Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI?

byKevinWatkinson1y31st Aug 201721 comments


Like some others I was a little surprised the Good Food Institute (GFI) became a top recommendation for Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) this year.  The idea that a group with no discernible track record would ascend to top charity status seemed an unlikely proposition.  However, the decision itself seemed to have some basis in GFI arising out of Mercy for Animals*, a group which is a regular beneficiary of top ACE status.  This seemed to help set the scene for the association of GFI as an EA organisation, one which links in with Nick Cooney and Bruce Friedrich’s venture capital fund New Crop Capital.  As it stands GFI has been organised as a non-profit promotional group for clean meat and plant based alternatives, and this could be identified as an attractive donation opportunity in terms of impact and effectiveness.  However, if it is that good a prospect then it follows that would also be the case for various other philanthropically intentioned groups.

Some of the main considerations for making a funding decision about GFI would probably include factoring in such issues as diminishing returns, the funding gap (presently likely negligible), and the scenario of the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil) as the donor of last resort (unlikely to allow GFI to fall short when GFI likely advocate on behalf of investments for philanthropists who also support Open Phil).  If we were to accept these points then it follows that we could start to make a case that it isn’t particularly worthwhile for EAs to donate to GFI, because this opportunity will arguably be filled anyway.  However, Open Phil may prefer if other people do so first, and can then put funds into other areas, or we could argue that EAs may have more faith in Open Phil / EA Funds (both Lewis Bollard in relation to animal welfare) at finding different opportunities in the animal movement. Particularly if we believe the value offered by the animal movement in terms of harm reduction would remain greater than elsewhere, or that we prefer to donate across different core areas. 

If we choose to work outside EA Funds and Open Phil, then it is reasonably the case that we need to find alternatives to GFI, so we could start to look at other groups that might fit our criteria.  As part of this process, if we accept the claims made by GFI, then I would suggest there is little value to be found elsewhere in the ‘mainstream’ (ideologically reducetarian) animal movement.  So if we broadly accept the transformative potential of GFI, then the alternative products could cause significant reductions in farmed animal suffering, and as Bruce Friedrich mentions here, it could be the efforts of ‘mainstream’ oriented groups might have less value than is generally perceived. 

Yet we still reasonably need to hedge this issue (particularly in relation to how the Animal Industrial Complex will contest the plant based / clean meat space), and in my view it isn’t clear that Open Phil have thoroughly considered this issue.  For example, welfare would have low comparative value in the face of GFI claims, seeing as reduced harm is driven largely by increasing demand for plant based products rather than adjusting the system of exploitation.  Another issue would relate to how welfarism can act as a carnistic defence, and potentially run counter to reduction efforts through the construct of the ‘humane myth’.  So if we choose to look for groups that appear to navigate this issue, we could examine organisations engaged in considering wild animal suffering; perhaps Animal Ethics, which is a standout charity at ACE and could be a good donation prospect, or maybe the Nonhuman Rights Project, another standout charity.

In exploring different opportunities, I think we would need to identify groups that appreciate the guiding principles of EA.  Where they meet basic ACE requirements (though given GFI I think there is some flexibility here), and are also interested in empowerment and inclusion. In a sense groups traditionally neglected by EAA, partly because they tend to fall outside the welfare / abolition paradigm favoured by EAA, ACE and Open Phil.  For a starting point, I would be most interested in the Food Empowerment Project, perhaps Encompass (new), and Better Eating International (also new).  These groups wouldn’t represent a large funding opportunity, though a degree of funding will be required to help some of them develop further. 

There is also a further option, that we consider whether EAs could prioritise meta-evaluation projects for ACE and other EA related groups.  If we desire to optimise evidence based (rather than more ideologically weighted) opportunities for donors, it could be argued that we ought to limit donations until these criteria are met, or more importantly, explore ways to allocate donations that would seek to address some of the related issues.

To me it would seem reasonable that EAs might choose not to fund GFI or the other top ACE charities, primarily because these are not neglected groups.  Instead, we could consider developing a broader framework for intervention that incorporates wide ranging consultation, and subsequent work around counterfactual considerations that often appear to be neglected.  Overlooking this form of work can create disruption and contestation in areas that ought to be reasonably covered within an animal movement model.  Consequently, it may well be the case that EAs ought to invest in developing more inclusive frameworks for intervention, and concentrate more resources on movement theorising.  It is my belief that undertaking work to further explore these issues through a system of meta-evaluation could in turn create a stronger foundation for improved outcomes.



*Mercy for Animals has the appearance of a one stop shop for interventions.  Where various interventions are constructed without a corresponding assessment of how they fit (or don’t fit) together.  



Two groups working in a similar area to GFI.

In relation to New Harvest from ACE:"Furthermore, recently they have been having great success in fundraising on their own, so we want to give them time to determine whether those efforts will fully fund their activities." 

The Plant Based Foods Association requires evaluation.