Summary

  • 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.[1] 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).[2] 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.[3]

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)

Financial incentives

  • 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[4]
  • 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).

 

Build infrastructure

  • 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.[5] 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.[6] 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).
      • Veganuary
      • 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).
         
  • Supercharge Charity Entrepreneurship to seed new animal charities with hundreds of thousands of dollars (closer to Y Combinator than Fast Forward).[7] 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.

Spread information

  • 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).

Credits

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).





 

  1. ^

    With the exception of Fai writing about space colonisation issues here and here.

  2. ^

    “Effective animal advocacy” refers to what we / the authors above consider EA-aligned animal advocacy.

  3. ^

    For example, people could flesh out some of these ideas in depth and submit it to the Open Philanthropy Cause Exploration Prize.

  4. ^

    We’re not implying that meat-free mondays campaigns are never cost-effective, but even regardless of the instrumental outcomes they could be useful.

  5. ^

    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.

  6. ^

    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.

  7. ^

    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.

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19 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:27 AM

Thank you for writing this! I have been thinking about some ideas that could become mega projects, just throwing some of them out here (you have already listed some of them)

  • Pay to install  electric stunners in "small fish slaughter machines" which is popular in China. The idea is to pay way higher than the cost of installing such stunners so that the whole industry that produces this machine is disrupted. I am doing research on this potential project. My tentative judgement is that installing such stunners might be cheap - it could be as simple as connecting electricity between  the gear wheels that push the fish into the machine. According to the producers' claims, these machines can kill 100-15000 fish per hour, depending on the species. I estimate that a $100 payment per machine is huge enough to incentivise the majority of these machines' producers to agree to a deal.
  • Invent a new "cleansing machine" for crayfish (I estimate that Chinese people eat 4,000B of them each year).  The special thing about crayfish is that they are so dirty for human consumption they require heavy "cleansing" before being cooked. Shallow research shows that the currently most common method for "cleansing" them is ultrasonic bath while they are still fully alive (for about 20 minutes), which seems extremely painful if they are sentient (in this video you can see the crayfish crawling out to escape the ultrasonicing water.) The idea is to invent a new method that is much less painful and sell the machine at a price that would crowd out all other methods. Without virtually any serious research, it seems like electrical bath before the cleaning starts is the way to go.
  • AI For Animals (This could be the name of a new charity)
    • AI to monitor the welfare situation (not according to factory farms' definitions) in factory farms, transportation, and retail spots. This is especially important for fish, because there are many species farmed
    • AI to speed up PB/CM research. A lot of PB/CM startups now have 1-2 computer scientist/data scientist. Instead of each of them hiring expensive CS/DS/ML researchers and doing uncollaborated work, start a research hub to distribute the new science and technology
    • AI to decipher animal "language". This is something that a few academic teams are already working on, but with small project scales, and on animtals that are not farmed. This is a moonshot - for maybe the truth is that high level nonhuman animal-human communication is impossible. But if we can directly communicate with them, or at least know what they want to express, it will help us understand a lot more about nonhuman animals, and probably help advocacy (imagine a knowing a fish's complaint or pleading!)
    • AI for tackling wild animal suffering.  This is a big idea with potentially many sub-applications:
      • AI (drones) to identify dying wild animals and euthanize them. This approach even avoids the problem/accusation that we might cause unpredictable changes and therefore possibly harms while we change what happens in ecosystems, for example,  if a deer felt off a cliff and painfully waits for the death, whether the death is cause by time, hunger, a predator, or a drone (as far as the killing doesn't leave stuff like bullets or toxic chemicals) likely won't affect what will happen inside that ecosystem. The same might even be said in some cases where the animals are not yet dead - for example, if a forest fire is definitely going kill certain animals and the AI deemed it impossible to move those animals out of the fire's affecting zone, the AI drones can kill them before the fire reach them. Again in this case whether the animals are dead before the fire reaches them won't affect the ecosystem, the only difference is only the amount of suffering that happens (burning alive is often thought to be one of the most painful deaths).
      • AI to track/count wild animals. Quite a number of teams are already doing this, but none of them are interested in the suffering/welfare of individual animals. If a team is interested in tackling WAS the animals to train the AI to track/count would be very different. Being able to count wild animals, monitor their movements, and changes in population, are all hugely important for research that guide wild animal welfare interventions.
      • AI to identify wild animal welfare levels. This is the wild animal version of the farmed animal welfare identification AI, but probably much harder as wild animals are not in controlled environments and data gathering  and data curation will be much harder.
      • Computer models to predict the effects of interventions. There are many people working on this, but as far as my knowledge goes those people are mostly, if not entirely, interested in "classical conservation" which is not interested in the welfare of individual animals. We need models that can predict the change of net welfare in a system when certain interventions are introduced to a system.

These are interesting ideas! I think that AI systems designed with animal welfare in mind would be more reliant on computer vision and sensory data than NLP, since animals don't speak in human tongues. This blog post about using biologgers to measure animal welfare comes to mind.

I'm nervous about implementing AI solutions in the near-term, because, as you allude, what they are used to achieve is matter of who's programming them :/

These are very interesting. The electric stunning can be both beneficial in the way that animals, if they are at least intuitively aware what they live for - to maybe be eaten or produce animal products and be eaten, then if this is they all their life just chill and then it is just a stun, then it's quite ok. If they could they would probably contribute further, by some advancement, but since we currently only can use their contributions in this way, they may be quite ok just chilling taking care of their life. I read there at least were issues with the stunning machines in US slaughterhouses - simple technical issues - poor placement or inadequate current. Also, ritual killing is an issue. Stunning is more elegant and should be the new ritual.

Electrical bath for crayfish makes sense too. It can be just a simple electrode which prevents the issues of crawling (and thus loss of crayfish and capital). Of course, the alternative of eating rare tofus can be even better but for the time being - there should be manufacturers that would gladly produce this device.

AI monitoring welfare - I would not implement it, maybe in a few years when institutions become more interested in monitoring - it's a moonshot plus there may be other tech solutions with higher marginal cost-effectiveness. For example, actually, if you focus on cricket farms - I think that if they miss simple nutrients, such as salt, they eat each others. This can extensively slump the atmosphere there for large numbers of individuals. So, some maybe salinity/humidity/etc monitoring device that even a worker can go around with and just poke around and depending on the values nutrients are automatically dispersed. Of course, insect welfare research should perhaps be prioritized because what if crickets just love the thrill of eating others and being eaten since they live to the fullest or suffer in any case so optimal salinity makes very little difference.

I think plant-based is more promising with the cost right now than cultured meat. Still, the equipment is suboptimal since it is made for meat. Probably, these are relatively simple engineering solutions.

Animal language can be deciphered based on evolutionary empathy. For example, when one really eats some vegetable, they can feel like a bug in the same situation. When they are unsure about an unfamiliar object and looking at it, like a bird in that situation. You probably do not need to 'require' animals to communicate, since it is quite clear what they want - or, it is similar to what one can perceive in some globally poor/disempowered contexts: individuals do not have their own objectives since no one has asked them. I wonder if this should be different with animals: if developing their own interests would be a challenge/detrimental to their subjective wellbeing since they are used to/capable of only very simple lives.

You need research on wild animal welfare before you can be reasonably certain that interventions will be welcome. For example, animals can negotiate/make agreements/cooperate by the exhibit of power. Since they cannot imagine treatment and specialize in order to increase efficiencies by trade little (are independent of others outside of their family/tribe, more competing for scarce resources or benefiting from others' death), they can just have very different attitudes to concepts such as longevity, disability-adjusted life year. For them, it can be 'are what they should and protect those who they should' or not. It is a good life - righteousness transcends pain, which is accepted by its inevitability. Maybe. Engagement of similar humans can help elucidate non-humans' way of thinking.

Yes, you would need to know the quality of the lives of the number of animals to have valuable data. Even the number, and other metrics, can be beneficial, if maybe in the future the quality is associated with these metrics and historical developments inform optimal solutions as well as present welfare states. 

Hm, yes, computer models that track the developments of populations, e. g. based on predation rates are ok but the welfare is missing.

On buying policy change:

The swiss non-factory farming ballot is actually coming this september and additional funding could greatly help to change the outcome. I copy+paste the reddit post I made yesterday with the details here:

 

A rather revolutionary referendum will take place in Switzerland this fall: The voters will decide whether in the future all livestock farming in Switzerland must at least meet the standards of "Bio Suisse", an organic label with rather strict standards.

I am writing this post because I am convinced that the initiative has a not bad chance to be accepted and a very high expected value. In a representative opinion poll on the launch of the initiative, 59% of the respondents said they were in favor of the initiative.

 

In Switzerland, 80 million animals are killed every year, which could now at least live and die under completely different conditions. In addition, the appeal abroad should not be underestimated if an entire country adopts such strict husbandry regulations and can show that it is a sustainable model.

Of course, the livestock industry, for its part, is throwing millions into the election campaign, which is why additional financial resources could make a huge difference to the outcome of the vote. The initiative is broadly supported by environmental organizations and led by a professional team.

More information and details for donations:

Campaign website (in German, Italian, French): https://massentierhaltung.ch/

Website of the organization leading the campaign (also in English): https://sentience.ch/en/

I really like this idea. In addition to financial supports, maybe EA should formally take a stance on this?

That woud be amazing!  I'm not well connected within the EA community so if somebody can help out with this that would be awesome!

Some of my favorite ideas (some listed above):

  1. Venture philanthropy fund - evergreen fund (profits get recycled to make more investments) to invest in technologies/companies  that improve animal lives (alt proteins, more humane slaughter, conservation, etc)
  2. Hedge fund/venture scout model - turn high performing individuals in non-grantmaking roles into part-time grantmakers by giving them philanthropic budgets to deploy autonomously (and only continue giving them funds if they show "impact returns")
  3. Longtermist Animal Welfare NGO - this seems almost completely neglected by both EA LT's and non-EA AW people but there are many long-term nightmare scenarios we are not defending against (e.g. CAFOs in space, insect farming, digital animals, animal pandemics).
  4. Endow a university institute - I am not aware of any institutes dedicated to the study and promotion of animal welfare. "Animal health" is very common at the American land grant universities but in practice "animal health" means the opposite of animal welfare
  5. Mass media - funding of documentaries and other media that can convince mainstream consumers to stop eating animal products or otherwise expand their moral circle
  6. Asset management - Create a philanthropic private equity fund to engage in shareholder activism (such as Carl Ichan's failed bid with McDonalds)
  7. Infrastructure fund for alternative proteins - there is a desperate need for plant protein extraction infrastructure and precision fermentation/cultivated meat bioprocessing infrastructure (about $60Bn needed total). Venture capital largely won't invest because they are too capital intensive and governments mostly refuse to support the sector due to agribusiness lobbying power. Loan guarantees would help too.
  8. Supercharging existing EA AW orgs and Charity Entrepreneurship
  9. Impact litigation to make factory farming a liability like Legal Impact for Chickens 

Happy to share additional details on anything!  These are mostly finance based as that is my background.

I enjoyed this post. And I appreciated some of the explanation in the intro. E.g. I can imagine this list being inspiring for donors (and hadn't thought about it like that before).

But is it much different from a list of (non-mega) project ideas?

E.g. see this comment:

"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."

You could apply this logic to almost any animal charity that's trying to find interventions that are both cost-effective and scalable.

Once you adopt this perspective, the question could be switched from "which megaproject ideas can we think of?" to "how rapidly will we get diminishing returns on further investment in various plausibly cost-effective project ideas?"

Thanks Jamie! We struggled a lot with this issue when writing the post.

I'm not really sure I see a problem or a difference with the "which megaproject ideas can we think of?"/ "how rapidly will we get diminishing returns on further investment in various plausibly cost-effective project ideas?" distinction. I think if the answer to the second question is "quickly and with only a few million $" then you cut the idea from the list. It's part of the way to arrive at answers to "which megaproject ideas can we think of?". Other ideas floated seemed like they would be cost-effective at a small scale but could never absorb $10M because the problem was so small (foie gras bans perhaps) or the low-hanging fruit was uniquely cheap (the first type of a new campaign in a new region/species but hit some blockers or severe diminishing returns as they try to scale), and other ideas didn't look cost-effective at a small scale only but maybe at large scale if they reach some sort of economies of scale (some sort of policy or subsidization schemes that only gain leverage at large scales).

On the specific example you highlighted, I think "almost any animal charity" would have more weight as a critique if there were many such opportunities. I think the N of animal charities pursuing interventions that could actually both scale & remain cost-effective is relatively small (I don't see orgs like FWI and Healthier Hens popping up without the deliberate effort of Charity Entrepreneurship and it's still to be proven if they can scale and remain cost-effective. Even larger orgs like CIWF & THL aren't obviously only doing cost-effective things). The two we cited (focusing on shrimp and farmed insects) were deliberate because the sheer number of animals affected provide the opportunity that cost-effectiveness could be maintained even if spending a lot of money, unlike other animal charities. 

I agree not all the items on the list will turn out to meet strict definitions, or even vague definitions, of megaprojects. The main point of the exercise here was to note the virtual lack of any ideas on animals and prompt discussion and interest, and secondly to actually propose ideas from among which further investigation might find some really compelling megaprojects.

Appreciate this post.

Sections that stood out for me as being particularly tractable & scalable are:

  • Build a better evidence base: I think Rethink Priorities  is doing a great job here and would be great to see their team grow. Work from Welfare Footprint has also been really useful to support advocacy work. Something I have heard from many campaign groups is that having research conducted in their country in their own language would be really useful for working with local goverments, companies and producers.
  • Build infrastructure: I think this Global Food Partners model farm project in Indonesia is really useful in facilitating change. I think having something like this in many more countries would be impactful.
  • Build and launch organisations: I think the idea of working with existing orgs to focus on specific animal issues is valuable. Considerable effort is spent getting a new organisation started and connected. Friends of the Earth incorporated the Better Chicken Commitment into their Kale Yeah! initiative to shift caterers to use more plant based food and this led to a number of universities making change for chickens. Many Open Wing Alliance groups have made rapid progress on cage-free as they already had the foundation of their organisation in place. I agree that larger organisations could quite easily absorb more funding. Something I have noticed in hiring is we are having a lot, 100's of applications, for entry level roles and limited applications for roles with more experience and technical skills. I am happy to see larger organizations putting more effort into growing staff in technical skills, management skills etc and see this as being very important. I would like to see more of this along with more entry level roles and perhaps something like 'graduate programs'(I don't think it should be restricted to graduates though) that larger businesses offer to grow the talent pool. I also see big value in replicating projects that are working.
  • Spread Information: From what I understand, the WakkerDier campaign on broilers in the Netherlands was very successful in part due to their ad blitz. The cost of doing an ad blitz with the same exposure in other countries is pretty high.
  • Buy policy change: Ballot initiatives/referenda really do seem to be working well and complement corporate campaign work. Obraz in Czechia achieved a laying hen cage ban that comes into effect in 2027 on the back of their cage-free egg campaign. They launched corporate their cage-free campaign in 2018 and won many major commitments with 83.3% of hens in cages, in 2019 they introduced into parliament legislation for a ban with 74% of hens in cages and in 2020 a ban was made with 67.6% of hens in cages. I think the execution of this campaign was exceptional and having a laser focus on an issue and closing it out from a number of angles should be done more.

Something I have heard from many campaign groups is that having research conducted in their country in their own language would be really useful for working with local goverments, companies and producers.

Are there any particular existing texts that would be useful to translate to other languages? Perhaps the Welfare Footprint books on hens and broilers? This wouldn't be as good as research conducted in their own country but perhaps still useful and probably very easy to organize and fund.

Yes, I think it is exactly that sort of thing Saulius. From what I have heard it is often the research about how animals are kept that people want from their region/country.

There is a lot of potential in fish welfare/stunning. In addition to what others have mentioned, IIRC from some reading a few years ago:

  •  The greatest bottleneck in humane slaughter is research, e.g. determining parameters/designing machines for stunning each major species, as they differ so much. There just aren't many experts in this field, and the leading researchers are mostly very busy (and pretty old), but perhaps financial incentives would persuade some people with the right sort of background to go into this area.
  • As well as electrical and percussive stunning, anaesthetising with clove oil/eugenol seems a promising and under-researched method of reducing the pain of slaughter.  Because it may just involve adding a liquid/powder to a tank containing the fish, it may also require less tailoring to each species than than other methods (though it can affect the flavour if "too much" is used). I have some notes on this if anyone is interested.
  • Crustastun could be mass-produced and supplied cheaply/freely to places that would otherwise boil crustaceans alive. I seem to recall a French lawyer had invented another machine that was even better (or cheaper) but was too busy to promote it; maybe EAs could buy the patent or something?

This is a very valuable post. Thanks a lot to both for writing this up! Looking forward to seeing some of these megaprojects happening in the future!

Very cool! I hope to see at least some of those analyzed and maybe taken off the ground in the near future :)

I love this post! Based on my experience as co-founder of Talist (and a lot of research before launching this new organisation) I want to highlight the need & opportunity for mega-projects for headhunting, building up a talent pipeline and training -  basically solving the talent bottleneck for both the EAA movement and the Alt. Protein Industry. Globally finding, attracting and assessing the best people could easily absorb multi million fundings and there are opportunities for very scalable projects with great potential for high impact. (I am currently investigating the idea of a digital talent community / job market place for STEM professionals to help solve the talent gap in the Alt Protein Industry.  I wish there were already more opportunities for non-profit funding for bigger projects like this. The only funder I am aware of is the Future Fund / FTX community and they do not accept unsolicited funding requests atm. So I am considering for-profit funding, which comes a long with several risks and downsides compared to non-profit funding)

Excellent post! Regarding fellowships and scholarships within academia, I would also suggest offering pre-PhD fellowships similar to NSF, NDSEG, or Hertz, which support a student's full grad school tuition. The stipulation would be that the student's dissertation would need to be related to animal welfare-related topics, which is similar to how NIH training grants in the USA are already structured. A similar model could work for postdoctoral fellowships.

This would have the following benefits:

  • Winning a competitive fellowship pre-PhD looks great on a student's CV and can help them get into grad school and find an excellent advisor.
  • In many academic departments in the US, it can be hard for even well-funded faculty members to take on students to work on animal welfare topics, because their existing funding is earmarked for other topics. 
  • Related to the above, most funding for animal welfare research is unfortunately tied to specific projects, making it hard for faculty to find funding for training students on these topics.

Regarding encouraging faculty to work on animal welfare topics, establishing less restricted funding sources (i.e., earmarked for animal welfare research, but not tied to a specific project) for faculty with strong track records of working in this area would improve substantially on the current model and incentives.

Supporting New Harvest could go a long way towards helping ensure well-being of animals. I met with Stephanie from their team earlier this year. Here is a link to a Ted Talk by one of their co-founders (Isha Datar). 

It seems like they have a small, but very capable team. The way I understand it, their focus is to continue to foster the collaborations/research in the wider domain of cellular agriculture.