In this article, I estimate how many chickens will be affected by corporate cage-free and broiler welfare commitments won by all charities, in all countries, during all the years between 2005 and the end of 2018. According to my estimate, for every dollar spent, 9 to 120 years of chicken life will be affected. However, the estimate doesn't take into account indirect effects which could be more important.
The estimate is summarized in the table below. In the table, everything is expressed in my subjective 90% confidence intervals. Numbers in parentheses are means. M stands for million, and B stands for billion. The full estimation can be seen in the Guesstimate model. Numbers in the table may not add up because of the way Guesstimate works.
In addition to direct costs on corporate campaigns, the cost estimate includes the costs of undercover investigations about the living conditions of chickens, relevant research, and all administrative expenses associated with these activities. It doesn’t include the costs of legislative campaigns and future costs of ensuring compliance to commitments that are already made. Consequently, predictions of follow-through rates assume that the spending on ensuring compliance will not be substantial.
There are many ways this cost-effectiveness could be misleading. For example:
- I only estimate direct short term effects. Indirect effects on chicken and egg consumption, wild animal welfare, public opinion on farm animal issues, and long-term future could be more important.
- This is cost-effectiveness of past campaigns. Cost-effectiveness in the future might be different because companies could learn how to deal with animal advocates, it might be done in different countries, or for different asks.
- This is not an estimate of what an additional donated dollar would achieve, as I do not discuss room for more funding and there is a high variance in cost-effectiveness within the spending associated with corporate campaigns.
In the first appendix, I show that even under very pessimistic assumptions, fighting for welfare reforms has affected more than one chicken-year per dollar spent
In the second appendix, I discuss how the involvement of volunteers slightly skews this cost-effectiveness estimate. In short, volunteer time is a cost that is not accounted for.
In the third appendix, I review previous cost-effectiveness estimates of corporate campaigns by Capriati (2018), Bollard (2016), Dickens (2016), and Animal Charity Evaluators.
In the fourth appendix, I explain why I chose to estimate the cost-effectiveness of campaigns in all countries, during all the years between 2005 and the end of 2018, rather than focusing on a specific charity or year, despite the fact that very few commitments were won before 2013. In short, all efforts are interrelated. Efforts in one year can lead to victories in later years, and a single commitment can be influenced by multiple charities working in multiple countries.
This article is a project of Rethink Priorities. It contains a lot of details but I tried to make it easy to skim. The section I recommend reading the most is Ways this estimate could be misleading.
The number of chickens that should be affected
According to unpublished estimates by Lewis Bollard from the Open Philanthropy Project (OpenPhil), commitments that were made before the end of 2018 should affect at least:
- ~243 million egg-laying hens in the U.S.
- ~135.6 million hens in other countries
- ~512 million broilers (meat chickens) in the U.S.
He arrived at these figures by estimating numbers of animals used by many of the companies that made commitments. Estimates are very approximate because in most cases the number of animals used by a company was unavailable. Also, many commitments were not included in the estimates, which suggest that the total number of animals who should be affected is higher. Bollard’s estimates include:
- 309 out of over 413 cage-free commitments in the U.S.
- 163 out of over 1060 cage-free commitments in other countries.
- 51 out of over 107 U.S. broiler commitments
Total numbers of commitments here are taken from Chicken Watch. Note that some commitments can be very small (e.g., a single restaurant or a hotel). Most of the bigger commitments are included.
Based on this information, Bollard also gave his subjective 90% confidence intervals of numbers of animals used every year by companies that made commitments:
- 210–270 million hens used by companies that made cage-free commitments in the U.S. The confidence interval is relatively narrow, partly because USDA has independently arrived at similar estimates, probably using a similar methodology. According to a 2018 USDA report, 230 companies that pledged to go cage-free in the U.S. together use about 225 million hens every year, which is nearly 70% of the U.S. flock
- 100–300 million hens used by companies that made cage-free commitments in other countries.
- 200–800 million broilers used by companies that made broiler commitments in the U.S.
Complications with the estimate of the number of broilers
In some cases, the number of broilers affected by commitments was calculated by dividing the weight of chicken meat used by companies by the average meat weight per chicken (~2 kg). However, this might underestimate the number of chickens affected if a committed company uses only a part of a chicken (e.g., only wings). In those cases, we might want to divide the weight of chicken meat used by the restaurant by the average weight of chicken wings, rather than the weight of all edible chicken parts. This would result in a higher estimate of broilers affected. On the other hand, this might cause an overlap between different commitments. Same higher welfare broilers might be used to supply two companies that use different body parts. Nevertheless, because of this consideration, I increase the upper bound of U.S. broilers that should be affected by broiler commitments every year from 800 million to 1.1 billion. That means that the 90% confidence interval is 200 million to 1.1 billion broilers.
Broiler commitments in other countries
In this section, I estimate that 90–240 million broilers should be affected by commitments outside of the U.S.
According to Chicken Watch, there were 17 broiler commitments in Europe made before the end of 2018. Ten of these commitments are by restaurants with about 1,000 locations combined, most of which are in the U.K. The restaurant with the most locations (360 to 410) is Pret A Manger which seems somewhat similar to Panera Bread. Panera Bread has 2,129 locations and (according to CIWF) uses about 17 million chickens annually. It can be extrapolated that Pret A Manger commitment covers about 3 million broilers. Other bigger restaurant commitments are from Italian restaurants. Overall, I think that 5 to 17 million broilers are affected by these restaurants' commitments.
Other non-U.S. and non-Canada broiler commitments are:
Knorr: Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) claims that the commitment will benefit the lives of more than 102 million meat chickens (presumably every year). CIWF executive director is cited by the producer saying that Knorr’s North America’s commitment impacts 50 million birds every year. It follows that the commitment should impact about 52 million broilers outside of North America.
Nestle: according to farminguk.com, “Nestlé's European operations use around 10,000 tonnes of chicken products each year”. Assuming that the average broiler meat weight is 2 kg, the commitment should affect around 5 million broilers every year.
Elior Group: this is a foodservice company. Another foodservice company, Compass Group USA, claims to serve over "10 million meals a day" and also claims that their broiler commitment will "result in improving the lives of approximately 60 million broiler chickens per year." Elior Group claims to serve 5.5 million customers every day. From an extrapolation, it would follow that around 33 million broilers per year are used by Elior group. However, U.S. consumes much more chicken per capita than France and other EU countries where Ellior operates, which makes me guess that most likely Elior uses fewer broilers. My subjective 90% confidence interval is 10–42 million.
Marks & Spencer: their commitment claims that they “source in the region of 50,000 tonnes of fresh poultry annually from over 200 farms in the UK.” Assuming that the average broiler meat weight is 2 kg, that is 25 million broilers.
Danone: looking through their most popular brands, I don’t see any products with chicken. Consequently, I think that the commitment might cover relatively few broilers.
Dr. Oetker: this is a big manufacturer (~$12.3 billion yearly revenue) that produces a variety of products, some of which contain chicken. Probably covers tens of millions of broilers annually but I don’t see a way to estimate how many.
The estimates I mentioned add up to 95–141 million. However, this doesn’t include Dr. Oetker and Danone commitments, and there is additional uncertainty about the exact number of chickens covered by some other commitments. Also, I did not estimate the size of commitments in Canada.
With all this information in mind, my subjective 90% confidence interval for the number of broilers used by companies that made broiler commitments in countries other than the U.S. is 90–240 million. This takes into account the complications that are explained in the previous section. Note that I skipped the 2 Sisters Food Group commitment because it was made by a producer. I discuss it in the Follow-through rate section.
Hens that would have been cage free without intervention
I estimated how many hens are used to produce eggs that companies that made commitments use. However, some of those companies (especially grocers) used some cage-free eggs before any campaigns happened. In this section, I estimate that 79–180 million hens that are covered by commitments would have been cage-free even if no cage-free campaigns or undercover investigations about hen conditions happened since 2005. This reduces the number of hens that should be affected by commitments to 240–390 million.
Work by HSUS and other animal advocates has led to California and Washington state banning the sale and production of eggs from caged hens. Furthermore, Massachusetts passed a law that bans battery cages and establishes space requirements that make cage-free systems more appealing to producers. Finally, Oregon has very recently passed a bill banning the sale and production eggs from caged hens, although it only applies to egg producers with more than 3,000 hens. Even though corporate campaigns might have made passing these laws easier, I will exclude hens that are used to lay eggs that are consumed in these states from the estimation.
According to King (2019), in 2018, California’s population consumed 11.4 billion eggs — equivalent to the production of 39 million layers, which is about 12% of the U.S. commercial laying hen flock. Washington state, Massachusetts and Oregon have a combined population of about 18.6 million, which is about 5.7% of the U.S. population. If we assume that these states consume a similar number of eggs per capita as the rest of the U.S., we get that around 17.7% of U.S. eggs would be cage-free directly due to legislation. It could be a little less if many egg producers in Oregon will keep less than 3,000 hens, as the law doesn’t apply to them.
Also, note that there were some cage-free eggs before the laws described above were passed and corporate campaigns began. This report contains USDA data of percentages of U.S. hens that were cage-free in different years:
It seems that there was a slight upwards trend before most of the cage-free campaigns started, although it could still have been influenced by undercover investigations and few early campaigns. Note that some of these eggs were sold in California, Washington state, Massachusetts and Oregon, and these eggs should not be double-counted. Also, these are the percentages of eggs produced in the U.S. rather than consumed, but U.S. egg imports and exports seem to be relatively minor, so we can assume that a similar percentage of consumed eggs were cage-free each year.
Based on all this information, I think that 18–26% of eggs in the U.S. would be cage-free without corporate campaigns. That means out of 210–270 million hens used by companies in the U.S. that made cage-free commitments, 160–210 million hens would be caged if corporate campaigns never happened.
In the Bollard’s estimates, out of estimated 135.6 million hens that are covered by non-U.S. commitments, 59% are covered by global commitments. Other commitments are region specific, with most animals affected by commitments specific to France (11.4%), UK (5.8%), Brazil (5.5%), all Europe (4.1%), Spain (3.3%), Italy (2.8%), Mexico (2%), Germany (1.8%), Poland (1.1%), and Denmark (1.1%). Note that Bollard’s estimates don’t contain all cage-free commitments, and commitments from some regions could have been systematically excluded. Also, it only provides approximate estimations of hens affected. Nevertheless, I believe this is somewhat indicative of which countries will be affected by commitments the most.
Here are the percentages of cage-free eggs in 2013 and 2017 in these countries:
Sources for the values in the table: Windhorst (2017) (for 2013 values), European Commission (2019) (for 2017 value for the EU), Corbett (2018) (for all other 2017 values). In some cases, these percentages conflict with the data that Charity Entrepreneurship has collected, though I’m not sure why. However, we don’t need precise values for this estimation.
I think that numbers for 2013 are relevant because most of the commitments were secured before 2013, so it’s unlikely that those percentages were significantly influenced by corporate campaigns.
Note that these numbers only suggest what percentage of eggs used by committed companies would have been cage-free. For example, if France is 31% cage-free, that doesn’t mean that French companies that made pledges would have been 31% cage-free if they didn’t make commitments. For example, it could be that most of the commitments are from grocers that already used a higher percentage of cage-free eggs than the national average. Also, countries could have imported or exported some portion of used eggs.
Four out of the six biggest global cage-free commitments are made by German retailers, that operate mostly in Europe, and have about half of their stores in Germany. Out of ~67 million hens that are covered by global commitments that are included in the Lewis Bollard spreadsheet, these four retailers cover ~40 million hens. This significantly reduces the number of hens that should benefit from global cage-free commitments because Germany is already over 90% cage-free and is committed to go fully cage-free by 2025.
I haven’t analyzed other big global commitments (PepsiCo, Unilever, Sodexo, Grupo Bimbo, Land O' Lakes, Kellogg's Company, Compass Group, Hormel Foods, Campbell Soup, JM Smucker Company, General Mills, Elior). At least some of these companies impact Asia and Africa, where the percentage of cage-free eggs is probably very low.
With all this information in mind, my subjective 90% confidence interval is that out of 100–300 million hens used by companies that made cage-free commitments in countries other than U.S., 20%–50% would have been cage-free without corporate campaigns. That means that non-U.S. corporate cage-free commitments should affect 63–210 million hens every year that would have been caged without the campaigns, assuming that all companies follow-through.
Total chickens affected
The table below summarises the estimations of animals affected by commitments every year:
Note that this excludes broilers who die before slaughter. According to the National Chicken Council, around 5% or U.S. broilers die before slaughter. Pre-slaughter mortality in other countries might be different. Furthermore, commitments should affect an additional 2 to 8 million broiler breeders who are alive during any given month.
As I reviewed in Šimčikas (2019), there are many reasons to believe that some companies will fail to follow through with their commitments. In this section, I explain why I predict that the follow-through rate will be 48%–84% for cage-free commitments and 1%–94% for broiler welfare commitments.
Approaches in other estimates
First, I overview the values used in other estimates:
- Capriati (2018) estimates that “there is a 60% probability that companies will follow through with cage-free commitments, [and] a 30% probability they will follow through with broiler commitments.”
- Sarek (2019) estimates that 39%–50% of companies will follow through their commitments. It warns that “it is not an estimate about the effectiveness of past corporate campaigns on egg-laying hens and broilers issues!” However, many pieces of evidence it considers are about cage-free commitments, and I used them to inform my subjective confidence intervals.
- In their Guesstimate models, Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) has a variable “Probability That Companies Will Honor Welfare Commitments.” Its value is a 90% confidence interval from 30% to 86% (the mean is 53%).
One problem with the approaches in these estimates is that the follow-through rate largely depends on how much effort and money will be spent on ensuring compliance. The right approach for animal activists could be to do everything we can to make sure that companies keep their promises. Therefore, it could be that most of the costs associated with secured commitments will be spent in the future. However, it would be difficult to take these future costs into account because nobody knows what they will be. Consequently, similarly to estimates above, I decided to not take them into account. As a result, my estimates in this section assume that animal advocates won’t take any costly actions to ensure compliance, even though they probably will. This assumption makes this estimate less useful because it estimates how cost-effective past corporate campaigns were in a potential future that will probably not exist.
Also, note that some commitments can be partially implemented. This is especially likely for some global commitments, where some country branches don’t announce or even know about global commitments. To take chickens that will be affected by partially implemented commitments into account, instead of estimating the probability that companies will follow through, I estimate what percentage of chickens that are covered by commitments will actually be affected in the way that was promised. This is also done partly to avoid some mathematical complexity and ambiguity that I explain here.
The U.S. cage-free flock has already increased from just under 17 million (5.7% of all U.S. layers) at the beginning of 2016 to 66.7 million (19.8%) hens in the June of 2019. For all cage-free pledges to be implemented, this number will have to rise to at least 210–270 million (62%–80%) by 2026. King (2019) claims that the U.S. cage-free production will need to grow three times faster to meet this goal.
In a survey of thirty-one egg producers, on average it was predicted that 43% of eggs would be cage-free in 2025, but answers ranged from 20% to 100% (see O'Keefe (2019)). Many other relevant pieces of evidence are reviewed in Sarek (2019) and Šimčikas (2019). With all this in mind, my subjective 90% confidence interval for the follow-through rate of cage-free commitments in the U.S. is 33%–85%.
As reviewed in the Hens that would have been cage free without intervention section, most of the hens covered by cage-free commitments in other countries seem to be in Europe. Looking at the 2018 European EggTrack report, it appears that most (but not all) European companies are on track to meet their commitments. There are also 76 commitments with due dates in the past, and only two of them do not have reported progress: Bennet and Dussman. It seems that all the other commitments included in the report were followed-through.
Based on my limited knowledge about the situation in Asia, South America, and Africa, the follow-through rate in these regions will probably be lower than in Europe.
Overall, I expect the follow-through rate of cage-free commitments outside of the U.S. to be 63%–90%.
In the Guesstimate model, I weight the predicted follow-through rates of cage-free commitments in the U.S. and Europe by how many hens they should affect, and estimate that the combined follow-through rate for all cage-free commitments is 48%–84%.
It’s much less clear what will be the follow-through rate of broiler commitments. All the commitments have been won in the past few years, and to my knowledge, there hasn’t yet been any tracking of whether companies are on track to comply with their commitments.
One risk is that broiler producers will fail to scale up the production of higher welfare broilers, and there will be no way for companies to comply at the deadline. Fortunately, some producers have committed to meeting the demand for higher welfare broilers. Graber and Keller (2018) lists 17 U.S. poultry producers and processors that made such commitments. One of them is Perdue. According to Thornton (2016), Perdue is the fourth biggest broiler producer in the U.S. Perdue’s commitment seems strong. The list also includes Wayne Farms, the sixth biggest broiler producer in the U.S. In Europe, there is a similar commitment by a producer 2 Sisters Food Group. Clements (2016) claims 2 Sisters Food Group slaughters 317 million birds annually, which suggests that it is capable of supplying to the demand that other European commitments created so far.
Despite this, based on conversations with some animal advocates, it seems likely that if animal advocates did no further actions to ensure compliance, only the most socially responsible companies would follow through because higher welfare broilers will probably be more expensive. Based on this, I created a custom probability distribution, with a mean value of 24%:
Note that I only have a limited understanding of the situation with broiler commitments, and I am very much open to changing the distribution above if given feedback or relevant evidence. I expect the actual follow-through rate to be higher than this graph indicates because I expect animal advocates to do more work on ensuring compliance. However, this estimate assumes that they won't.
Mean Years of Impact
Assuming companies follow through their promises, how long should we expect those promises to have an effect? I think that this is one of the primary sources of uncertainty in this estimate. In this section, I explain why I chose to use a subjective 90% confidence interval of 4 to 36 years for this value. The reasoning in this section does little to reduce the uncertainty about what this value should be, so impatient readers might want to skip it.
Approaches in other estimates
First, I overview how other similar estimates dealt with this uncertainty:
- Bollard (2016) assumes that cage-free commitments accelerate changes by five years. He also adds: “In my view, the assumption that these campaigns only accelerated pledges by five years is very conservative. It seems equally likely that these companies would never have dropped battery cages, or would have merely transitioned to “enriched” cages. For instance, as recently as March 2015, a coalition backed by McDonald’s, General Mills, and other major food companies issued a report which largely endorsed “enriched” cages as an alternative to cage-free systems.”
- ACE uses a subjective 90% confidence interval of 1.6 to 14 years (mean 5.6 years) for all corporate pledges. They explain that “This is the number of years for which we expect these commitments to have an effect for. It is primarily based on counterfactual reasoning—how long before another factor, such as a legislative change or a shift in consumer demand, leads to a similar result.”
- Capriati (2018) estimate does not have a direct equivalent to years of impact expected. Instead, it estimates the number of years THL moves the policy forward by. It assigns the value to this variable based on how important THL’s role was in bringing policies about. By analyzing six randomly selected campaigns, it concludes that on average, THL’s cage-free and broiler campaigns moved policies forward by one year. Note that this assumes that other organisations would have still done corporate campaigns.
- Other estimates rely on the reasoning in the sources above, or avoid the issue by estimating how many animals are affected every year.
Note that contrary to the estimate above, my estimate includes the costs for undercover investigations. It follows that the estimates above are dealing with a different counterfactual. That is, contrary to my estimate, they assume that undercover investigations still happened, which makes a "shift in consumer demand" a much more likely scenario.
My subjective 90% confidence interval
Usually, commitments start having an impact before the deadline because companies gradually increase the percentage of their products that are higher welfare. If a company has 10 years to meet the deadline, and during those 10 years, 50% of the products they use are higher welfare (as opposed to 0% before the commitment was made), then we could say that there were 5 years of impact before the deadline. This assumes that there was no other factor (like a legislative change) that would have caused the company to start a shift to higher welfare products in that time.
There are a lot of ways that changes stop being in effect after being implemented:
Legislation that makes all the companies use cage-free eggs or higher welfare broilers goes into force. Examples of such legislation include the ban of the sale of eggs from caged hens in California by 2022 and the ban on caging hens in Germany that will go into force in 2025. Note that commitments may make such legislation easier to pass because committed companies no longer have financial incentives to oppose them. However, for simplicity, in this estimation, we ignore these effects and consider the period of impact to be over once a legislation comes into force.
Disappearance of companies that made pledges. Companies that made pledges can go bankrupt, split, merge, be acquired by other companies that made no commitments, or decrease in size and be replaced by other companies that made no pledges.
New management ignores commitments by the previous management or doesn’t even know about them.
Backslide due to economic incentives. If not all the egg producers in a region go cage-free and some production of caged eggs remains, there is a risk that some companies would switch back to caged eggs to save on costs, possibly even without anyone even noticing, especially in the case of liquid eggs which are more difficult to monitor. This backslide may be stopped by animal activists, but that would require additional resources (although probably less than it took to make companies implement the change in the first place). I was told that such enforcement campaigns were already necessary on multiple occasions to hold up companies to their fur-free commitments. Note that economic incentives to switch back to lower welfare products are much less compelling once you consider the cost of transition. For example, to go cage-free, it would cost U.S. producers around $7 billion. Costs of going back to cage systems could be comparable. Furthermore, there would be a high reputational cost to the company if such a backslide was noticed. Hence, I don’t think that backslides are likely to happen any time soon.
Companies switching to higher welfare products due to a change in consumer demand. Even without undercover investigations and corporate campaigns, consumers could have eventually started wanting to buy higher-welfare (and more expensive) animal products. I think that most likely this would not have happened in the relevant time period.
Commitments could gradually become less important if a lesser number of eggs and chicken are consumed in the future. This can happen in multiple ways:
- Clean meat or plant-based substitutes becoming more popular which makes chicken and eggs less popular. See Animal Charity Evaluators (2017b) for timelines of when cultured animal products will be cost-competitive. It seems that one relevant scenario for the near future is eggs being replaced by manufacturers, as alternatives (which are not necessarily cultured) get cheaper and better. According to Watson (2016), this already happened when egg prices spiked due to the avian flu, but many producers went back to using eggs after egg prices returned to normal. A lot of the chicken that is currently consumed is whole pieces of muscle tissue (rather than processed meat like chicken nuggets) which may be difficult to culture at a competitive price.
- People consume less chicken and eggs for ethical, health, environmental, or taste reasons. Note that people could also increase the consumption of chicken for some of the same reasons (e.g., substituting beef for chicken to help the environment, or to be more healthy).
- Decrease in human population. Given current trends, the continuation of the increase in human population in the medium term seems much more likely.
The period of impact stops whenever one of these events happen. However, these events can also happen gradually. For example, if the number of chickens used by a company decreases by a half for reasons unrelated to the campaign, it still affects the other half. In this estimation, if at a given year a commitment is having half of the impact it has now, I would take it into account by increasing the mean years of impact by 0.5 years. It’s not intuitive, but I think different models would add complexity but would do little to decrease the uncertainty.
Similarly, the mean years of impact should be bigger if the production and consumption of eggs and chicken is increasing. Projections of poultry and egg production are reviewed in the 2018 issue of Poultry Trends. EU egg production is projected to increase by 6.2% between 2016 and 2026. U.S. egg consumption is projected to rise by 14.5% between 2017 and 2027. In developed countries, where all broiler commitments were won, poultry production is expected to increase by 12% by 2027. U.S. poultry production is expected to be about 13% higher in 2027 than it was in 2017. Overall, these trends significantly increase how many chickens we should expect to be affected, and that is taken into account in this estimation by slightly increasing the value of mean years of impact.
Overall, it’s difficult to make progress on the question of how many years commitments will have an impact, and a wide confidence interval has to be used as a result. My subjective 90% confidence interval which I use in the Guesstimate model is 4 to 36 years (the mean is 15 years). Note that I use a lognormal distribution because I think that a lesser number of years is more likely.
In this section, I estimate that the total spending related to corporate animal welfare campaigns between 2005 and 2018 is 54–120 million U.S. dollars, of which $16–$42 million is attributable broiler campaigns, and $36–$84 million to cage-free campaigns. I try to include not only direct costs of campaigns, but also spending on undercover investigations of broiler and hen living conditions in factory farms, past efforts to ensure compliance to commitments, relevant research, and all operational, office rental, travel, administrative, training, hiring, and managerial costs that are associated with these activities. You can see the full details estimation in the Guesstimate model.
First, I make educated guesses about the spending of all the biggest animal charities that work on corporate campaigns:
The Humane League (THL): $7.4–$11 million. This is based on information provided in Animal Charity Evaluators Reviews. Even though the charity provides a breakdown of their budget, there is uncertainty about what percentage of spending on activities like grassroots activism, communications, creating a U.K. branch, and research should be regarded as costs that are relevant for corporate campaigns.
Mercy For Animals: $6.5–$12 million. Using the information provided on their website, I estimated that between 2012 and 2017, the charity spent around $3.7 million on corporate outreach and about $6 million on undercover investigations. The estimation excludes fundraising costs and assumes that administration and development costs were proportional to the spending on a program each year. From their investigations page, it seems that only a fraction of investigations is about egg-laying hens or broilers. It seems that most of the corporate outreach was relevant to cage-free and broiler campaigns. I had to guess how much the charity spent in 2018 and before 2012.
World Animal Protection: $12–$39 million. The estimate is based on their global reviews. According to them, between 2012 and 2017, the charity spent $65.3 million on helping animals in farming. However, the descriptions in the reviews indicate that only a fraction of it was spent on cage-free and broiler campaigns. It’s unclear how big this fraction, which is a major source of uncertainty. Note that I include the costs of some activities that are only indirectly connected to corporate campaigns. For example, encouraging people to take a pledge to buy only cage-free eggs, working on The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare. Some of the organizational support costs are also included. I had to guess how much the charity spent in 2018 and before 2012. The spending on factory farming in 2012 was the highest in all years which made me think that spending on activities related to corporate campaigns between 2005 and 2011 could have been significant ($100,000 to $1 million annually).
Humane Society Of The United States(HSUS): $7.4–$14 million. According to ACE reviews, their Farm Animal Protection Campaign’s (FAPC’s) direct spending on corporate outreach was approximately $1.5 million in 2018, $1.1 million in 2016, and $0.35 million in 2014. However, there may also be high indirect costs, which could even double the relevant spending. According to a private conversation with Lewis Bollard, who previously worked at HSUS, there was little spending related to corporate cage-free and broiler welfare campaigns until 2014. Consequently, I assumed that between 2005 and 2013, the relevant HSUS spending was smaller ($50,000 to $500,000 per year). Note that I exclude HSUS spending on legislative work that helps animal welfare reforms, which I discuss later in this article.
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF): $6.2-$17 million. I found very little financial information about CIWF’s spending. Using non-public information, I estimated that they spent $1.3 million to $8 million on activities related to corporate campaigns in 2018. I haven’t found any more information about CIWF as a whole, but I did find more information about CIWF USA. From ACE’s review of CIWF USA, it seems that all the spending in 2017 ($680,000) was related to corporate campaigns. From an older ACE’s review, it seems that all CIWF USA’s spending was related to corporate campaigns in 2013 as well. From IRS Forms 990, which can be found on Charity Navigator, it can be seen that CIWF USA’s total expenses between 2013 and 2016 were $1.16 million in total. However, it’s unclear how much other CIWF branches spent.
Animal Equality: $2.8–$4.4 million According to ACE reviews, Animal Equality’s spending on corporate campaigns was about $1.24 million in 2018, $890,000 in 2017, less than $132,000 in 2016, and $10,531 in 2013. Also, from ACE reviews, it seems that between 2013 and 2018, Animal Equality spent around $3.3 million on undercover investigations. Less than a third of their posted videos from undercover investigations are about chickens. It seems that spending on corporate outreach and investigations before 2013 was minor. It also seems that other programs of Animal Equality are not very related to corporate campaigns, but I am unsure. Their total cumulative budget since 2013 seems to be around 11 million and under $300,000 per year in previous years.
L214: $1.7–$5.6 million According to an ACE review, in 2017 L214 spent around $330,000, on undercover investigations and about $850,000 on corporate outreach, focusing on cage-free reforms. According to a document they provided to ACE, in 2016 L214 spent about $482,000 on campaigns, and $904,000 on investigations, not including some associated expenses that don’t belong to any program. It also seems that at least some of their campaigns were related to vegan advocacy rather than welfare reforms.
Albert Schweitzer Foundation (ASF): $0.8–$1.7 million According to ACE reviews, ASF’s spending on corporate outreach was about $917,000 in 2018, $270,000 in 2016, and $168,194 in 2014. However, table A 3.1 in ASF’s transparency report shows that a significant portion of that spending was on expanding plant-based offerings and welfare in the aquaculture industry. According to the report, ASF spending on welfare campaigns of land animals was $170,000 in 2016 and $279,000 in 2017. It’s unclear whether this includes associated administrative costs, whether other AFS’s activities were related to corporate campaigns, how much AFS spent in 2018, and whether the charity did activities related to broiler and chicken welfare campaigns before 2016.
Using this information, in the Guesstimate model I put my subjective 90% confidence intervals of how much each organization spent on activities related to corporate campaigns for each year between 2005 and 2018. It required some guesswork, especially for years before 2012.
A significant part of the funding for corporate campaigns by these and other organizations comes from the Open Philanthropy Project (OpenPhil). I categorized all Farm Animal Welfare grants given by OpenPhil here. According to my estimate, OpenPhil gave grants totaling:
- $25.9 million that are related to farm animal welfare, but (according to my subjective judgment) not related to corporate campaigns,
- $30.6 million that are relevant to corporate campaigns, but already included in the estimates above. This includes a $10 million grant to THL, most of which hasn’t been spent yet (it was given in August 2018).
- $8.8 million that were relevant for corporate broiler and cage-free campaigns and are not included in the estimates above,
- $5.1 million that are possibly relevant for corporate campaigns.
My subjective 90% confidence interval of the total amount granted by OpenPhil that was spent before the end of 2018 and is not included in the estimate above is $9.7–$14 million.
I think that now the estimate includes most of the spending on corporate campaigns, but it excludes some of the spending by organizations like RSPCA, Compassion Over Killing, Animals Australia, Humane Society International, Anima, and various members of the Open Wing Alliance. Note that some Open Wing Alliance members are funded through THL, and this funding is already included. Finally, some relevant work early on was also done by PETA. My subjective 90% confidence interval of spending that is still not included is $2.8–$10 million.
After summing all these numbers up in Guesstimate, I get that the total spending is $70–$100 million. After adjusting for inflation, it’s $74–$110 million. However, I think that this confidence interval is too narrow because Guesstimate treats confidence intervals for each year as independent, but they are not. For example, if I underestimated how much HSUS spent on corporate campaigns in 2012, I most likely underestimated HSUS spending in 2013 as well. Furthermore, OpenPhil (2016) estimates that “about $2.5 million has been spent in total on corporate cage-free campaigns” until the article was written in 2016. According to my estimation, $17 million to $38 million was spent on activities related to corporate campaigns between 2005 and 2015. Even though, contrary to the OpenPhil estimate, my estimate includes some related undercover investigations and other expenses, OpenPhil estimate makes me think that most likely I overestimated how much was spent in this period. To account for these considerations, I widen my confidence interval of the total spending on activities related to corporate campaigns to $54–$120 million.
I also asked Lewis Bollard to guess how much of the spending was related to broiler campaigns rather than cage-free campaigns each year. His educated guesses can be seen in the table below. I converted them all to subjective confidence intervals and estimated that the total spending on broiler campaigns is $16–$42 million. Note that I consider undercover investigations about broiler conditions to be relevant to broiler campaigns. If I didn’t, the spending on broiler campaigns before 2016 would be close to zero.
The mean of my 90% confidence intervals for 2005-2015 is higher than Bollard’s estimate because a significant portion of relevant spending in that time was on undercover investigations, and it seems that there was a similar number of investigations about hens and broilers, although I'm unsure.
Other costs that could be included
When doing cost-effectiveness estimates, it’s not trivial to determine which costs to take into account because so many outcomes are interdependent. In this section, I explain why I decided to exclude some costs, how it could be argued that they should be included, and how would their inclusion change the cost-effectiveness estimate.
Future costs of ensuring compliance to commitments
In the Follow-through rate section , I mentioned that one disadvantage of this estimate is that it doesn’t take into account future costs that may have to be spent on ensuring compliance. Ways to ensure compliance are listed in Šimčikas (2019).
CIWF’s statement of transparency claims that:
After consultation with other farmed animal welfare organizations and experts, we decided that the cost and effort of obtaining an initial commitment comprises 50 percent of an organization’s overall cost. The remaining 50 percent of the cost is attributed to following up with a company in subsequent years to assure the details of the commitment are implemented and deadlines are met.
Note that in the citation above, the costs of obtaining commitments probably doesn’t include the costs of related activities like undercover investigations done in years prior. Nevertheless, if we assumed that ensuring the compliance to commitments that are already won will cost as much as was spent on all activities associated with corporate campaigns between 2005 and 2018 ($54M to $120M), we would need to divide the cost-effectiveness estimate by two. In my opinion, that wouldn’t change the conclusion that corporate campaigns are very cost-effective, but it’s possible that ensuring compliance will cost even more. Note that for the sake of simplicity and being conservative, I assumed that follow-through rates would remain the same.
Ballot initiatives and lobbying
I decided to exclude the costs and impact of legislative initiatives from the main estimation because I thought that their cost-effectiveness is a separate topic that should be addressed on its own. That would allow us to compare the cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns and legislative initiatives. However, I'm unsure if excluding legislative costs was the right decision.
According to Josh Balk from HSUS, corporate and legal bans feed off each other in a positive way, and it was the combination of passing laws and working with corporate entities that has driven the issue forward. “Legislators want to know what corporations are doing, and corporations want to know what legislators are doing, so both types of effort help each other.” Hence, it could be argued that it doesn’t make sense to estimate the cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns without including the costs of achieving relevant animal welfare laws.
There have been several relevant ballot initiatives in the U.S.:
- California's Proposition 2 (2008) which banned battery cages within California. Animal Charity Evaluators (2018a) cites HSUS’s work on this proposition as leading to 2015 McDonald’s cage-free commitment, which preceded a series of similar commitments from other companies. At the time, it was expected that the legislation will cause producers to go cage-free, which may have made companies less reluctant to make cage-free pledges. According to ballotpedia.org, $10.5 million was spent on the “yes” campaign for the proposition.
- Massachusetts Question 3 (2016) banned the sale and production of eggs from hens raised in battery cages within the state. It also established space minimum requirements that might have made the option of caging hens less appealing to the producers, increasing the probability that they will go cage-free (rather than switch to enriched cages). According to ballotpedia.org, $2.7 million was spent on the “yes” campaign.
- California’s Proposition 12 (2018) fixed some of the problems of Proposition 2, and banned the sale and production of caged eggs in the state. I already took into account the effect this legislation will have in California, but it might also increase the follow-through rate in the whole U.S. as it is another signal to egg producers that the future is cage-free. According to ballotpedia.org, $12.5 million was spent on the “yes” campaign.
According to ballotpedia.org data cited above, about $25.7 million was spent on these initiatives in total. Since my estimated spending on cage-free campaigns is $36–$84 million, including costs associated with these initiatives would significantly increase the costs. However, initiatives in California and Massachusetts also introduced legislation regarding calves and pigs. Hence it could be said that this spending is only partially relevant.
HSUS work also led to Washington banning the sale and production of eggs from caged hens, Oregon banning the sale and production of eggs from caged hens for egg producers with more than 3,000 hens, and Ohio placing a moratorium on building new battery cages. According to a private conversation with Lewis Bollard, the costs of victories in Washington and Ohio were low. Note that legislation that bans battery cages may also help cage-free commitments because enriched cages are more expensive, which makes it less profitable for producers to keep hens caged.
Another related effort by animal advocates was fighting The King Amendment (in 2013 and 2018) which would have preempted all meaningful state laws on the farm animal welfare. According to Bollard, it’s unclear how much was spent on this effort, but the total associated costs probably did not exceed $5 million and possibly were much lower. This suggests that taking these costs into account would only slightly decrease the estimated cost-effectiveness.
Finally, there was also some spending associated with fighting ag-gag laws (which seek to criminalize undercover investigations on factory farms), but it’s unclear if these efforts allowed any undercover investigations of hen or broiler conditions. Hence it could be argued that this spending is unrelated to cage-free and broiler welfare reforms.
I’m unsure how significant are the costs associated with legislative campaigns in other countries. In a 2017 conversation, Lewis Bollard claims that his “impression is that European animal welfare reforms have, in general, been driven more by the efforts of technocratic officials than by organized advocacy groups, with the exception of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), which has contributed through organizing, lobbying, and petitioning.“ Currently, there is an ongoing legislative initiative by animal charities to end cages within the EU.
Supporting animal welfare movement
Some organizations don’t work on corporate campaigns directly, but support their work in other ways. For example:
- Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) helps to ensure that the best charities receive more funding, do some relevant research and assist animal organizations in other ways. According to their website, they spent about $2.1 million between 2014 and 2018.
- Encompass fosters racial diversity and inclusivity in animal welfare movement. It was founded in 2017. From their first-year report, it seems that their funding is under $150,000.
- 80,000 Hours possibly helps with finding talent, but most of its resources are spent on activities that are not relevant.
Overall, while spending by such organizations could be relevant, only a fraction of their spending could be related to corporate campaigns, and I think that including such costs would only make a small difference on the final result.
Other activities that are loosely related to corporate campaigns but not included in the costs estimate are:
- Welfare reforms for other farm animals, including phasing out gestation crates, veal crates, and fur. It could be argued that they created precedent and momentum for animal welfare movement, and increased the legitimacy of some animal organizations, which helped the effectiveness of cage-free and broiler campaigns. In Europe and the U.S., these costs are already in the past and not relevant when considering future cost-effectiveness. In countries where concern for animal welfare is not yet common, such campaigns could be useful as a stepping stone to build up to cage-free and broiler campaigns. However, I think that the cost-effectiveness of such campaigns should be estimated separately. Furthermore, this effect might be balanced-out by cage-free and broiler campaigns creating a precedent and momentum for other asks (e.g., fish welfare campaigns).
- At least some vegan/vegetarian/reducetarian advocacy may have made people more aware and more likely to care about how animals are treated, especially individual outreach that emphasized cruelty. Such outreach can take many forms: documentaries, books, conversations, ads, leaflets, etc. This is speculative, but for some charities, doing these activities can maybe help to create a following that can then be used for corporate campaigns. Furthermore, many people who now work or volunteer for corporate campaigns became interested in animal issues because of vegan outreach, which means that some of the current success of corporate campaigns could be attributed to vegan outreach done many years ago. However, I think that this would be going too far down the causal chain. I think we shouldn’t include costs of vegan outreach for the same reason we shouldn’t include the costs of schools that animal activists went to. That is, the resulting estimate would be less helpful for deciding whether to fund more corporate campaigns.
- Farm animal sanctuaries that are open to the public. They enable people to interact with farm animals, which may increase empathy for them, which could help corporate campaigns. However, the effect is very indirect and probably minor, while the costs are very high. For example, the total functional expenses of the charity Farm Sanctuary between 2005 and 2017 were over $98 million. Also, sanctuaries could have adverse effects on welfare reforms by giving some people a false impression that farm animals are living in acceptable conditions.
- Fundraising costs, and programs that are done for the purpose of fundraising. I think these should not be included in the costs because they pay for themselves, and are not relevant for donors who are considering funding corporate campaigns.
According to the National Chicken Council, the mean slaughter age for broilers is 47 days in the U.S. According to the European Commission (2016), in the EU broilers are slaughtered at the average age of 42 days. In my the Guesstimate model, I use a 90% confidence interval of 43 to 48 days. The estimate is closer to the U.S. average because according to my estimate, most (53% to 90%) of the affected broilers are in the U.S. If we multiply this by the number of broilers affected per dollar (1.7 to 720), we get that 0.2 to 90 broiler-years are affected per dollar spent on broiler campaigns.
In the case of cage-free commitments, we estimated how many hens are affected at any point in time. This means that to get the number of hen-years that were shifted from caged to cage-free systems, we only need to multiply the estimated number of hens affected every year by the predicted mean years of impact. To estimate how many hen lifetimes will be affected, we need to divide this result by the average time hens spend in cages. According to an Animal Charities Evaluators estimate, it is 1.27±0.14 years.
Note that this figure excludes the first 16 weeks of hen’s life during which they don’t lay eggs. CIWF claims in this period they “are normally raised at a growing site, typically a barn system although more farms are beginning to rear in the type of systems that the birds will eventually lay in.” If many hens are kept in systems they will eventually lay in, that increases the number of years affected by cage-free commitments because some hens will become cage-free during the first 16 weeks of their lives as well. However, I do not take that into account for the sake of simplicity, and because I think it would probably be challenging to find what percentage of hens this applies to.
Ways this estimate could be misleading
In this section, I list considerations that were not taken into account in the cost-effectiveness estimate but could impact our opinion about the cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns. I skip factors that I already discussed in previous sections.
If a consideration should increase the cost-effectiveness corporate campaigns, I mark it with (+). If it decreases, I mark it with (-). If it’s unclear whether it increases or decreases cost-effectiveness, I mark it with (?). The number of symbols in the parentheses shows how important I consider the argument to be. For example, (+++) denotes considerations that I think greatly increase the cost-effectiveness, (++) denotes moderate increase, and (+) denotes a slight increase. Note that the strength of each consideration is based only on my subjective opinion.
In the estimate, I only consider the direct short-term effects of corporate campaigns. However, they also have many indirect effects that could be more important:
- (+++) In the costs estimate, I included the costs of undercover investigations which have many other positive effects. Most importantly, they increase public awareness and concern about farm animal suffering which could lead to a variety of positive impacts in both the short term and the long term. Corporate campaigns may also have a similar effect.
- (++) Undercover investigations and corporate campaigns also aided legal and legislative efforts to help farmed animals.
- (+) This is very speculative, but welfare campaigns could influence scientists to work on cultured meat and eggs by showing and reminding them that cruelty in egg and chicken production is an important and unsolved issue.
- Adopting welfare reforms would affect how many animals are farmed for food:
(- - -) The broiler ask includes a requirement to use higher welfare breeds which generally grow more slowly. But using slower growing broiler breeds would increase the number of broilers that have to be alive at any point in time to produce the same amount of meat. The issue has been discussed in more detail by Animal Charity Evaluators (2017a).
(+++) Welfare reforms may increase the price of chicken and eggs, and consequently, reduce consumption and production.
- (- - -) Some animal rights advocates argue that welfare reforms may be ineffective or even counterproductive to the goal of abolition of all animal exploitation, which they feel should be the goal of animal advocacy. They worry that advocating for welfare reforms suggests that treating animals as property and killing them can be acceptable. Furthermore they argue that consumers are misled by reforms into thinking that animals now live in humane conditions, which makes it more difficult to achieve more radical changes (see PETA (2017), Wrenn and Johnson (2013), Burns (2015)). However, there are also arguments and pieces of evidence that suggest that reforms could lead to a momentum for animal advocacy movement rather than complacency. See an excellent summary of arguments for both sides in Sentience Institute (2018). Also note that this disagreement about whether welfare reforms should be pursued causes infighting within animal advocacy, which could hurt our credibility.
- (- -) According to King (2019), some producers react to cage-free commitments by building new cage-free facilities, but not destroying old conventional caged houses which don’t yet need to be replaced. This could increase the overall amount of hens (and suffering) in the short term. I don't know how significant this effect is, it might deserve further research.
- (-) Shifts to higher welfare products can be costly, which can hurt the economy and put some people into difficult financial situations. King (2019) claims that cage-free production requires more skilled workers, which could mean that people who don’t have required skills could lose their jobs.
- (-) National Chicken Council argues that slower growing broiler breeds will have higher environmental costs: more feed, fuel, land, and water will be needed. Similarly, according to Xin et al. (2011), “hens in noncage houses are less efficient in resource (feed, energy, and land) utilization, leading to a greater carbon footprint.” Note that in general, environmental effects of chicken and eggs seem to be significantly smaller than effects of pork, lamb, and beef. For example, see Animal Charity Evaluators (2018b) for a comparison of water and carbon footprints.
- (???) Since welfare reforms have environmental effects, they also have an impact on wild animal welfare. I will not speculate about whether these effects are positive or negative, but it’s possible that this is a dominant consideration when considering the overall short-term impact of welfare reforms on animal suffering.
- (???) It’s unclear whether corporate campaigns could have some effect on the long-term future. For example, welfare reforms could increase the probability of animal farming being used thousands or even millions of years into the future by suggesting that farming animals can be acceptable if animals are treated better. Or it could decrease this probability by making animal farming more expensive and spreading the concern about farm animal suffering. Whether animals are being farmed in the future could determine whether animal farming will be spread in interstellar colonization efforts. Of course, all of this is extremely speculative, and it seems unlikely that corporate campaigns could have this kind of impact. However, it could be argued that even a small probability of corporate campaigns impacting far future could dominate the cost-effectiveness estimate.
- (???) Black Swans: I’m not sure that I considered all of the most important effects. The most important outcome of corporate campaigns could be difficult to foresee.
- (??) Welfare reforms affect pre-slaughter mortality, which influences how many animals need to be grown to meet the demand. The difference in mortality between aviary (cage-free) and battery cage systems for hens is examined in Cotra (2017). According to it, the hypothesis that best explains the evidence is that aviaries have an abnormally high mortality in a “transition period” while farmers learn best practices for managing an aviary system and breeders adapt hen strains for the new environment. The post-transition mortality in aviaries might be roughly similar to mortality in battery cages, though the author is uncertain whether that will be the case. I would guess that the mortality of higher welfare broilers will be lower, but I haven’t seen any research on this question.
Why cost-effectiveness in the future might be different
I estimated cost-effectiveness of past campaigns. There are many reasons why cost-effectiveness going forward might be different:
(++) The estimate includes some costs that will not have to be spent again, like setting up animal welfare organizations, building expertise and momentum. In other words, the costs I estimated resulted not only in achieved commitments, but also the infrastructure that can be used to achieve more commitments in the future, including fish welfare commitments. Such infrastructure still has to be created in some countries though, but even then the expertise built in other countries helps, as animal activists can share knowledge.
(- - -) It’s unclear how many good asks we have. Requiring for hens to be cage-free is a great ask because it makes a big difference for a large number of animals, relatively cheap to implement, is easy to understand for the public, it’s easy to see whether producers are complying to the requirement, and it doesn’t require the invention of any new technologies. It could be argued that the broiler ask ticks less of these boxes. In particular, it’s more difficult for the public to understand it. It could be that there aren’t many other good asks that animal advocacy movement can demand, which would mean that we should expect lower cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns going forward.
(- -) Companies learn, and the same strategies may not work forever. However, animal activists learn and adapt as well, arguably at a faster pace because they spend more time on campaigns. That said, if animal organisations will have to use different tactics in the future to adapt to learning companies, the cost-effectiveness of past campaigns might still be not predictive of the cost-effectiveness of future campaigns.
(- -) Regression to the mean. So far, corporate campaigns had an unusually high impact per dollar spent compared to other interventions. It might not be reasonable to expect such unusual cost-effectiveness to continue indefinitely.
(-) Future campaigns could become less effective due to an oversaturation of similar campaigns. If people get used to seeing companies being shamed for using low welfare products, they might pay less attention to each individual campaign, understanding that almost all the choices of animal products require suffering. This could lead to them reducing animal product consumption, but it could also lead to indifference to corporate campaigns.
(-) Animal activists might have already picked low hanging fruits by campaigning against most suitable sectors and companies.
(-) As I explain in Šimčikas (2019), there were some unusual circumstances that may have made companies more likely to make cage-free pledges in the U.S. In turn, this may have made pledges easier to win elsewhere as many countries look at the western countries as an example of what to do. If that was a significant factor, the cost-effectiveness of some past cage-free campaigns is less indicative of the cost-effectiveness we should expect going forward.
Additional funding to corporate campaigns might lead to expansion to other countries. But cost-effectiveness in these other countries might be very different than in Europe and the U.S., where most of the campaigns happened so far, because:
- (++) Animal advocacy movement has learned a lot about how to do corporate campaigns and wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.
- (+) In most countries labour is cheaper than in Europe and the U.S. which would decrease the costs
- (- -) In Europe and the U.S., there was already a long history of animal activism and somewhat widespread public concern for farmed animals in 2005, but in many other countries (e.g. China and Ukraine) such concern is still uncommon. To make progress in such countries, activist may first have to invest in creating such a concern.
- (- -) Most of the progress in the U.S. and Europe has been achieved by campaigning against grocers. However, in some countries like India and Mexico, most eggs and chicken are bought in informal markets, rather than in grocers like Walmart or Tesco that could be targets of corporate campaigns. This limits what corporate campaigns can achieve in these countries.
- (- -) Other countries might have different circumstances and culture (especially corporate culture). For example, in developing countries, people might be more opposed to price increases that are associated with welfare reforms. In Brazil, it might be more difficult for campaigns to get attention because there are so many other issues and initiatives. It could be that in countries like Japan, it's not appropriate to engage in shaming campaigns the way it is done in the U.S. Finally, producers might be more resistant to changes in countries that have no cage-free production that could be scaled up.
- (-) All things being equal, we should expect corporate campaigns to help more animals per dollar in countries with high egg and chicken consumption. According to the 2018 issue of Poultry Trends (page 10), per capita poultry consumption in the U.S. and the EU is much higher than in other parts of the World (except Latin America and the Carribean). The U.S. and Europe also have significantly higher per capita egg consumption compared to other parts of the world (see the chart below).
(??) A much more significant percentage of spending in the future will be on ensuring compliance. The cost-effectiveness of this spending could be different.
(??) Cultured meat and eggs may change the landscape of the food industry. That could change the cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns in a variety of ways.
How this estimate could be incorrect
(+++) Once the majority of hens in the region are cage-free, it could eventually lead to all hens becoming cage-free within that region. After the deprecation period of caged systems (which is about 30 years), producers are unlikely to build new caged systems if most companies will refuse to buy caged eggs. Furthermore, producers may be afraid of further cage-free campaigns. It’s a similar situation with broiler welfare changes: either a minority, or almost all producers within a region will adopt higher welfare products. As a result, I may have underestimated the number of animals that will eventually benefit from corporate campaigns victories, because commitments could also eventually affect what eggs and broilers are used by companies that made no commitments. If all this is true, perhaps a better cost-effectiveness model would estimate the probability of various regions (e.g., U.S., Brazil, East Europe) going 100% cage-free and multiply those probabilities by hen populations within those regions, rather than try to estimate the number of hens covered by commitments.
(+) The estimate includes some of the costs, but none of the benefits of campaigns that were ongoing as of the end of 2018 (e.g., Mcdonald’s broiler campaign).
(+) In the estimation, I did not include the effects of 2016 United Egg Producers’ (representatives of more than 95 percent of egg production in the U.S.) commitment to stop the culling of day-old male chicks by 2020 or as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible.
(- -) My knowledge about corporate campaigns comes mostly from talking with people who work on them or support them. But these are the people who are also most likely to be optimistic about corporate campaigns. This might have biased me towards viewing corporate campaigns too optimistically.
(-) If only a few companies within a country commit to going cage-free, and there is already some cage-free production in the country, companies with no commitments could switch from cage-free eggs to caged eggs, and commitments could theoretically be fulfilled without any change in egg production. However, commitments would still increase the demand for cage-free eggs, which would probably eventually increase production. Note that this is not a significant concern in countries like the U.S., where the percentage of eggs covered by commitments is much higher than the production of caged eggs. Also, I am not sure it is a significant concern in any countries since companies are probably buying cage-free eggs for a reason, and probably wouldn’t switch back to caged eggs when the public is becoming more concerned about chicken welfare.
(-) In the charity sector, employees often take lower salaries than the ones they could get working in other sectors. It’s possible that some of them would have donated some of the additional money they would have earned, or would have volunteered in their free time. Unfortunately, it would be very difficult to take such lost contributions into the account. We should just be aware that a charity may be less cost-effective than estimates suggest if it employs people who would have made significant altruistic contributions even if they weren’t employed by that charity. Note that this consideration applies to almost any cause.
(???) Model uncertainty. If I had chosen to model the cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns differently, I could have gotten substantially different results. For example:
- I'm unsure if including the costs of undercover investigations and excluding the costs of legislative initiatives was the right choice.
- I'm unsure if including the costs and benefits of campaigns that go as far back as 2005 was the right choice.
- Maybe I should have used a cluster approach or Bayesian updating to estimate some of the values.
- Maybe I should have taken into account some of the indirect effects that I list in the subsection above.
- Finally, I could have made some errors within the model.
(??) The estimate doesn’t take into account the costs and indirect effects of volunteer work on corporate campaigns (see the first appendix).
(??) Many pitfalls of interpreting cost-effectiveness estimates within animal advocacy are explained by Sethu (2018). In short, we must think on the margin, and not confuse short-term efficiency for long-term impact, because all outcomes in animal advocacy are very interdependent. I encourage readers to read the full blog post.
It’s unclear whether combined, these considerations should increase or decrease how cost-effective we should consider corporate campaigns to be. In total, there are 3 considerations that I marked as (+++), 3 as (++), 4 as (+), 3 as (- - -), 7 as (- -), and 8 as (-).
- Are reforms good for animals? Even though most agree that advocated changes will benefit the animals, there is some discussion about it. For example, Capriati (2018) claims that their subjective probability of cage-free and broiler policies causing harm is between 5 and 10%.
- The effect of the transition to cage-free housing on hen welfare is analyzed in detail in Cotra (2017). Note that if cage-free campaigns never happened, many hens may have been kept in enriched cages rather than battery cages. This is especially true in the EU where battery cages are banned (see Stevenson (2012)). The difference between battery cages and enriched cages is explained here. Furthermore, the significance of going cage-free also depends on what cage-free system is used (barn, organic, or free range).
- As discussed before, one of the requirements in the broiler ask is using higher welfare breeds, which tend to grow more slowly. Consequently, broilers would need to suffer the life in poor conditions for longer.
- I estimated the cost-effectiveness of all corporate campaigns put together, but I think that there is a high variance in cost-effectiveness within the spending associated with corporate campaigns. Some costly activities may have had little to no impact, while other activities had an even higher impact per dollar spent. I think that in many cases informed donors could have predicted which opportunities would be more cost-effective in advance.
- I do not discuss room for more funding in this article. Cost-effectiveness of an additional million dollars invested in corporate campaigns might be different (most likely lower) because it would be spent differently (e.g., on advertising instead of staff). It seems that many more campaigns could be funded as there is no shortage of potential targets around the world. However, as already discussed, activists are probably already focusing on the most suitable targets, so the campaign that a marginal dollar would fund is likely to be less cost-effective. Of course, more money could also be spent on existing corporate campaigns (especially when it comes to advertising), but there are probably diminishing returns here as well. Also note that charities that do corporate campaigns have been growing at a fast pace in the last five years, and it’s an open question how much more this growth can be sped up with additional funding without sacrificing quality.
- Since some charities that do corporate campaigns also have other programs (e.g., vegan advocacy), donating to these charities could result in increased spending on these other programs rather than campaigns, even if donations are restricted to corporate campaigns.
I estimated that for every dollar spent on cage-free and broiler corporate campaigns, 9 to 120 chicken years are affected. I am pleasantly surprised that such a big difference can be made at the cost of just one dollar. Consequently, I would strongly consider donating money to activities related to corporate campaigns. I don’t know of any other altruistic intervention that has this much impact per dollar spent at reasonable robustness of the evidence.
There are many ways this estimate could be misleading, but my intuition is that none of them would change the conclusion that these campaigns have a very big (and most likely positive) short-term impact relative to their costs. However, indirect effects on animal product consumption, moral circle expansion, and wild animal welfare could be more important than direct effects, and I am uncertain if they are positive. Perhaps these effects should be examined in further research.
Working on this estimate also made me appreciate the complexity of truly estimating the cost-effectiveness of anything. There are so many factors that I wouldn’t even know how to take into account.
Appendix 1: Pessimistic estimation
In this appendix, I will use very pessimistic assumptions to estimate the lower bound of chicken-years affected by corporate campaigns. For the main estimate, I used software called Guesstimate, where even the lower bound of the final result is influenced by more optimistic upper bounds of my subjective 90% confidence intervals for values like the follow-through rate and mean years of impact. In this appendix, I will see what happens if I don’t use Guesstimate, and simply use pessimistic point estimates for all the parameters. That is, I use lower bounds of my subjective 90% confidence intervals for the number of chickens covered, follow-through rate, and mean years of impact, and the upper bound of the estimated costs.
As can be seen in the table above, it is possible that relatively few broilers will be affected by commitments, and for this pessimistic estimation, their number can be rounded down to zero. However, even if I use the most pessimistic assumptions that I think could be reasonable, I get that cage-free campaigns affected 5.5 hen-years per dollar spent. If we take into account the costs of broiler campaigns and assume that they will help no animals at all, the number of hen-years affected per dollar goes down to 3.7. If we included the costs of ballot initiatives and lobbying in the U.S. (at most $40 million) and the budget of Animal Charity Evaluators ($2.1 million), the number would go down to 2.7 hen-years. If we assumed that another $200 million would be spent on ensuring compliance to commitments that are already won, and didn’t increase the follow-through rate accordingly, we would get that corporate campaigns affect 1.25 hen-years per dollar spent. In my opinion, that is still very cost-effective compared to most altruistic interventions. All calculations in this appendix can be seen here.
Appendix 2: Volunteers
I haven’t seen any cost-effectiveness taking into account volunteer time. I’m unsure about how to do it. To illustrate why we might want to take it into account in some way, imagine many volunteers collaborating to do corporate campaigns without any paid coordinators, and only having a small budget that is spent on snacks. If we estimated how many animals these volunteers affect per dollar spent, the number could be very high. However, the estimate wouldn’t be very meaningful. For example, we shouldn’t expect their impact to double if we double their funding for snacks. Theoretically, additional funding could even have no effect.
This hypothetical scenario is not necessarily far-fetched. Co-founder of Open Cages Dobrosława Gogłoza claims that Open Cages “initially operated entirely on a voluntary basis — I myself started working full-time in my own organization only in the 5th year of its operation.” Even though Open Cages now has many paid employees, volunteers participate in the organization on every level: as investigators, fundraisers, IT specialists, lawyers, graphic designers, corporate outreach specialists, lobbyists, campaign coordinators, volunteer coordinators, copywriters, film directors, event organizers, board members, etc.
I asked Jakub Stencel, who works at Open Cages, to estimate how much volunteer time is spent by volunteers in Poland. His subjective 90% confidence interval was that there are 50–70 volunteers who work 5–15 hours a week, and 180–230 volunteers who work 2–6 hours a week. That means that there are 610–2,430 volunteer hours spent every week, which is 15 to 61 full-time equivalents. I estimated this by simply dividing the number of hours per week by 40. For comparison, Dobrosława Gogłoza claims that Open Cages have 22 employees in Poland. If volunteers were paid Poland’s minimum wages, together they would be paid $105,000 to $423,000 per year. Note that not all volunteers work on tasks that are related to animal welfare corporate campaigns. For example, 15%–20% of volunteer time is spent on corporate campaigns to encourage companies to use vegan ingredients, increase the portfolio of plant-based options, and expand vegan options in menus.
Though volunteer time in Open Cages is significant, it may be an extreme example. To my knowledge, there is no other relevant organization that depends on volunteers to the same extent. But it seems that most animal charities that do corporate campaigns use volunteers for many important tasks like:
- Writing emails and letters to companies (e.g. Hen Heroes, Fast Action Network)
- Using social media to put pressure on companies
- Organising action parties
- Attending protests
Note that it’s not at all clear that volunteer time should be treated as a cost. Volunteering can make people more engaged in animal issues which leads to contributions of other kinds, like eating a vegan diet, donating money to animal charities, encouraging friends to take action, and looking for employment opportunities within animal advocacy. It can also act as training for jobs within animal advocacy. Volunteering may also bring personal benefits, like giving opportunities to make friends and giving more sense of meaning to life. Volunteering at more complex tasks like marketing, communications, or IT, can also provide career experience, industry knowledge, and credentials like internships that can be put on their resumes.
Overall, my intuition is that this consideration should not change the conclusion that corporate campaigns have a very high short-term impact relative to their costs.
Appendix 3: Previous cost-effectiveness estimates
- Bollard (2016) explains the OpenPhil’s reasoning behind the initial grants to support corporate cage-free reforms. It contains a simple cost-effectiveness estimate that doesn’t take into account things like the probability that pledges will be implemented, hens that would have been cage-free without the campaigns, etc.:
[C]onservatively assuming that the campaigns only accelerated pledges by five years, these campaigns will spare about 250 hens a year of cage confinement per dollar spent. And even if you add the $1.5 million disbursement for the first year of our three grants, and the ~$12.5 million (at most) spent both on Prop 2 in 2008 and all egg undercover investigations ever done in the U.S., these campaigns will still spare about 38 hens a year of cage confinement per dollar spent.
- Dickens (2016) made an estimate that used the information from the quote above to estimate that cage-free campaigns have an effect equivalent of 204.7 QALYs per dollar spent (σ=0.56). Interestingly, the estimate takes into account the values spreading effect and room for more funding. However, I think that the confidence intervals used in the model are too narrow.
- Capriati (2018) from Founders Pledge made a detailed estimate according to which, between 2015 and 2018, “THL has achieved an outcome roughly as good as 10 hen-years shift from battery cages to aviaries per dollar received.”
- Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) crudely estimates a subjective 90% confidence interval of the number of animals spared by various charities every year. 2018 CEE Model for The Humane League estimates that THL did the equivalent of sparing -8 to 21 animals per dollar spent in 2018. The negative value in the lower bound is partly due to the uncertainty about whether cage-free and broiler reforms are positive for animals. If we ignore this uncertainty, by modifying the model, we can see that according to ACE estimates, THL’s corporate campaigns affected 2.2 to 150 broilers, and 0.02 to 69 hens per dollar spent. However, since this is just one part of one of many models that ACE produces every year, it contains little detail. For example, with the exception of few very big commitments, it estimates the number of animals affected by multiplying the number of commitments by the average number of animals affected per commitment per year (which is 1,700 to 4.3 million for cage-free commitments and 100,000 to 7.8 million for broiler commitments). ACE uses the same averages for all charities. This results in very wide confidence intervals which could be made more narrow by a more detailed investigation. Note that cost-effectiveness estimates are only a small part of ACE’s work. For example, it’s just one of seven criteria that ACE uses to evaluate charities.
Appendix 4: Why I chose to estimate the cost-effectiveness for all charities, all countries, and all years?
Some of the estimates I reviewed in the previous appendix make cost-effectiveness estimates for one charity and one year. I decided to include all the years, all the charities, and all the countries in my estimate because otherwise, the result could be misleading. In this appendix, I explain why. Note that I’m uncertain if it was the right decision.
Why for all countries and all charities?
Victories in one country can make victories in other countries easier. For example, Bollard (2017a) claims that U.S. cage-free campaigns were successful partly because they leveraged U.K. progress where activists won a key commitment from McDonald’s. If, hypothetically, winning that one key commitment in the U.K. was very expensive, then excluding its cost from the U.S. cage-free campaigns costs could lead to a misleading result. Similarly, the U.S. progress can now be leveraged by trying to get the same companies to go cage-free in other countries like Mexico. Furthermore, progress in the U.S. and the U.K. makes the cage-free ask seem much more legitimate in many other countries.
Some of the most important commitments are global. For example, in 2018, Marriott International has made a global cage-free commitment following an aggressive public campaign by 59 major animal protection organizations from many different countries. It would be very complicated to determine how much efforts in one country or by one charity influenced such commitments.
Different charities can play different roles, which makes it difficult to estimate the impact of any one charity. One charity could do undercover investigations, another could research the best asks, another could secure commitments, and all of these charities might be necessary for the success. For example, CIWF’s work on EggTrack and ChickenTrack is valuable only because other charities push these companies to make commitments and can use the information in these reports to see if reinforcement campaigns are needed.
Why since for all years 2005?
If, for example, I would only estimate cost-effectiveness of cage-free commitments during 2016, when many companies committed to going cage-free, I would be at the risk of excluding much of the costs that were needed to prepare for these victories: setting up charities, doing undercover investigations, and trying to secure some initial key commitments. The resulting cost-effectiveness estimate would be too high, and may not be representative of cost-effectiveness we should expect in the future campaigns. For example, once we transition to a different ask (e.g., to improve farmed fish welfare), the costly work of securing key commitments has to be done again.
Any choice of year where to begin will be arbitrary. I choose the year 2005 because according to Bollard (2017a) that is when “farm animals became a bigger focus for animal advocates” and some cage-free campaigns began. Furthermore, according to Chicken Track, 2005 was also the year of first corporate cage-free pledges. Nevertheless, I believe that choosing a date that is as far back as 2005 is a conservative choice.
Andreyeva, T., Long, M. W., & Brownell, K. D. (2010). The impact of food prices on consumption: a systematic review of research on the price elasticity of demand for food. American journal of public health, 100(2), 216-222.
Animal Charity Evaluators. (2017a). When Will There Be Cost-competitive Cultured Animal Products?
Animal Charity Evaluators. (2017b). Response To A Recent Critique Of Our Research
Animal Charity Evaluators. (2018a). HSUS Farm Animal Protection Campaign
Animal Charity Evaluators. (2018b). Carbon And Water Footprints Of Diet Choices
Bollard, L. (2016). Initial Grants to Support Corporate Cage-Free Reforms.
Bollard, L. (2017a). Why Are the US Corporate Cage-Free Campaigns Succeeding?
Bollard, L. (2017b). Why This Could Be the Year of the Broiler Chicken
Bollard, L. (2018). How Can You Do The Most Good for Animals?
Burns, B. (2015). "An opiate to the conscience": welfarism as a step to animal liberation?
Capriati, M. (2018). Founders Pledge Cause Area Report - Animal Welfare.
Clements, M. (2016). The 5 largest poultry, egg producers in Europe
Corbett, J. (2018). What is the future of colony egg production in the UK?
Cotra, A. (2017). How Will Hen Welfare Be Impacted by the Transition to Cage-Free Housing? Note: the date and author are not mentioned in the report, but it is mentioned in a blog post announcing the report.
Dickens, M. (2016). A Complete Quantitative Model for Cause Selection
Elanco Animal Health. (2016). The sustainability impacts of slow-growing broiler production in
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Graber, R., Keller, J. (2018). Infographic: GAP broiler standard commitments
King, D. (2019). To meet cage-free pledges, industry will need to grow 3 times faster
OpenPhil (The Open Philanthropy Project). (2016). The Humane League — Corporate Cage-Free Campaigns
PETA. (2017). Why We Oppose California’s Farmed-Animal Initiative and You Should, Too
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Watson, E. (2016). The US egg market is recovering well, but will avian flu have a longer-term impact on industrial egg use?
Windhorst, H. W. (2017). Housing systems in laying hen husbandry – second part.
Wrenn, C. L., & Johnson, R. (2013). A critique of single-issue campaigning and the importance of comprehensive abolitionist vegan advocacy. Food, Culture & Society, 16(4), 651-668.
Xin, H., Gates, R. S., Green, A. R., Mitloehner, F. M., Moore, P. A., & Wathes, C. M. (2011). Environmental impacts and sustainability of egg production systems. Poultry Science, 90(1), 263-277.
This article is a project of Rethink Priorities. If you like our work, please consider subscribing to our newsletter. You can see all our work to date here.
The article was written by Saulius Šimčikas. Thanks to Jamie Spurgeon, Marcus A. Davis, Kieran Greig, and Lewis Bollard for reviewing parts of this post and making valuable comments. Also, thank you to so many animal advocates who patiently answered all my questions when I was doing this research for this article.
Cage-free campaigns request to keep egg-laying hens in cage-free systems rather than in battery cages or enriched cages. Cage-free systems include barns, aviaries, organic, and free-range systems. A comparison between different systems can be seen here. The effect of the transition to cage-free housing on hen welfare is analyzed in detail in Cotra (2017). ↩︎
The changes for broilers that animal advocates ask for can be seen here. Bollard (2017b) explains a bit more about what these changes mean for broilers. ↩︎
Explanation of some of the variables in the table:
- Chickens covered by commitments - how many hens companies that made cage-free pledges use, and how many broilers companies that made broiler commitments use
- Follow-through rate - what percentage of chickens covered by commitments will actually be affected.
- Mean years of impact - A predicted number of years commitments have an effect, assuming they will be followed through
In case the table is still unclear, here is a summary of the estimate in text form: I first estimate that 330–1,300 million broilers and 240–390 million hens should be affected by corporate cage-free and broiler commitments every year these policies have an effect, excluding estimated 79–180 million hens that are covered by commitments but would’ve been cage-free without the campaigns. However, I think that only 48%–85% of these hens, and 1–94% of broilers will be actually affected by these commitments, because not all companies will follow through. It’s very unclear for how long these policies will have an effect. I briefly overview all the ways commitments could stop being relevant (including legislative change, cultured eggs and chicken, bankruptcies, backslide due to economic incentives) and guess that on average, these commitments will have an effect for 4 to 36 years. This value is a bit higher due to the fact that the production of eggs and chicken is expected to grow. I then estimate that between 2005 and 2018, the total spending related to cage-free and broiler welfare corporate campaigns was $54–$120 million, of which about $16–$42 million was spent on broiler campaigns. Putting it all together, per every dollar spent on cage-free and broiler campaigns, 10–280 chickens will be affected. Combined, they will live 9.6 to 120 years, ignoring that lifespans of broilers will increase if slower-growing breeds will be used, and excluding the pullet phase of hen lives when they are in hatcheries where living conditions are not directly affected by cage-free promises. ↩︎
This includes global cage-free commitments that may include the U.S., which causes some double-counting. This is taken into account by slightly decreasing the number of hens covered by global commitments. ↩︎
For example, UK grocer Tesco claims to sell 1.4 billion eggs each year in about 3,500 stores. That means that on average, a Tesco store sells about 400,000 eggs each year. Iceland is another UK grocer with about 850 stores. Assuming that Iceland also sells about 400,000 eggs per store per year, we can estimate that Iceland sells about 340 million eggs. One hen lays about 270 eggs per year, so we can estimate that Iceland’s cage-free commitment will affect about 1.26 million hens per year. This is approximate because it’s possible that Iceland sells more (or less) eggs per store per year. In some other cases, estimates are even more approximate. For example, the number of hens used by a manufacturer PepsiCo was extrapolated from the number of hens used by General Mills US (another manufacturer), using revenue figures. Since these manufacturers produce different products, it's possible that the estimate is very inaccurate. ↩︎
Note that companies that only use one part of a chicken may have less leverage over the producers (relative to the number of chickens that should be affected) than companies that buy all parts of chickens from them. ↩︎
Numbers of locations of restaurants that made broiler welfare commitments in Europe:
- ASK Italian: 112 in the UK,
- Coco di Mama: 22 in London
- Zizzi: 140 in the UK and Ireland
- Pret A Manger: 360 in the U.K, less than 50 in France in 2017
- Prezzo: 208 in the UK and Ireland
- Carluccio's: 77 in the UK
- Paradiset: 3 stores in Sweden
- Kalf & Hansen: 3 in Sweden
- Icha Icha: 3 in Sweden
- Bastard Burgers: 21 in Sweden, another 6 planned
Based on Rabobank World Poultry Map 2018, I estimated that in 2017, the U.S. consumed 48 kg of poultry per capita, while the EU consumed 22 kg, more than two times less. However, the consumption differs substantially by country within the EU. For example, AHDB (2018) claims that the UK consumed 37.3 kg of poultry per capita in 2016. Note that poultry includes turkey and ducks, not just broilers, although most of the poultry consumption in the U.S. and the EU seems to be broilers. ↩︎
According to ChickenTrack, their commitment applies to the whole of Europe, but the commitment itself seems to only talk about the U.K. Marks & Spencer has 1035 stores in the U.K. and 428 internationally. ↩︎
This doesn’t include eggs that are exported from California, Washington state, Massachusetts and Oregon. According to the California's Department of Food and Agriculture, the state exported only $4 million worth of eggs in 2017, which should affect less than a million hens (perhaps much less). Even if exports in other states that have cage-free laws are significant, I’d expect them to decrease after the law comes into force, as financial incentives would probably cause producers in these states to move to other states with no cage-free law, or cater to a cage-free demand that would have been met by other producers anyway. However, to account for the possibility that this reasoning is incorrect, the upper bound of my subjective 90% confidence interval of the number of hens that would be cage-free without corporate campaigns is a little bit higher. ↩︎
The big German grocers that made global cage-free commitments are:
- Rewe: according to to their website, in 2016, REWE Group operated 14,728 stores in 19 European countries, of which 10,178 stores were in Germany.
- Lidl operates in 27 European countries, U.S., Singapore and Hong Kong. According to Wikipedia, around 3,300 of over 10,000 Lidl stores are in Germany.
- Aldi Süd: according to Wikipedia, Aldi Süd operates about 6,200 stores, of which 1,886 are in Germany, 1,873 in the U.S., 775 in the UK, 527 in Australia, and 1,110 in other European countries.
- Kaufland: according to Wikipedia, Kaufland operates in Germany (650 out of 1,200 stores), the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia
According to Sethu (2014), in 2013, there were 52.2 million broiler breeders alive during any given month. According to a USDA fact sheet, in 2014, the U.S. poultry industry produced 8.54 billion broilers. Assuming that a similar number of broilers was slaughtered in both years, we can estimate that for every 0.33 to 1.3 billion broilers slaughtered there are 2 to 8 million broiler breeders alive during any given month. ↩︎
Note that broiler breeders might be the worst kept animals in the farming industry. This is very speculative, but it’s possible that slower growing breeds will help them the most because they will have to be starved less to maintain an acceptable weight. If this is true, animal organizations could consider talking about broiler breeders more when campaigning for the broiler ask because their conditions might concern the public who may not even know about the horrible conditions in which they are raised. Note that broiler breeders are not mentioned in the broiler ask, so the use of the higher welfare (and probably slower growing) breeds might be the only requirement of the ask that affects them. ↩︎
For example, use ballot initiatives to pass laws like California's Proposition 12, despite their high costs. If such measures are not taken, companies could not only ignore their current commitments, but it could threaten the legitimacy of all future corporate animal welfare commitments as everyone would see such commitments as meaningless. ↩︎
Assuming that most of this growth is due to corporate campaigns, nearly 50 million hens were already affected, which is about 27% of the 160-210 million hens that are covered by U.S. cage-free commitments. However, some of this growth was probably due to legislation. ↩︎
I think that the 20% low is unreasonable because 19.8% layers are already cage-free and the percentage should rise due to California’s Proposition 12 and the commitments. I think that the 100% high is also not very realistic because King (2019) claims that to meet cage-free pledges in the U.S., the cage-free production will need to grow three times faster, but even if that happen, only about 70% of U.S. hens would be cage-free. ↩︎
Tracking the progress towards broiler commitments is planned in the future though. See ChickenTrack. ↩︎
Other approaches to dealing with the uncertainty of how many years commitments will have an effect include:
- CIWF USA’s Cost Effectiveness Estimate Statement of Transparency cites Bollard (2016) and ACE and also assumes that changes will have an effect for five years after a commitment is implemented. It also adds some additional years of impact based on the number of years between making the commitment and the deadline.
- Dickens (2016) uses a 90% confidence interval of 5-10 years and also discusses using a confidence interval of 3-10 years. It also cites Bollard (2016) as the source.
Note that the question is not unique to animal welfare commitments. It’s possible that there are more thought-out methodologies of estimating how long corporate commitments of other kinds have an effect. However, I haven’t seen any. ↩︎
See CIWF USA’s Cost Effectiveness Estimate Statement of Transparency for more reasoning along these lines. ↩︎
Another source says that it will cost U.S. companies more than $4 billion. According to United Egg Producers, it will cost more than $10 billion to go cage-free. Note that United Egg Producers is an egg interest group so they may be incentivized to overestimate this figure. ↩︎
Around $5.8 million in 2017, $9.4 million in 2016, $8.6 million in 2015, $9.4 million in 2014, $12.9 million in 2013, and $19.2 million in 2013. ↩︎
Also note that in 2016, HSUS received two grants for corporate outreach from OpenPhil, totalling at $1.5 million. ↩︎
Bollard (2018) assumed that in 2017 HSUS total spending related to farm animals was $15 million (⅛ of their budget), even though FAPC’s budget in 2017 was only $4 million (including activities unrelated to corporate campaigns, like institutional meat reduction program). The estimate by Lewis is so much bigger because it includes admin and fundraising costs. Similarly, in 2016 review, ACE pointed out that they “have very little sense how much HSUS spends on farmed animal issues outside the FAPC’s budget.” ↩︎
$160,036 in 2013, $322,677 in 2014, $211,659 in 2015, and $465,226 in 2016. ↩︎
Animal Equality’s spending on investigations was about $920,000 in 2018, $998,000 in 2017, $820,000 in 2016, $230,969 in 2015, and $104,610 in 2013. I guessed that in 2014 they spent $200,000. ↩︎
I think so because Animal Equality spent relatively little money on corporate outreach and investigations in 2013, and their budget was small in prior years. According to the 2014 ACE review, “they have operated on a very limited budget in past years (though this increased substantially in the two last years to $300,000/year)”. ↩︎
I used CPI Inflation Calculator from the U.S. Department of Labour website to compare the value of the U.S. dollar in January of each year to the value of the U.S. dollar in January 2019. Note that some of the spending was not in U.S. dollars, so this is only partially accurate. ↩︎
Bollard (2016) has some more details about that. It claims that $2.5 million was spent in the last few years, which suggests that not much money was spent before. ↩︎
To explain why, imagine a cost-profit analysis of selling vegan cakes. When calculating the total cost, you could include the costs of:
- selling cakes,
- producing cakes,
- creating a recipe,
- buying equipment to make cakes,
- acquiring skills needed to make cakes,
- creating a demand for cakes (e.g., advertising).
Which costs to include is determined by where you are in the process. If you already have a lot of cakes made, and you are thinking whether to throw them away or to set up a market stall and spend your day selling them, it would be a mistake to take the cost of producing those cakes into a consideration, at least from the point of view of maximizing the profit. On the other hand, if you don’t have the skills or equipment to make cakes, it would be a mistake to exclude these costs from your cost-profit analysis. ↩︎
For example, if the size of a commitment was estimated using the number of eggs used by a company, it was divided by the average number of eggs hens lay per year (~270), rather than per lifetime. That means that we can estimate the number of hen-years affected by simply multiplying the number of hens affected per year by Mean Years of Impact. ↩︎
I am very uncertain about how significant this effect is. Note that the issue was known when deciding on the ask and it was decided that it’s worth making the trade-off. Elanco Animal Health (2016) claims that the grow out time for slower growing breeds is 58 days, versus 44 days for conventional breeds. Furthermore, prime meat (breasts, wings, thighs, and legs) yield for slower growing breeds is 48%, versus 55% for conventional breeds. It follows that if slower growing breeds were adopted, 51% more broilers would need to be alive at any point in time to produce the same amount of prime meat. However, I haven’t found the source for the claims by Elanco Animal Health (2016), and I am not sure how much to trust them. It’s possible Elanco was funded by the animal industry to write the report. An older Poultry World study indicates that slow- and fast-growing broilers are slaughtered at near the same weight and yield very similar proportions of prime meat. Overall, the answer probably depends a lot on which higher-welfare breeds will be used. That is not currently known in the U.S. because U.S. companies are committing to use GAP-approved breeds, but GAP has not yet approved breeds, as they are waiting for the results of a study. ↩︎
For example, Lusk (2018) analyzed the market impacts of switching to slower growing broiler breeds. It concluded that “under the most likely scenario, we calculate that converting to slower growth breeds would increase retail chicken prices by 1.17% and reduce the amount of retail chicken sold by 0.91%, resulting in losses in producer profits of $3.5 billion/year.” It also claims that production costs would increase by about 14%. According to Elanco Animal Health (2016), using slower growing breeds would increase the market price per bird by a whopping 49%. I’m unsure of why these two sources provide such different numbers. Note that if the costs of complying with other requirements in the broiler ask were included (regarding stocking density, lighting, air quality, etc.), production costs would probably increase more. There is disagreement about how much cage-free reforms will increase the price of eggs. The effects that food prices have on chicken and egg consumption are analyzed in Andreyeva et al. (2010). Note that reduction in animal product prices could help to establish plant-based alternatives, cultured animal products, and other innovations could further decrease animal product consumption in the longer term. ↩︎
The source for the chart is All of Our World in Data which used 2017 FAO data. ↩︎
For example, producers could be reluctant to replace housing systems if they anticipate that soon they will have to be abandoned due to competition from cultured meat and eggs. ↩︎
Achieving the commitment seems to have required little resources from animal welfare organizations, so it would have increased the estimated cost-effectiveness. The commitment is discussed in more depth Capriati (2018). According to the report, it could spare suffering for 260 million chicks each year, but the suffering for each chick is brief, and there is only a 30% probability that United Egg Producers will follow through this commitment. ↩︎
ACE and Capriati (2018) estimate the impact of one charity that played a role in securing commitments together with other organizations by assigning a proportional responsibility. But this is very subjective. It could also lead to misleading conclusions. Imagine a hypothetical scenario where two charities are needed: charity A that secures corporate commitments to use higher welfare broiler breeds, and charity B that develops higher welfare breeds that could be used. We decide that each of these charities should get half of the credit for the change that we want to happen, and estimate that charity A will help many more animals in expectation per dollar spent. It would be a mistake to use this information to conclude that we should put all the funding into charity A securing commitments because its work may be useless if charity B does not succeed in developing broiler breeds. Note that this scenario is purely hypothetical, as currently relatively little resources are allocated to the research of the best asks. ↩︎
It’s unclear which choice of the starting year is the best. It could be argued that even campaigns against animal experimentation in the U.S. in the 1970s should be included in the estimate because they helped to make the U.S. society more concerned about animal welfare, which makes it easier to achieve corporate commitments today. Including costs of activities that created such public concern is not needed when estimating the effectiveness of the U.S. cage-free and broiler campaigns, because these costs are already in the past and won’t need to be expended again when transitioning to new asks. However, they may be somewhat relevant when considering the costs of expanding to other countries where the public is not yet concerned about animals. ↩︎
Note that in 2005 there was already a lot of progress in some countries. For example, the EU passed a law phasing out the use of barren battery cages in 1999 and banned the construction of new gestation crates in 2003. Progress in the U.S. is summarized by Shields et al. (2017). It includes a gestation crate ban in Florida (2002) and various campaigns against other cruel practices (e.g., animal experimentation) that probably made the concern for animal welfare more common. ↩︎
First of all, great model and write-up.
One of my the biggest take aways from looking at your model was the importance of the Mean Years of Impact parameter. Looking at guesstimate's sensitivity analysis the r^2 value is about 0.75 , meaning approximately ~75% of the variance in the bottom line result is due to the variance estimating Mean Years of Impact.
Your choice of SCI is also significantly more optimistic than the figures that ACE or Lewis Bollard use. ACE seems to use a log-normal distribution with SCI 1.6 to 13 . Using this in your model gives a bottom-line estimate of 16 (4.2 to 43) years of life affected per dollar. Simply using Bollard's estimate of 5 years (with no uncertainty) gives 14 (7.5 to 24) years of life affected.
You note above that you are estimating different things from both ACE and Bollard, as your counterfactual is for a world without undercover investigations. This does explain some of the discrepancy, but even so the estimates seem quite far apart. This suggests it's worth doing more research into the parameter and both your model and ACE's model should be more uncertain about it.
Additionally, I'd like to see reports like this contain a short display of which input parameters have the largest effect with the result. I think it can be the important information for seeing how robust the result is!
 The exact r^2 value changes on refresh and if I'm reading from the small graph or the large graph after hovering over, but it's consistently around 0.7-0.8. More simulation samples in would likely be necessary to compute the exact figure.
 The exact parameter ACE uses points to a link I don't have view permission for, but this distribution replicates the graph.
TL;DR: Nobody seems to know what the value of mean years of impact should be, and I don't see how this uncertainty could be reduced. I think that indirect effects are more important and it would be better to research them.
Good points and I'm happy you brought it up.
Firstly, I know you know this, but Lewis wrote that in his view, "the assumption that these campaigns only accelerated pledges by five years is very conservative." It makes sense to use a conservative value when doing a point estimate like he did. And I did use a similar value (4 years) in my conservative estimate in Appendix 1. ACE did not really describe their choice for the value so I didn't pay much attention to it. There's also Capriati (2018) which assumed that THL's cage-free and broiler campaigns moved policies forward by only one year (I just added the description. But this assumes that other organizations would have still done everything they did. And even then, I don't think it is reasonable.
To be honest, I think that nobody has a clue about what value to use here. Hence, everybody uses random conservative values in order for the end result to be more believable, because the estimated cost-effectiveness of campaigns is unbelievably high even with a conservative values. I did that to a degree as well. I asked some people who work on corporate campaigns what value would they use for mean years of impact. They thought that my range was reasonable, but I think they would have said that about many different ranges because it's difficult to think about. Only one person was able to say what range for mean years of impact would they use without looking at my range, and they said 40 to 100 years. If I weren't anchored by other estimates and didn't want to be a bit conservative to be more convincing to skeptics, I think I would have chosen a higher value as well, especially for the upper bound. In general, my impression is that all these "estimates" (including mine) are basically guesses that look more legitimate than they should because they are surrounded by neatly formatted text. We just can't predict the future.
I also don't see how to do more research on this topic. Perhaps seeing how long corporate commitments in other domains lasted could give a little bit information on that but only a little bit because situations are so different. If you have any ideas, I'd be interested to hear them.
But I'm uncertain if it's worthwhile to put more effort into cost-effectiveness estimates of corporate campaigns. I don't know what decisions depend on whether it's 7.5-24 years or 9-120 years. I think it would be more decision-relevant to research indirect effects, or in which regions corporate campaigns are more cost-effective, or how corporate campaigns compare with legislative campaigns for welfare reforms.
I use a subjective confidence interval of 4 to 36 years with a log-normal distribution, so it's already very uncertain. Perhaps I should have used a flatter custom distribution, but after experimenting, it seems that it wouldn't change the answer much.
Interesting, I will consider it. Do you know of any report that I could use as an example of how to write such a thing?
If you included their costs, wouldn't you also want to include their impacts? As you wrote earlier, it's probably best to analyze the cost-effectiveness of ballot initiatives separately.
You are right. I’ve just deleted the phrase “and reduce the estimated cost-effectiveness” from the article.
Also note that while I did exclude the costs of ballot initiatives in the main estimation, I did include their costs but not impact in a pessimistic estimation in Appendix 1. That’s because including the impact of ballot initiatives would have obscured the point I wanted to make in that appendix.
Very impressive and comprehensive work! Thank you for doing all of this research and the clear and well organized write-up.
The years of life affected is a great number to have, but as you note, how positive the effects are is less clear.
That said, just based on the cost effectiveness, it seems that even small welfare increases from these commitments results in a lot of reduced direct suffering.
Even at worst that's still 4 years of suffering averted per $, insane cost-effectiveness.
I'm a big fan of this report and will probably recommend it to interested people as the best of the cost-effectiveness models I have seen on corporate welfare commitments.
I'm very glad for the"Ways this estimate could be misleading" section. I think its very important to make these wider considerations clear; they have not been so clear in previous cost-effectiveness estimates. I also like that you make it clear how you think that these considerations weigh up with the pluses and minuses system.
It's great that this information on various uncertainties is included and yet you are still able to provide a useable estimate of cost-effectiveness (that excludes these indirect effects). I would probably lean towards making this result less prominent in the write-up, e.g. not including it in the title. I do think that, despite your clarity on the uncertainties, it is easy for readers to pick up and focus on the final estimate and then disregard the rest of the post.
Glad you liked it :) I added a sentence about indirect effects in the first paragraph. I see your point about the title but I chose to leave it as it is because:
Does your distribution assume ChickenTrack will be abandoned, or assume it will be used like EggTrack has been, or is uncertainty in this captured in the distribution?
There's also Chicken Watch, but I'm not sure if they'll be tracking actual progress towards pledges, or just the pledges themselves.
When making the distribution, I imagined that these projects would continue, despite the fact that I didn't include their future costs. However, if I recall correctly, until recently, there was only one employee working on EggTrack, so I don't expect these costs to be very high. Hence, I think that for the purpose of this very rough estimate, these future costs can be ignored. I think that this is outweighed by the fact that the estimate includes some of the costs, but none of the benefits of corporate campaigns that were ongoing as of the end of 2018.
Corporate campaigns have been a large part of the "effective animal advocacy" movement since they exploded in funding and effort in 2015. Given the prominence, it was strongly worth investigating whether corporate campaigns were worth the prior investment and - more importantly - would be worth the continued marginal investment into the future. This review established that corporate campaigns actually seem to have been a strong success.
I also think this post demonstrates a strong and thoughtful approach to cost-effectiveness estimation that served as a template for many later analyses.
I'm not exactly certain what changed within corporate campaign strategy as a result of this analysis but I do know that multiple organizations took notice of this analysis pretty seriously. Though mostly the post endorsed people continuing to do what they were doing and I think that's what happened.
I think some increased sensitivity and work to ensuring companies keep their pledges resulted from this work and from https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/XdekdWJWkkhur9gvr/will-companies-meet-their-animal-welfare-commitments
Disclaimer: I am co-CEO at Rethink Priorities and supervised some of this work, but I am writing this review in a personal capacity as a personal reflection. I did not share this review with anyone at RP, so it's quite possible other people might disagree and I may be wrong here, so do not take this as an official RP position.
With regard to the follow-through rate... my assumption is that improving welfare will raise costs, and higher costs will cause customers to switch providers. Are you at all worried about companies that follow through going out of business?
I wonder if companies that follow through would be interested in sponsoring legislation that forces their competitors to also improve welfare? That could help solve this problem maybe?
In any case, this might be an argument for people interested in farm animal welfare to concentrate their efforts on improving welfare for one animal product in one country at a time. (Or, if you're acting as an individual, try to figure out which animal product is currently getting the most pressure from activists and add to that pressure through your individual actions.) If a particular market is an oligopoly, and all the firms in the oligopoly can be persuaded to raise welfare standards simultaneously, it seems like they face less risk of going out of business. (Note that what's important is the animal product, not the animal itself. My guess is that eggs are an easier target than chicken meat, for instance, because if you target chicken meat, people will probably substitute chicken meat with beef & pork to some degree as chicken prices rise, putting the chicken companies at risk. Additionally it might make sense to concentrate on particular industries, e.g. hotels, high-end restaurants, fast food restaurants, etc. Presumably McDonald's is more worried about being undercut by Burger King than Marriot. I think this could be considered a prisoner's dilemma for the companies from a game theory point of view, so ideally there is some enforcement mechanism for cooperation, i.e. contracts that companies sign such that they have to give their competitors $ if they don't follow through on their commitments. It might be worth studying the parallels to cartel formation in oligopolistic competition.)
The value of Mean years of impact is smaller because I considered companies going bankrupt, but I didn’t think about them being more likely to go bankrupt (or decrease their market share) because of commitments. Note that companies that don’t follow-through (or don’t commit in the first place) will eventually have to face campaigns from animal advocates, which also puts them at a disadvantage. It’s not like animal advocates stop once half of a country is using higher welfare products. However, if a period between campaigns against different competitors is long, this can be a concern. I haven’t heard of anyone complaining about this though.
I actually asked someone about this. They said that companies that made commitments stop campaigning against such legislation, but they haven’t heard about food companies sponsoring such legislation. I imagine that it would only make sense for very big food companies and I’m unsure if any company is big enough.
Animal activists are focusing on one issue at the time and indeed, Bollard (2017a) claims that this as one of the primary reasons why corporate campaigns are so successful. But we have enough resources to do it in multiple countries at the same time. Also, animal advocates that live in different countries can’t all work on one country at a time, they are better at achieving success in their own country.
Good point. One could argue that this still would be a win from an animal welfare perspective (although a smaller one) because chicken requires many more hours of suffering per calorie than beef or pork (see http://ethical.diet/) and because broilers arguably live in worse conditions. On the other hand, cows and pigs are more complex animals. Also, maybe some people would substitute chicken with fish, which could be even worse. Thinking about this also makes me less excited about campaigns/legislation against veal crates and gestation crates for pigs because they might increase the consumption of chicken. I don’t know how much these reforms increase prices though.
Also a good point. I don’t know if animal advocates do that.
I wonder if companies could be held liable for something like misleading advertisement in case of voluntarily failing to fulfill their commitments. I googled it a little bit; there's a growing concern about legally enforcing CSR commitments, but I still can't make my mind on this possibility (and its desirability: could it backfire?)
Do you think the follow-through rate, mean years of impact or average lifespan and number of chickens might differ substantially in predictable ways based on company characteristics? E.g. are larger companies or fast-food chains more or less likely to follow through than smaller companies or other types of companies? Do you think this would have much impact on your estimate?
I have some intuitions going both ways here. I'd expect it to be more difficult for larger companies to make proportional (rather than absolute) progress because they require more chicken meat or eggs, and consumers might be more willing to look the other way if they fail because of their popularity, but the bad PR could also mean a huge loss, too. Is there a broad perception that McDonalds is basically pretty evil? How much do people actually care, given how popular it remains?
Charity Entrepreneurship did some analysis on cage-free progress, broken down for a few companies in EggTrack: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/WvgrGLDBko6rZ5qax/did-corporate-campaigns-in-the-us-have-any-counterfactual
I do think that the follow-through rate for different sectors and countries will be predictably different. I don't think that making a more detailed model to take this into account would have much impact on the final result.