- Megaprojects ($100M+) for nonhuman animal welfare seem unlikely unless major new funding appears.
- We still think it is worth laying out some ideas of comparatively smaller $10M megaprojects so that there are some shovel-ready projects if large funding arrives, and to perhaps entice funders to enter the space in a big way with a list of promising ideas.
- This post lists some animal welfare projects that further research might reveal would cost-effectively absorb $10M+/year.
Where are the megaprojects for animals?
There has been a lot of buzz lately about megaprojects (projects that could deploy $100 million or more in funding per year). However, among the long lists of ideas presented so far (here, here, here, here, here, here) there are few ideas to reduce or end the suffering of animals. This invites the question: do we have similarly scalable and promising opportunities to cost-effectively help animals given additional resources?
Despite corporate campaigns being very cost-effective (Šimčikas 2019) and receiving a large share of EA animal funding (Kato 2022, Ozden 2021), it’s not obvious that this will continue indefinitely. How much can we scale up corporate campaigns and still achieve a sufficiently large total impact to offset any decline in cost-effectiveness? What are some potential large and effective projects if our current projects become fully funded or less cost-effective? What options do we have for other species and welfare asks? Can they scale?
Current spending by 2,000 organisations that include fighting factory farming as part of their work is just over $200 million per year (FAF 2021, 2020), and even less, about $40 million per year, is spent on “effective animal advocacy” (Ozden 2021 and Forristal 2020). Most (85%) of these organisations in the animal advocacy space operate on budgets less than $1M, and the largest operate on less than $20M (FAF 2020). So we’re very short of the level of spending of $100M+ megaprojects. However, it’s expected that as the EA movement grows, the resources available to EA-aligned animal advocacy will too (especially from increased funding in this space from Open Philanthropy and possibly FTX Community). Still, it’s unclear if/when this would reach the levels of funding available for human-focused longtermist projects. Given this practical limit, $10M might be a more reasonable operationalization of “mega” in this space.
Regardless, we still think it is worth laying out some ideas of megaprojects for animals so that there are some shovel-ready projects if funding scales up, and to perhaps entice funders to enter the space in a big way with promising ideas. Additionally, this list is a call to action to generate back-of-the-envelope calculations or detailed research into some of these ideas, to more rigorously identify highly scalable and cost-effective ways to help animals.
This list contains ideas from a range of reviews, contributors, and experts (though not all may endorse the broader idea of megaprojects or all ideas in this post). We haven’t yet taken the time to assess whether each of them could absorb $10M and at what level of cost-effectiveness. Partly this is because it’s unclear what the minimum bar should be. We are unsure which interventions can reach the cost-effectiveness of cage-free campaigns, especially when spending $10M per year (61-120 years of chicken life per average dollar spent/ ~7 animals spared a year of complete suffering). We perhaps should be willing to lower the cost-effectiveness bar because it’s plausible corporate campaigns are just a very rare good opportunity and it’s unfair to use it as a baseline (imagine if Givewell only granted to opportunities that were at least 5x AMF instead of at least 5x GiveDirectly).
Why are megaprojects important to think about?
- Scalable opportunities that don't have hidden labour costs (e.g. once you do the project you have to find another before you can keep having impact, which takes time, labour and effort) might have higher *true* cost-effectiveness than less scalable projects that are cheaper on paper (Koehler 2022).
- In the current EA landscape, a key bottleneck to greater impact could be vetting constraints by grantmakers to evaluate projects, rather than the amount of funding itself. Therefore, highly scalable megaprojects will reduce both vetting and exploration costs, which is beneficial in a labour-constrained yet less funding-constrained environment, which EA arguably is.
This is the basic framework Neil used for thinking about what might count as a megaproject:
- The more easily the problem is solved by money alone, the more of a megaproject it is (h/t Renan Araújo)
- Minimum inputs per project: $10M to $100M/year of spending potential. $100M is the number thrown around but $10M might be a more reasonable operationalization of “mega” in this space.
- Cost-effectiveness bar: As noted above, we should probably be willing to accept a cost-effectiveness bar lower than cage-free corporate campaigns but not less than a few years of animal life per dollar spent.
Categorisation of animal megaprojects
We’ve roughly categorised the potential megaprojects into the following categories:
- Build a better evidence base
- GiveDirectly for animals
- Financial Incentives
- Buy more welfare
- Movement building (buy more people)
- Build infrastructure
- Build and launch organisations
- Spread information
- Buy policy change
Build a better evidence base
There is no publicly available database of rigorously researched interventions with effect sizes and cost-effectiveness estimates for improving animal welfare. Relative to other fields such as global health, which spends $3.5 billion on research and development (R&D) alone, we understand reasonably little about the best ways to help animals. Greig (2021) estimates that animal advocates spend about 5-10% of our total annual budget of approx. $200 million on R&D, meaning the animal welfare evidence base is growing <1% as fast as the evidence base for global health. Funding research now could be crucial to inform our strategies over the next decades and provide early information value.
- Fund 10+ very large RCTs/population-wide studies, especially in Asia. Some ideas could be:
- Understand price elasticities of demand of conventional meat for countries with highest meat consumption (which might determine how important welfare reforms to raise the price of products are - some comments here)
- Economic research into whether consumption of plant-based products leads to replacement of animal-products i.e. understand demand cross-elasticity of these products
- Testing various messaging strategies e.g. strength of animal welfare vs health vs environmental arguments, incremental or not, etc.
- Especially important for populous countries e.g. China, India, Brazil
- Testing various forms of mass marketing of alternative proteins in populous low and middle-income countries
- Test corporate / public awareness campaigns on more neglected animals e.g. insects or fish.
- What impact does popular media coverage of undercover investigations have on animal product consumption? - from FSRF
- Vegan outreach - Similar to Mathur et al.'s (2021) work on documentaries
- Long-term impact of consumer-focused advocacy / humane education on animal product consumption
- Protest impact on consumption (e.g. doing protests outside supermarkets and measuring any changes in purchasing, randomised across a state/area)
- Build on some this work by READI e.g. behaviour change RCTs
- Build on Sentience Institute's recent experimental work on the complacency vs momentum debate, which is a crucial consideration that seems very underexplored yet is very tractable given the resources. The results would thus inform what types of ambitious projects are most impactful. An example of this can be seen by Harris, Ladak and Mathur (2022) (h/t Ren Springlea)
- Running a multi-year experiment in a city (or even small country, if we had the money) where we experimented with different price comparisons between alt proteins and animal proteins.
- Doing this could maybe help us see what our goal needs to be: Perhaps it’s the case that consumers will transition X amount to alt proteins if they’re only 10% more expensive than traditional ones, or perhaps it’s the case that they would transition 10X to alt proteins if they were 50% cheaper. The point is we don’t know, and it could be useful to find out how viable this theory of change is.
- Buy neglected animal research labs to do the research we need on welfare metrics in key animal groups (farmed fish, crustaceans, insects, wild animals) that otherwise would not receive research funding for. Think of how Rethink Priorities hired an Entomology Specialist, Meghan Barrett, to study invertebrate welfare, but we have 100 or 1,000 specialists working on priority welfare issues. Some potential areas of study:
- Aeration and water quality effects on fish or shrimp
- Feed fortification effects on hens
- Vaccinating wild animals against rabies
- Welfare of wild caught fish
- Lots of Preference and Operant testing (h/t George Bridgewater)
- Using AI and robotics to monitor animal welfare and promote positive experiences on farms (h/t to Fai).
- A lot of empirical research/experiments on sentience/capacity for welfare, and some might be expensive due to the labs/imaging (h/t Michael St. Jules). On the science side this might cost $200,000 per person per year, so $10M/year could fund 50 researchers (h/t Bob Fischer).
- Establish additional university-affiliated research centres that focus on research into plant-based alternatives/meat reduction/animal advocacy/animal law centres. For instance, we've heard that part of the resounding success of the National Rifle Association in the US has come from them investing heavily in academics and possibly institutions that supported their view of the second amendment.
- Set up farmed animal welfare advocacy/alternative protein fellowships, scholarships, chairs in animal welfare science (and related fields) in Asia (about $3M-$4M to endow a chair) (h/t Jason Schukraft).
- The International Farm Animal Welfare Fellowship in China, the Alt Protein Project, Atlas Fellowship but for animals.
- Every talented student in a priority region who commits to working on animal rights for 3 or more years after graduation will get a full ride.
- We fund promising students from high priority but lower income countries, e.g. India, to study in places like the US that will give them more academic opportunities, with the expectation that after they will return to their country and put their degree to work.
- BERI for animals - Similar to what BERI does for x-risk, we could create a network of academic researchers and connect them to research ideas, funding, etc.
- Fund think tanks to do policy research. Could spend £100m+ easily on this if needed to go for scale over cost-effectiveness (link) (h/t Sam Hilton)
- More competition in the Effective Animal Advocacy ecosystem: For example, there’s been a few critiques of Animal Charity Evaluators’ methodology, and a competitor doing animal charity evaluation could be good for the movement’s overall epistemics and direction. Generally, more competition seems to be encouraged, and this could apply to other orgs in the space e.g. Animal Advocacy Careers, the EA Animal Welfare Fund, Charity Entrepreneurship, etc.
GiveDirectly for animals
Some of these options below could be investigated further to understand what our ‘bar’ is for animal welfare funding, as they are potentially the most scalable opportunities that will have the most direct impact on animals. One of these ideas could become the “GiveDirectly for animals”: reasonably cost-effective, massively scalable, very strong evidence-base, and almost guaranteed impact.
- Feed fortification and subsidisation for chicken feed (i.e. Healthier Hens x1000).
- Buy/subsidise self-fertile varieties of bee pollinator-dependent crops in low or middle income countries where institutional dissemination of new knowledge may be limited and where farmers may be more risk-averse (Schukraft 2019)
- Buy promoting synthetic or non-insect natural dyes to decrease cochineal production (Rowe 2020).
- Purchasing catch shares in fisheries or hunting licences - Ren Springlea (write-up here).
- We could subsidise alternatives to conventionally produced meat, such as higher welfare meat or alternative proteins so they are cost-competitive even while technically making a loss (in effect buying the outcome of “cheap alternatives to conventional meat being available”)(h/t Saulius Šimčikas). Venture capitalists are already doing this with cultured meat companies such as Good Meat. If you spent $100M to bring Beyond Meat’s cost of goods sold ($7.70/kg) (Bollard 2021) to the price of chicken ($1.50/kg wholesale) you could create 16,000 metric tons of this subsidised cost-competitive plant-based meat, of the 127M metric tons of poultry produced globally per year. Economists would have a better sense of just how small such effects would be (Lusk et al (2021) suggested plant-based meat demand increases wouldn’t affect the number of cows slaughtered much, and under the most likely scenario, Lusk calculates that converting to slow growth breeds would increase retail chicken prices by 1.17% and reduce the amount of retail chicken sold by 0.91% (Lusk 2018)).
- Buy meat alternatives/higher welfare meat and give them to institutional food providers (hospitals, schools, universities) for free/at a discounted rate.
- Buy oxygen aerators and distribute to aquaculture producers.
- Buy better stunning equipment (especially for fish) and give it to farmers for free/at a discounted rate.
- Buy cage-free housing and provide it to farmers in developing markets for free/at a discounted rate.
- Buy high welfare breeds and give them to farmers for free/at a discounted rate.
- Buy acres of land and lease it cheaply to farmers growing plant-protein ingredients
- Buy up critical plant-protein ingredients and ensure they get to plant-based meat producers.
- Veganuary, Meatless Mondays and other diet change/outreach programs could be like GiveDirectly baselines (h/t Michael St. Jules)
- Advance market commitments for alternative proteins - see Stripe’s $925 million dollar AMC on carbon removal, could further ignite entrepreneurship and R&D in the space of alt proteins and higher welfare practices.
- The Mission Innovation Initiative (proposed by Lennart Stern and John Halstead) but for alternative proteins and higher welfare farming systems. The Initiative tracks public spending on different categories of alternative protein/animal husbandry RD&D. For each category, a fund could be created with the mandate to use its budget to maximise the rate of progress on the specific type of alternative protein/animal husbandry RD&D through incentive payments made to countries.
- It might specifically work on finding cost-effective fortified animal feeds, economical fish stunning and water quality monitoring equipment, source animal-like fats from new plant or microbial sources, ways to use a greater portion of cheaper less concentrated versions of soy & wheat.
- Egg-Tech prize but for everything else: Provide funding for research teams to compete to solve a specific technology bottleneck (Mechanical pollination to displace managed honeybees (Schukraft 2019), fermented cochineal (Rowe 2020), species-specific fish welfare monitoring equipment). (But the Egg-Tech prize was only $6M and so far hasn’t produced results that can scale in less than a decade, so unsure how to make this a worthwhile $10M prize effort).
Buy more welfare
- Can we “buy” lower levels of suffering or fewer animals suffering? Perhaps the closest real-world implementation of this would be animal welfare credits as proposed by Jayson Lusk (here and here), where producers can sell “animal well-being units (AWBUs)” in proportion to how high welfare their systems are (h/t Saulius Šimčikas). We could provide an institutional structure (like the Chicago Climate Exchange) for AWBUs to be verified, bought and sold independently of the market for meat, and then buy them to kick it off. Note that Saulius (who alerted Neil to this idea) thinks it wouldn't be nearly as cost-effective as corporate campaigns. E.g. It cost under $40 million via corporate campaigns for us to make the industry go cage-free which will cost them $4 to $10 billion, so paying them to do the switch would have been like 100 times less cost-effective (although they might be exaggerating the costs and this is not a perfect comparison).
- Fund genetically engineering animals to not feel pain (or use drugs or direct brain stimulation to ensure they feel no pain). Uncertain but one could maybe spend £1bn on this if it had an organisation willing to do the research (h/t Sam Hilton).
- Fund the expansion of improvement of animal certification programs, like Open Philanthropy has already done, to develop criteria for fish and invertebrates, and expand the range of higher welfare products.
Movement building (buy more people)
- Invest massively in movement building in one small-ish country with the idea of testing what mass movement could look like in large countries, as well as achieving impact there (h/t George Bridgwater)
- Building the capacity for out-sourcing expertise in the form of consultancies. Especially for new organisations it could help them meet a level of professionalisation while they transition to having in-house skills. Imagine your organisation is made of talented generalists or people with one specific set of skills, you could have another organisation that offers expertise and deliverables in public policy, agricultural economics, marketing and branding, or animal welfare science.
- Local movement building groups: Launch/take over/influence local groups in many different countries, with some paid organisers (not too dissimilar to the focus on university groups within EA potentially). In this case, it makes sense to target neglected yet populous countries with high or growing animal consumption.
- These could either be focused purely on movement building, but it might be more effective for them to find some sort of campaign to keep people engaged. For instance, even something that might be ineffective instrumentally (e.g. leafleting or advocating for meat-free mondays) might actually be very good for building a strong base of committed individuals for future campaigns
- Expanding meat reduction education in universities (h/t Jacob Peacock) or funding a bigger roll-out of free vegan food in top universities (h/t Renan Araújo) to create more flexitarians/Veg*ns/people with the space to expand their moral circle to include farmed animals.
- To the extent that you think there are many great opportunities, but not enough grantmakers then recruiting people for a large regranting program could constitute a megaproject in itself (h/t Jason Schukraft).
- Expand all local/university animal rights/welfare groups (e.g. scale up THL's Changemakers, GFI's Alt protein project, etc.) (h/t Michael St. Jules).
- Hire top material scientists to design new bioreactor systems for cultured meat (Ark Biotech)
- Hire top engineers to build novel plant-based meat machines (Rebellyous Foods)
- Hire scientists to bring down the costs of plant-based ingredients (which seems to be the best way to close the gap between PBM and conventional meat) specifically to
- source animal-like fats from new plant or microbial sources, or to alter non-saturated fats to act more like animal fats (Specht 2021)
- See if there are ways to use a greater portion of cheaper less concentrated versions of soy & wheat, not novel proteins (e.g. some wheat gluten, instead of just protein concentrates) (Bollard 2021)
- (But maybe solving these doesn’t actually require $100M/year)
- Build cold-chain storage capacity in poorer countries to make plant-based meats more available and reduce food waste (may reduce animals farmed). A cold chain is a temperature-controlled supply chain – a necessity to keep food edible from the production line to the consumer. In India, up to 50% of all perishable food is lost because of a lack of cold storage, while in Tanzania, up to 97% of meat is never refrigerated for the same reason. Start-ups like ColdHubs & Promethean Power Systems have tried to set up refrigeration solutions that don’t rely on patchy electricity grids. (This technology would also allow easier access to conventional meat, but it’s unclear that you can get to mass plant-based meat adoption without it. Though there is a company in Nigeria selling non-refrigerated plant-based meat products).
- An infrastructure fund (or 100 of them) for the alt protein space focused on CAPEX-heavy projects (think major bioreactor / manufacturing build-outs) with lower return expectations than the VC firms that exist (GFI’s Infrastructure loan fund).
- Build protein enrichment facilities to increase processing capacity (Specht 2021) Seems like each facility could cost $100M-$300M.
- Establish a co-manufacturing site for plant-based alternatives (as Modern Agriculture Foundation is lobbying for in Israel).
- Build a pilot plant to allow testing of plant-based meat ingredients/ testing new machinery ( or provide grants and loans to develop food supply chains and help entrepreneurs access to pilot processing facilities- currently they can’t even test out prototypes).
- Build prototype farms with less suffering (such as the cage-free Kipster farms in the Netherlands) to demonstrate economic viability.
Build and launch organisations
- Some of the more outstanding bigger organisations can absorb much more funding, pretty productively (THL, GFI, CIWF, MFA). The Chair of the EA Animal Welfare fund said across those outstanding big groups alone, quite likely they could easily do an additional ~>$10M/yr on what they do right now (Greig 2022). These organisations have budgets in the range of $10-$20M and employ 50-100 people. So turning these organisations into megaprojects would mean increasing their budgets by $80M-$90M and likely expanding their staff by 10x. In practice, this might look like creating THL chapters in major cities in China and India (if they don’t already exist).
- Find effective organisations and refocus them on animal issues. For example, maybe provide effective climate change groups with funds specifically to develop plant-based meat/alternative protein divisions. Another angle is providing restricted funding for climate organisations (e.g. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc. ) to lobby for alternative proteins or other meat reduction ideas – obviously being wary of the small animal replacement problem.
- Take over sections or entire organisations. Find organisations with good structures and track record of impact but need mission realignment that can’t be done by persuading existing leadership, or need services of a larger organisation to increase impact (streamlined payroll etc). Rethink Priorities in a way did this by absorbing the staff of THL Labs.
- Replicate existing organisations. Just because an organisation works for one species, it doesn’t mean that the species is covered. Additionally, just because an organisation works in one country it doesn’t mean that country is covered. For instance, India itself and the scale of fish farming there is so vast that we could fund many Fish Welfare Initiative copy-cat organisations and not worry about them overlapping their efforts. Instead of being fixated on doing something novel—why don’t we just try the recipe that we know works and export it to other contexts where we believe it will also work? For instance, this might be why the Open Wing Alliance and cage-free campaigns have been so successful globally - taking a proven model (in the US) and replicating it in different countries and regions.
- Possible approaches that could be replicated:
- Fish Welfare Initiative’s producer centric model: Could be replicated with fish in other parts of India, and in other lower/middle income countries
- Continuing cage free and broiler campaigns in countries that are not yet covered (We haven’t covered all of them yet; there’s a lot of countries).
- Animal Advocacy Careers focused on low and lower middle income countries.
- An organisation that does basically everything GFI does, but for bivalves to support an alternative industry (assuming low probability of sentience) (h/t Michael St. Jules).
- Possible approaches that could be replicated:
- Supercharge Charity Entrepreneurship to seed new animal charities with hundreds of thousands of dollars (closer to Y Combinator than Fast Forward). There might be pressing problems that people are eager to work on, but can’t be done within existing organisations (even if they were made bigger).
- Consider neglected animals raised in large numbers. Combating the issue of farming insects for animal feed is unlikely to require the same public campaign tactics The Humane League has used so well for chickens. Rethink Priorities’ first incubated charity, Insect Welfare Project (provisional name) might be an example of launching something that eventually could absorb $100M when it finds an effective intervention and scales it. The Shrimp Welfare Project might be another example.
- Another approach could be regional. Tactics that worked in the US and Europe might not work well elsewhere if undercover investigations are penalised more heavily, consumer campaigns are highly censored, or policy change is not open to the public. Maybe we need a new organisation focused on egg-laying hens and broilers skilled at advocacy in authoritarian regimes to make a difference in China. Or maybe work on fish in China and India will be more successful there than in Europe.
- Ad blitzes: There might not be any limit of money we could spend on advertising. Why not launch an organisation or a subset of a current organisation to advertise the perils of factory farming and/or why plant-based is the future?
- This would ideally happen in one targeted region so we can measure the region-level effects. With sufficient money, we could hire the best ad agencies in the world to work on this.
- Buy a newspaper, media outlets, and publishing houses to cover animal welfare as done in the Guardian, Vox, The Intercept.
- Fund movies & documentaries directly or indirectly touching on animal advocacy & moral circle expansion (though documentaries may not be very effective).
- Expanding meat reduction education in universities (this is also an example of movement building above (h/t Jacob Peacock)).
- Fund symposia.
Buy policy change
- A wave of ballot initiatives/referenda (California Prop 12, Swiss anti-factory farming ballot initiative, EU EndTheCageAge) (Schukraft 2020).
- Starting and funding animal-focused political parties - (Ren Springlea, have some experience + have done research on this topic)
- Fund a Political Action Committee (PAC) or political organization like “Run For Something” to support candidates favouring public R&D into alternative proteins, institutional meat reduction, and improved conditions for farmed animals.
- Funding lobbying for alt proteins, labelling laws, cage-free legislation, public funding for cultured meat (link to GFI, Breakthrough Institute, Eurogroup for Animals, Plant-based Foods Association) (h/t Michael St. Jules).
- Fund legal advocacy to challenge laws (Germany banned battery cages in response to a legal suit that it violated the country’s animal welfare law and proper process), strike down ag-gag laws, defend animal welfare laws from industry challenge (like Prop 12 in the US Supreme court).
Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas: Bob Fischer, George Bridgwater, Haven King-Nobles, Jacob Peacock, James Ozden, Jason Schukraft, Michael St. Jules, Neil Dullaghan, Ren Springlea, Renan Araújo, Sam Hilton, Saulius Šimčikas, Vicky Cox.
(Note these are personal opinions and do not reflect the views of each person’s employers).
“Effective animal advocacy” refers to what we / the authors above consider EA-aligned animal advocacy.
For example, people could flesh out some of these ideas in depth and submit it to the Open Philanthropy Cause Exploration Prize.
We’re not implying that meat-free mondays campaigns are never cost-effective, but even regardless of the instrumental outcomes they could be useful.
THL has 109 staff, MFA has 122, Compassion International currently employ 110 full-time staff and 31 part-time staff. GFI has 59 staff members and 12 volunteers, WAI has ~6 as does Faunalytics (plus 12 volunteers). The largest budget of a farmed animal advocacy organisation is the ~$16M of Compassion in World Farming, followed by the $12M of Mercy for Animals but most operate on less than $1M.
Whilst replicating many organisations doesn’t have the same minimal vetting to scaling ratio that other megaprojects might, we included this (and other similar items) on this list due to their otherwise promising attributes.
New incubated charities usually get around $100,000, with $175,000 being the largest incubation grant given to date (James believes). Instead, this could be increased by 2-4x to give new organisations more runway, quicker abilities to test and scale, hire if necessary, as well as actually incubating a larger number of organisations.