Welcome to this edition of the Animal Advocacy Bi-Weekly Digest, where we aim to help people in the animal welfare community quickly keep up with the most important information in the space. As a reminder, you can get this digest as an email by signing up here.
Note: I apologise in advance if I get anything wrong in these summaries! Some of them are very extensive (e.g. 20,000+ words) so I’m trying to do my best to synthesise these with limited time on my side too. As always, I recommend reading the full posts if you find something interesting, to gain a deeper (and probably more accurate) understanding.
I’m summarising the following posts:
- Short Research Summary: Can insects feel pain? By Meghan Barrett
- Why Neuron Counts Shouldn't Be Used as Proxies for Moral Weight - Adam Shriver (Rethink Priorities)
- Independent office of Animal Protection - Ren Springlea (Animal Ask)
- The Determinants of Adopting International Voluntary Certification Schemes for Farmed Fish and Shrimp in China and Thailand - Jojo Lee (Rethink Priorities)
- Banding Together to Ban Octopus Farming - Tessa (Aquatic Life Institute)
Short Research Summary: Can insects feel pain? By Meghan Barrett
This post is already a summary, so I do recommend checking it out in full! In summary2, this post synthesises a new academic publication which reviews over 350 scientific studies to understand the capacity for six different insects to feel pain (at two life stages).
The key takeaway is that the authors find strong evidence for pain for two orders of adult insects (Blattodea: cockroaches and termites; Diptera: flies and mosquitoes) as well as substantial evidence for pain for 3 other orders:
- Hymenoptera: Bees, wasps, sawflies and ants;
- Lepidoptera: Moths and butterflies;
- Orthoptera: Crickets and katydids.
There are two extremely helpful graphics attached (see one below) that highlights the authors’ confidence level for different criterions of pain, per insect order.
Very notably, the authors remark that Adult Blattodea and Diptera meet 6/8 criteria to a high or very high level of confidence, constituting strong evidence for the ability to feel pain (see table above). This is stronger evidence than Birch et al. (2021) found for decapod crustaceans (where only 5/8 criteria are fulfilled), which are currently protected via the UK Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. This feels particularly worrying, as 1 trillion insects are already raised for food and feed each year, including the Black Soldier Fly (Diptera), with at least another 100 trillion either directly killed or impacted by humans each year.
Why Neuron Counts Shouldn't Be Used as Proxies for Moral Weight By Adam Shriver (Rethink Priorities)
For the latest post in the Rethink Priorities Moral Weights Project, Adam discusses why neuron counts aren’t a good proxy for the moral weight of various animals. Put simply, the initial hypothesis is that neuron counts are an indicator for intelligence (and potentially capacity to experience pain), and therefore how much relative importance we should give different animals.
This post argues that using neuron counts alone is not a good proxy for moral weights, for the following reasons:
- Information-processing capacity (relevant to experiencing pain) is not just determined by neuron count, but also distance between neurons, number of synapses, conduction velocity of neurons and other factors.
- Intelligence - It seems possible that one could experience more intense sensations (e.g. pain) without being more intelligent. In addition, we don’t associate increased intelligence with greater moral weight amongst humans.
- Consciousness - From current neuro-imaging research, there is no consensus that more neurons = more consciousness
- Other morally relevant cognitive abilities - Whilst bees only have a small number of neurons, they have several sophisticated cognitive abilities, such as the ability to use tools. This indicates that neuron count alone isn’t a good predictor of morally relevant abilities, and it may be better to investigate these abilities more directly (as done by Rethink Priorities here).
A great diagram produced by Lizka can also be seen below!
Independent office of Animal Protection - Ren Springlea (Animal Ask)
Ren describes a potential campaign for animal advocates, which is to try to establish an Independent Office of Animal Protection within a country, which regulates national welfare standards. They discuss that this particular reform can mitigate problems with regulatory capture, whereby government departments that are set up to promote animal agriculture also ensure that the industry meets certain welfare standards, often leading to weak enforcement or slow improvement of welfare standards.
They discuss several preconditions required for this campaign to be an effective choice in a given country, namely:
- Having strong democratic institutions
- High public concern for animal welfare
- The existence of regulatory capture that limits progress in this country’s animal welfare standards
They tested these criteria with three specific examples of Australia, Switzerland and Bulgaria, finding that Australia could be a good fit for this particular campaign. They also note this campaign has smaller and more tractable asks, such as an independent Commissioner for Animal Welfare.
The Determinants of Adopting International Voluntary Certification Schemes for Farmed Fish and Shrimp in China and Thailand - Jojo Lee (Rethink Priorities)
This (fairly lengthy!) post describes the factors considered by farmers in China and Thailand when considering whether to adopt international voluntary certification schemes for farmed fish and shrimp (such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council or GLOBALG.A.P.). Overall, it finds there is little uptake of such certifications schemes, with only 6% of global production certified under such schemes coming from China and Thailand, despite them making up a significant proportion of global farmed fish and shrimp exports.
This research explores several reasons why uptake is relatively low, such as:
- National certification schemes, such as ChinaGAP, offering a cheaper way to get the same benefits as international schemes
- For small-scale farmers, the costs of certification tend to outweigh the benefits
Overall, it recommends that voluntary certification schemes may not be the best strategy to improve fish and shrimp welfare in China and India. Instead, it recommends that advocates focused on these species and countries could consider using trade instruments to incentivise better welfare standards for the lowest-welfare exporters, as well as, advocacy to raise welfare standards for national certification schemes. There’s a lot in this report that I haven’t done justice to so please read more if you’re interested!
Banding Together to Ban Octopus Farming - Tessa (Aquatic Life Institute)
The Aquatic Life Institute (ALI) is launching a new campaign to achieve a regulatory ban on countries and regions where octopus farms are being considered. A key goal for this project would be to increase public and legislative pressure on countries and regions where cephalopod (e.g. octopus, squid and cuttlefish) farms are being considered, such as Spain, Mexico, and the EU.
The core strategies ALI will employ are as follows:
- Map the research landscape that covers any existing scientific evidence around the welfare of octopuses
- Identify key stakeholders that will be the targets of a campaign
- Coordinate with participating members of the Aquatic Animal Alliance to design campaign materials that can be used internationally and in various languages.
- Utilise research, communications and policy, and the newly formed Aquatic Animal Policy Focus Group, to acheive the campaign goals. Success will be monitored via meeting opportunities with key legislators, government support, and a regulatory halt of octopus farms.
ALI has already undertaken substantial activities related to this octopus farming ban campaign, which can be seen here.
- First FDA Cultured Meat Approval (Ben West)
- New leadership at Animal Charity Evaluators - Animal Charity Evaluators
- New ACE Charity Recommendations - Animal Charity Evaluators