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Authors of the research: Joey Savoie, Karolina Sarek, David Moss

When recommending different charities to found in the field of animal advocacy, a unique question to consider is what animals should be prioritized. For some interventions, this question is not necessary. For example, when “stunning before slaughter laws” were passed in the EU it affected a great variety of animals. On the other hand, though, recent cage-free campaigns targeted battery cage chickens’ welfare concerns, instead of cows’, pigs’ or fish welfare. This leaves us with the question of which animals should be our top priority for new charities. A perfect general prioritization does not seem possible, as some interventions will work better for certain (for example, cute) animals than others. Broadly speaking, however, it does still seem like some animals will end up being a higher priority across many interventions. There are a few different factors we considered when prioritizing between animals, including:

  • Number of animals
    For example, there are many more farmed fish than turkeys in the world.
  • Amount of suffering per animal
    For example, factory farmed hens have a much worse life than factory farmed cows. This was calculated by using our welfare points system.
  • Amount of suffering caused by a smaller number of specific reasons
    For example, factory-farmed fish seem to have relatively few changes that could greatly change their welfare, whereas wild bugs have a more diverse set of challenges.
  • Neglectedness
    For example, pet dogs get far more attention than factory farmed pigs.
  • Animal’s probability of sentience  
    For example, it's more likely that cows are sentient than insects.

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​There are many other factors that could be considered but these factors end up covering a lot of ground. They can be combined to create a promisingness ranking for a given animal. This promisingness ranking could direct future resources and efforts (for example, the next target of a corporate campaign). Overall, when considering all of these factors, we end up thinking the above list roughly represents the order of priority within animals.

Based off of this system, we think fish (both wild and factory farmed), turkeys, wild bugs, broiler chickens, and wild rats are the top priority animals for new charities to focus on.

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This research is very helpful, thanks! Two questions: (1) Sometimes I wonder if brain size is relevant, not just to probability-of-feeling-pain but to "amount of pain felt" or something like that. So, for example, perhaps a 1kg brain feels 1000x more pain than a 1g brain, on average. Do you include this in your analysis? If not, would it change things much if you did--e.g. making cows much higher-priority? (2) Your analysis is focused on the question of which animals should be prioritized in EA interventions. Does it also apply to the question of which animals are highest-priority to avoid eating? E.g. would it be better to be a reducitarian who eats beef but no other meats than a pescetarian?

On #2, indeed our research is mostly focused around which charities should be founded in the animal space. That being said, I do think it cross applies. For example, I would far prefer someone to eat beef and give up chicken than the opposite. For giving up different food categories I think it would go something like Fish > Chicken > Eggs > Pork > Beef > Milk > Cheese in order of importance based on both the animal welfare and the amount of animals it takes to form a meal (e.g. 1 chicken or 0.01 cows).

So on #1, there have been some discussions of this but out team was not convinced of the arguments enough to include a factor involving it into our analysis. You can see more here https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/2jTQTxYNwo6zb3Kyp/preliminary-thoughts-on-moral-weight and on the links at the bottom of that post. It would change things quite a bit. We have not done the calculation but off the top of my head I would expect it would impact insects most significantly with other animals moving up or down a category e.g. cows might move to mid but I would not expect them to move to high.

I'm curious what "wild rat" means—does this include rats that live in cities and enter into apartments? If not, did you consider mice and rats (and other animals) killed in traps by humans? I know a lot of traps are quite awful—poison or sticky traps that let them die by starvation—so I thought it was possible that this would be a priority category.

Wild rat indeed includes rats that live in cities and apartments (as long as they are not domesticated/pet rats). We definitely considered causes of death by humans (which for rats was quite a sizable percentage of their deaths) and our next report is in fact on ethical pest control, including possibilities like more ethical rodenticides and legal changes to move people from sticky to snap traps.

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