Factory farming

Over 60 billion land-dwelling animals are killed each year. The overwhelming majority of these animals are raised in factory farms, where conditions can involve “intense confinement, inhibition of natural behaviors, untreated health issues, and numerous other causes of suffering” (Reese 2016). Although it is difficult to quantify their welfare, a variety of considerations suggest that the lives of at least many of these animals are net-negative (Tomasik 2007; Norwood & Lusk 2011).

There are a number of different promising ways to reduce consumption of animal products (Open Philanthropy Project 2013). First, online adverts and leafleting campaigns may encourage people to take up a vegetarian or vegan diet, saving between 1 and 46 animals for each $1 donated (Animal Charity Evaluators 2016). Second, developing animal product alternatives can make it easier for individuals to reduce their consumption of animal products (Open Philanthropy Project 2015). Third, corporate campaigns can help to change conditions in large factory farms. The Open Philanthropy Project estimates that corporate cage-free campaigns have spared about 250 hens a year of confinement in a cage per each dollar spent. They also claim that the cost-effectiveness of these campaigns is higher than any of the other approaches they have investigated (Bollard 2016).

Further reading

Animal Charity Evaluators. 2016. Impact calculator.
An interactive app that calculates the impact of leafleting and online ads on animal welfare, given various assumptions.

Bollard, Lewis. 2016. Initial grants to support corporate cage-free reforms.
A report estimating the cost-effectiveness of corporate cage-free reforms.

MacAskill, W. & Meissner, D. 2020. Cause Prioritization: Farm Animal Welfare. In Introduction to Utilitarianism.

Norwood, Bailey & Jayson Lusk. 2011. Compassion, by the pound: the economics of farm animal welfare. New York: Oxofrd University Press.
An attempt to apply economic principles to illuminate various moral and practical issues surounding farm animals.

Open Philanthropy Project. 2013. Treatment of animals in industrial agriculture.
An overview of possible interventions to address the harms associated to factory farming.

Open Philanthropy Project. 2015. Animal product alternatives.
An investigation of animal product alternatives as a possible intervention for reducing animal suffering.

Reese, Jacy. 2016. Why animals matter for effective altruism.
An essay making the case for animal welfare as a top focus area of the effective altruism community.