This piece estimates that a donation to the Humane League, an animal welfare organization considered highly cost-effective, and which mainly engages in corporate lobbying for higher welfare standards, saved around 4 animals per dollar donated, mostly chickens. “Saving a farmed animal” here means “preventing a farmed animal from existing” or “improving the welfare of enough farmed animals by enough to count as preventing one farmed animal from existing.” That second definition is a little weird, sorry.
If you’re trying to help as many farmed animals as possible this seems like a pretty good deal. Can we do better? Maybe.
Enter MSI Reproductive Choices, an international family planning organization, which mainly distributes contraception and performs abortions. They reported in 2021 that they prevented around 14 million unintended pregnancies on a total income of 290 million pounds, or 360 million dollars at time of writing. This is roughly 25 dollars per unintended pregnancy prevented. Let’s pretend that for every unintended pregnancy prevented, a child who would have been born otherwise is not born. This is plausibly true for some of these unintended pregnancies. But not all. On the other hand, MSI also provided abortions which plausibly prevent child lives as well. Maybe that means MSI prevented 14 million child lives from starting in 2021 (if we think the undercounting from not including abortions counter perfectly the overcounting of unintended pregnancy). I have no reason to think that’s particularly plausible, but let’s just keep pretending that’s right.
Let’s further pretend that all of MSI’s work happened in Zambia. MSI does work in Zambia, but they also do work in lots of other countries. I choose Zambia mostly because trying to do this math with all the countries that MSI works with would be hard. Zambia had a life expectancy at birth of 62 years in 2020 according to this. According to this, Zambians consumed an average of 28kg of meat per person per year. The important subfigures here are the 2.6kg of poultry and 13kg of seafood per person per year, since chickens and fish are much lighter than other animals killed for meat. One chicken provides say 1kg of meat (I’m sort of making this number up, but similar numbers come up on google). One fish provides say 0.5kg. This means that the average Zambian would eat 2.6 chickens and 26 fish per person per year. Over a lifetime, that’d be 62 years of consumption.
If a human who would have otherwise existed no longer exists because of your efforts, they also no longer eat the meat they would have eaten otherwise. Thus, if MSI prevents one human lifetime for every $25 you donate, then you’d be saving 62*(2.6+26) farmed animals which is around 1,750. That’s 70 animals saved per dollar donated.
This analysis is so bad in so many ways. I took the number for animals saved per dollar donated to The Humane League on total faith. I also just assumed that MSI is correct in saying that they prevented 14 million unintended pregnancies and I made clearly bad assumptions to get from that number to number of human lifetimes prevented. At least we can have some confidence in the total weight of meat consumed on average by a Zambian per year and the life expectancy at birth in Zambia. However, my way of getting from total weight to animals slaughtered is pretty hokey and doesn’t even include cows, sheep, pigs, etc. There are many other problems too. For example, I took the average cost per unintended pregnancy prevented by MSI. However, the average is not the relevant figure here. We’d like the marginal cost of preventing an additional unintended pregnancy. This is a figure I don’t have and one which could (and is likely to!) be very different from the average. I could write about many more ways this is a bad analysis.
However, if we keep pretending for a second to believe in these numbers, 70 animals saved per dollar is better than 4 animals saved per dollar. Maybe the above provides some weak evidence that donating to a family planning charity like MSI can save more animals per dollar than donating to an animal welfare one like the Humane League.