual (or ideological) landscape remained mostly the same.
This is not to say that there are no publications on corporate animal welfare campaigns. Leah Garces’ Grilled: How Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry provides extremely important insights on corporate outreach and potentials of building bridges with producers and companies. Jacy Reese’s The End of Factory Farming does cover cage-free reforms and explains the importance of institutional change. Finally, Philip Lymbery’s Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat covers extensively the harms of factory farming and points out the importance of animal welfare reforms.
These are also great books. Yet again, corporate campaigns are not covered extensively even in these books. Garces’ Grilled (which is my favorite) covers positive dialogue building with counter parties while not getting into major negative campaigns against corporations. It is also mostly about Garces’s personal career rather than a general theory of and a strategy for change. Reese’s The End of Factory Farming has a chapter on cage-free campaigns but the majority of the book still centers around plant-based food adoption. Lymbery’s Farmageddon, covers extensively the harms of factory farming on animals, humans and the environment and points to better food systems but doesn’t go into detail how we can go there. These comments should not be viewed as criticisms of the authors. As I pointed out, these books are great. But they still do not cover in detail and in particular, corporate animal welfare campaigns. For that reason, I don’t think we have a book which makes the case for corporate campaigns as an (or the most) effective intervention for animals (If one disagrees that current books are at least sufficient, I would still argue that more is still better).
One final issue that needs to be pointed out is that a number of authors (Nick Cooney, Paul Shapiro, Jacy Reese as far as I am aware) have stepped down from leadership positions in animal advocacy groups and since then they are inactive. This makes those books less authoritative and less likely to be updated.
This is not to say that there is no content out there which makes the case for corporate campaigns. Lewis Bollard’s podcast episodes on 80000 Hours Podcast (link), and his blog posts in Open Philanthropy website provides important data and analysis (link). Amanda Hungerford’s presentation in CARE 2021 conference on YouTube, explains the progress and the impact of these campaigns very clearly (link). Vicky Bond has a presentation making the case in favor of corporate campaigns in Effective Altruism Global: London 2018 event, which can also be viewed on YouTube (link). She also has an episode on Humane Hangouts on YouTube (link). Sentience Institute has multiple case studies which supports corporate campaigns’ theory of change (link). Karolina Sarek from Charity Entrepreneurship published reports on corporate campaigns (link and link). Founders Pledge has a comprehensive report making the case for corporate campaigns (link). Saulius Simcikas had a detailed post in this forum three years ago (link). Samara Mendez and Jacob Peacock study Impact of Corporate Commitments to Source Cage-Free Eggs on Layer Hen Housing (link) provides an introduction to academic literature on animal welfare campaigns and a quantitative, causal estimate of the impact of welfare campaigns.
These are great but obviously are not optimal. While they focus on corporate campaigns, they are not as in-depth as they could have been and since they are podcast episodes, presentations, case studies and blog posts they do not have the authoritative power as a well written book might have. Also, most of them (reports and posts) are too dry and too quantitative for ordinary yet educated and interested potential readers. This is, again, not a criticism. Reports and forum posts need not and perhaps should not prioritize this.
Insufficiencies of existing (funding) schemes
One could say that although this current shortcoming is a pity, there are sufficient existing opportunities for potential authors. Since no one is stopping anybody, and potential authors are out there somewhere, this is not inherently neglected issue: it is just a matter of time and luck.
I would like to argue that although potential authors are not totally constrained from their pursuit to write a book on the effectiveness of corporate campaigns, there are serious limitations which explains the current shortcoming.
Firstly, although many advocacy groups engage in corporate campaigns, most of the current animal advocacy “readers” are used to topics like ethics and veganism. Therefore, a typical publishing house would prefer what current readers expect rather than what the author or effective altruism community deem effective.
Secondly, although corporate campaigns are effective, they are not typically novel or groundbreaking such as the culture of meat tissues in a lab. Clean meat books had the advantage of putting something extremely new which readers -and publishing houses- like a lot. Corporate campaigns do not have that advantage.
Thirdly, most readers and thus editors and publishers rather choose to have a wider range of topics in their books rather than to focus on one single issue. This explains some editors’ choice of collection of multiple topics in a single book rather than focusing on one issue. This also pushes the authors to limit detail in their analysis. Most books contain lots of stories rather than “boring” statistics.
At this point, one could say that, a potential author who would like to publish a book on effective corporate campaigns, may apply to effective altruism animal welfare funds or Future Fund and get funding and support from there. This would alleviate some of the problems mentioned above and put the author in a much better position while negotiating with a publishing house.
I would argue that while this is a real and a good option (although EA Funds and Future Fund did not typically fund this), it does not fix the problem entirely.
Writing a book is not easy. At best, it takes months to write a book. More importantly, you might waste your entire time if your work does not get published or read. Lucky for other EA cause areas, most authors were already academics and were employed by prestigious universities in the West. For this reason, negative incentives for book writing apply with much less force on other cause areas’ literature (Doing Good Better, The Life You Can Save, 80000 Hours, The Precipice, What We Owe the Future, Superintelligence etc.).
As for effective corporate animal welfare campaigns, best candidates for potential authors would and should be founders, directors or senior members of animal charities which engage in these campaigns since they have most of the firsthand experience. But these people are not typically academics. And many of them are not from the UK or USA. They do not have a prior credence as a writer, especially in the English speaking world. These factors make it unlikely for one to start an ambitious project like writing a book. Activists typically have other things on their plate too, such as working on these campaigns. Potential authors therefore tend to work on their day-to-day tasks rather than working on a long term project which may at the end of the day never get published or read widely. So they might not even apply for a grant in order to start their work.
For these reasons, current conditions do not create sufficient positive incentives which overcome the negatives, even if there are potential authors who might write good book(s) in this area.
I will briefly explain the importance of books in five points: depth, authority, persuasion, reach and value-alignment. Of course, not all books are important, only the good ones. I will make the assumption that “the book we are waiting for”, will be reasonably good at this point (I will give more reasons why it would be more likely to be good as an end product of a writing contest in the third part).
Depth: Books are typically longer than articles and blog posts, therefore can provide more information to the reader. This would allow authors, to provide detailed statistics about factory farming, the overwhelming scale of chicken and fish farming, animal biology and welfare reforms, accounts of different campaigns from different sectors and countries, cases of successes and failures, campaign tactics and strategies, framing of corporate campaigns within animal advocacy in general, importance of institutional change for the movement, framing of corporate campaigns within effective altruism cause areas etc.
Authority: Books, when they are published, project authority to the reader and the community. They are taken more seriously. They make their topic “a thing”. They can be referenced in other academic work or in the media which creates a compounding effect. Although corporate campaigns are in effect very popular in Effective Altruism circles, their effectiveness is not widely recognized in animal rights advocates and in the general population as it should have been. A good book would function as a major signal that this is something important that should be taken more seriously.
I think one of the reasons that animal welfare is somewhat underrated even in the Effective Altruism community is the lack of these kinds of books. This also has an important unfortunate effect: Fewer high profile, competent effective altruists (and other professionals) choose animal welfare advocacy as a career since this does not seem to be taken very seriously – at least relatively. Status is very important for most career decisions (even if they are effective), and a field which does not project authority can be seen to have lower status.
Persuasion: People spend more time reading a book than reading a blog post or a YouTube video. Books can also provide in-depth information and project authority (mentioned above). These factors increase the likelihood of convincing the reader. Most effective altruists I know, myself included, got into Effective Altruism through books (like ones mentioned above). One can see the same effect in animal advocacy as well. Most vegans and animal advocates I know, myself included, got really deep into animal rights after reading some leading books in the literature. Other types of content (YouTube videos, blog posts, case studies, presentations) also have some persuasion power too, but it is limited and secondary. Books are much better at “getting people in” the movement. Other types of content are more instrumental at “keeping people in” the movement by providing new, more, interesting information.
One or more books on corporate animal welfare reforms would persuade much more potential supporters, activists and possibly leaders in this area. Growing the movement is very important and not quite easy. We need people to overcome their prejudices against animals and convince them that corporate campaigns are effective and this is something so important and doable that one should take action (bigger actions such as donations, protest, career choice etc. if possible). A short blogpost or a YouTube video is not very suitable for this task.
Reach: Once a book gets recognition, it would have a wider reach than a video or a blogpost. Videos and blog posts may be more accessible at first sight but since they are not referred to as much as books, their reach is limited. A good book would reach more people in the long term. Current YouTube videos have somewhat little reach (the only exception is Lewis Bollard’s podcast episode on 80000 Hours Podcast).
In order for a larger animal advocacy movement which focuses on corporate campaigns we need to reach a wider audience. This is even more important in this cause area since it requires social change. Global health or AI alignment does not require masses of people informed and convinced about the cause, but the animal rights movement needs to have at least some level of popular support. Currently the case for corporate campaigns, as one of the, or the most, important interventions for animals reach only to a relatively small audience, while numerous other effective and ineffective interventions in animal advocacy receive much more interest. An ordinary person who is interested in animal rights would probably first encounter an ethics book and later a book on veganism. While this is not “bad”, it would be much better if people would encounter more effective strategies to help animals more often.
Value-alignment: One can estimate that there are currently thousands of people working on corporate campaigns in some form. I make this estimate by looking at the total number of members in Open Wing Alliance Slack. Open Wing Alliance is a coalition of 82 animal rights organizations who aim to abolish cages and implement broiler welfare reforms. It is vital for those organizations to have members who share the same values and embrace the same theory of change. This increases the morale, staff retention and cooperation within the organization.
One other issue is that most animal welfare groups are currently fighting on two fronts: factory farming and some other animal advocates. Many animal advocates who believe that animal welfare reforms harm the movement and thus harm animals, constantly criticize corporate campaigns. If not responded appropriately, this alienates some advocates away from corporate campaigns and significantly reduces the morale of the activists. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of negative content against corporate animal welfare campaigns. Gary Francione has numerous books making the case against welfare reforms and other forms of activism which do not solely involve vegan outreach. Although Francione and other critics did not achieve to dominate the field, one can safely say that corporate campaigns did not also achieve a clear win in this debate. While a single book or books would unlikely close this debate for good, it would help a lot by rebutting in a clear way the arguments of the critics. Animal rights advocates would be in a much better position if they gain a clear intellectual upper hand and present a more coherent and unified group of activists against factory farming. Like all social movements, the animal rights movement also runs the risk of falling into dogmatism, utopianism and in-fighting. It is extremely important for a social movement to hold reasonable shared values and have a realistic action plan for progress.
All of these factors which can be significantly boosted by good books contribute to the strength and the future success of the animal rights movement which has the potential of impacting the lives of billions of sentient beings.
Although the impact of books cannot be shown directly as the impact of a bed net distribution via a randomized control trial, one can look at various patterns and anecdotes. Almost all social movements have some literature behind them. And those literatures are almost always mainly composed of books. One can also look at the animal rights movement as well. As I mentioned above, ethics books were incredibly impactful to include animals into moral public discourse. Other effective altruism cause areas also gained much more traction after authors published their books. The promotion of those books on many channels indicate that their impact is at least perceived as very high by the directors of Effective Altruism institutions. One useful thought experiment would be to imagine a world in which The Life You Can Save was never published. I would argue that the level of interest and commitment for charitable effective donations would probably be much lower today if that was the case. One can also speculate how things would be different if Francione was a blogger rather than a prominent book author.
One can also trace the impact of books via anecdotes. Probably all effective altruists had read some effective altruism book in the past. Many animal advocates read Animal Liberation by Singer or some other book before they become very active. One can easily say that (good) books can cause major intellectual shifts from personal experience and the experiences of people around us.
What might this book and writing contest look like?
Good thing is that the authors do not need to “create a theory” from scratch for corporate campaigns. Most of the data and arguments are already put forward in some form in open sources. Open Wing Alliance library also includes valuable information about past campaigns. This is a doable project. Of course, it is not easy. The author has to compile many things into a coherent structure and write with style. But the point I am making here is that since the theory of change of corporate campaigns is essentially here already, writing this book(s) will not necessitate a unique creativity or a genius.
Here is an example mini draft:
Chapter 1: Factory Farming Practices
Animal suffering in various factory farms
Statistics about the number of farm animals and food system
Chapter 2: Animal Welfare Reforms
Welfare reforms in various industries
Chapter 3: Corporate Campaigns
History of corporate campaigns
Dynamics which empower organizations to wage effective campaigns
Dynamics which force corporations to accept reforms
Strategies and tactics
Chapter 4: Importance of Institutional Change
Shortcomings of individual dietary changes
Comparisons between other social movements
The dominance of chicken and fish in numbers
Impacts of corporate campaigns in the short and long run
Chapter 5: Certain Critiques and Responses
Criticism by the agriculture industry and responses
Criticism by “abolitionists” and responses
Chapter 6: Corporate Campaigns and Other Forms of Animal Advocacy
Effective Altruism and corporate campaigns
Mutually beneficial relationship between different forms of advocacy
Chapter 7: Animal Welfare and World’s Other Most Pressing Problems
World’s most pressing problems
Suffering of farm animals compared to other problems
Corporate campaigns as one of the most effective interventions
Of course, all of this is a matter of choice and taste. One could shorten this by excluding some chapters or lengthen this by adding more chapters (for example: harm on the environment, human health and animal ethics etc.). The reason that I put forward a mini draft is to show that a competent author who has enough time and will can reasonably create a good book by digesting and processing existing data, perspectives, and content from various sources. There must be many potential authors who are already familiar with most of the relevant content mentioned above. So, while there are not enough incentives for potential authors to write a book on this topic due to some constraints which I explained in the first part (which is evident by the fact that we do not have a book on this topic), the task of writing the book itself is not an insurmountable difficulty. The problem is not that the necessary ideas or data are missing, the problem is that potential authors are not encouraged enough and/or constrained to a certain degree, to start writing a book.
Finally, I would like to explain how a writing contest would look like. The design of the writing contest can be very similar to this cause exploration contest. Open Philanthropy can organize this contest by selecting a committee of leading animal advocates and its own program officers or can simply fund the contest for a committee which is formed outside of Open Philanthropy. The committee can announce the contest and provide 6 months for drafts. It can provide participation prizes for good-faith submissions. This would encourage authors to accept the risk of failure. Then, the selected authors can be given an additional 6 months to finish their work. The first and second best submissions can be given prizes. Committee can also encourage authors to co-author with other colleagues to create better and more comprehensive works. At the end, the winner’s or winners’ work can be supported to be published in prestigious publishing houses and promoted via effective altruism channels. This type of contest would also benefit authors who reside outside of the UK or USA and/or have no past experience and reputation as an author since the winner(s) of the contest will gain credibility and support in the process and at the end of this contest. Writing contests are also good for encouraging timid or procrastinating writers to start their project by creating a collective competition.
For these reasons, I think this mechanism has a very high probability to create a good book on effective corporate animal welfare campaigns.
When I meet with someone who seems to be interested and committed to doing good for animals in a tangible way (or hire a new employee or register a new volunteer in our charity), I try to explain that corporate campaigns are the best way, or one of the best ways, to do good for animals. To support my case and get him/her on board, I usually send a link from 80000 Hours podcast, or YouTube (as mentioned above), or a post from my own blog. Same goes when some animal advocates criticize welfare reforms and argue that “the right way” is something else, and “I should know more and better”. This doesn’t make any sense. If we believe that corporate animal welfare reforms campaigns are one of the most effective methods to do good for animals (and funders channel millions of dollars to this area), a comprehensive book or books must be available. I believe many of my colleagues working in this area feel the same. One should also keep in mind that animal charities can use the same methods and capacities to wage corporate “alternative protein” campaigns in the future as well. For that reason, the success and wide adoption of corporate animal welfare campaigns by animal advocates are also very important if one believes that alternative protein adoption will be the game changer in the future as well.
Open Philanthropy was very successful at supporting organizations which embrace effective animal advocacy by the direct funding of corporate campaigns. While I think this was monumental, I think some part of the funding strategy should also consider the development and adoption of ideas, values, and strategies that go hand in hand with these campaigns. I believe this is especially true in a field like animal advocacy where it will take so much people and effort to create social change.
One can speculate that a writing contest would cost less than a half million dollars. This amount is similar to other grants that Open Philanthropy have made in the past. For the reasons explained above, I think this type of funding also meets the necessary bar for impact.
The weakness of this essay may be that this new funding area is rather limited. One does not need to spend millions of dollars for this. And after one, or at worst, two contests, the problem would be solved. But I think the issues that I mentioned above can be applied in some other cause areas.
Open Philanthropy and other major funders can seriously consider funding writing contests as means to deliver quality books in Effective Altruism cause areas where quality books are not currently available or very few. Some examples could be: effective altruism community building, affordable housing–land use reform, lead elimination, immigration reform, air quality, or other animal rights cause areas such as wild animal suffering etc. Of course, the style of books in different cause areas may differ from one another. And multiple books in a single cause area may target different audiences. For example, some books may target the general population while some others may target the already informed, effective altruists, academics, decision makers etc.
I think the need for books is highest when the cause area involves the need for some sort of social struggle (such as campaigns by animal advocates against corporations and perhaps land use reform which involves significant political struggles) and mass organizations (such as animal advocacy groups). But the importance is still high, if broad institutional social change is required (immigration reform, voting systems, foreign aid reform), or if significant level of public interest, concern and education is necessary (pandemic preparedness, lead elimination, air quality, macroeconomic stability, effective charitable donations etc.) or if detailed accounts of past experiences, advice and inspiration are very valuable (effective altruism community building). As I mentioned above, some cause areas in the Effective Altruism community attract lots of natural authors-academics, in particular philosophers and economists. Those cause areas typically already have a sufficient amount of books, articles and lots of posts in this forum. But other cause areas may need more incentives to create much needed intellectual output which is instrumental for their success. Historically many philanthropists have funded numerous authors (or academia in general) to write influential books to have a bigger impact in public discourse and social change. Although the Effective Altruism community is very productive in terms of developing and presenting good ideas, there are and there could be some shortcomings.
I think there are two additional sources on corporate animal welfare campaigns worth mention here; neither cover all the topics you outline in tractability, but I think do fill in some of the blanks:
I've long wanted to see a textbook on advocating for animals raised for food. Given the contents of Chapters 1, 4 & 6, I could see this project being transformed into a such a book. Currently the academic literature relevant to the many facets of animal advocacy is quite scattered and would benefit from careful synthesis. Some of this synthesis we're working on at Rethink—it would be great to see it in book form! And I think such a book would be a very useful introductory text.
Thanks! I haven't read those sources (didn't know), but I will. Your study looks very meticulous, great to see more quality literature on this topic. I will add those sources in the text as well if the contest organizers allow editing.
I hope we finally see that book soon!