Ben Stevenson

Animal Welfare Research Assistant @ Rethink Priorities
230 karmaJoined Jul 2022London, UK


Moral trade opportunity: Alice donates a kidney, Bob donates part of their liver?


The responses were written with input from animal welfare professionals, but they're only suggestions and I would encourage you to share your own opinions too. I'm happy to talk through the object-level of any disagreements, if helpful.

On images specifically, I agree that misleading pictures could undermine the label's effectiveness but I personally doubt the risk outweighs the reward of informing consumers about the real conditions of animal farming. Whether you choose 'agree' or 'disagree', I think you should detail your thoughts in the 'explanation' section and emphasise that businesses shouldn't be allowed to use misleading photos of animals.

The labels will be imperfect, and it's an open question whether policymakers and the public will stall on further progress. More empirical research here would be good. (If you've not seen it, you might find this resource interesting although it is a few years old). But I think that we have to try to score a goal whenever the opportunity presents itself, and that it's very plausible both that political wins build momentum for the animal movement and that labelling increases public salience of welfare issues.

Independent assessment of welfare claims is covered in question 72. I've suggested strongly supporting it, except in cases where it made the labelling scheme unworkable.

I think it takes about 30 minutes to reply to this consultation, and I think it's absolutely worth doing.

This Google Doc indicates the animal welfare-relevant questions and suggests responses. I encourage anybody to copy-paste these suggestions, or use them as inspiration for original responses. Note that the government recognises "that respondents may choose to use some standardised text to inform their response", and accepts them as legitimate responses.

Thanks @haven for help writing this!

Thanks for writing this, Bella. I relate: I lived with mice recently and spent a lot of time fretting about their well-being as the landlord closed in.

I think that sympathy towards small, liminal animals speaks to an expanded moral circle and that, when we feel powerless to save the animals, bearing witness to their deaths as you've done here might be an important way of paying respect to them.

This is a great success story - well done to all involved!

the core message - some interventions are magnitudes more promising than others - was retained and even extended to other domains: from education, social programmes, and CO2 emissions reductions policies to efforts to change habits of meat consumption and voter turnout (Todd 2023)


Could you point me to the discussion of meat consumption in this source? I can't seem to find it. Thanks!

This is a really interesting resource; inspired me to take Kitcher off the bookshelf. Looking forward to part 2.

(Btw, small typo: word missing in ZFG's thesis title)

I've only skimmed this article, but also Coupet and Schehl (2021) claims "Much of the nonprofit performance theory suggests that donors are unlikely to base donation decisions on nonprofit production".

I find this post interesting, because I think it’s important to be conceptually clear about animal minds, but I strongly disagree with its conclusions.

It’s true that animals (and AIs) might be automatons: they might simulate qualia without really experiencing them. And it’s true that humans might anthropomorphise by seeing qualia in animals, or AIs, or arbitrary shape that don't really have them. (You might enjoy John Bradshaw’s The Animals Among Us, which has a chapter on just this topic).

But I don’t see why an ability to talk about your qualia would be a suitable test for your qualia's realness. I can imagine talking automatons, and I can imagine non-talking non-automatons. If I prod an LLM with the right prompts, it might describe ‘its’ experiences to me; this is surreal and freaky, but it doesn’t yet persuade me that the LLM has qualia, that there is something which it is to be an LLM. And, likewise, I can imagine a mute person, or a person afflicted with locked-in syndrome, who experiences qualia but can’t talk about it. You write: “We expect that even if someone can't (e.g., they can't talk at all) but we ask them in writing or restore their ability to respond, they'd talk about qualia”. But I don’t see how “restor[ing] their ability to respond” is different to ‘granting animals the ability to respond’; just as you expect humans granted voice to talk about their qualia, I expect many animals granted voice to talk about their qualia. (It seems quixotic, but some researchers are really exploring this right now, using AI to try to translate animal languages). Your test would treat the “very human-like” screaming of pigs at slaughter as no evidence at all for their qualia. The boundary between screams and words is fuzzy, the distinction arbitrary. I think it’s a speciesist way to draw the line: the question is not, Can they talk?

I would be a little out of my depth talking about better tests for animal consciousness, but as far as I know the canonical book on fish consciousness is Do Fish Feel Pain? by Victoria Braithwaite. If you haven’t read it, I think you’d find it interesting. I also second Angelina and Constance's comments, which share valuable information about our evidence base on invertebrate sentience.

Some evidence on animal consciousness is more convincing than other evidence. Braithwaite makes a stronger case than this post. But the questions definitely aren’t answered, and they might be fundamentally unanswerable! So: what do we do? I don’t think we can say, ‘I believe fish and shrimp don’t experience qualia, and therefore there are no ethical issues with eating them.’ We should adopt the Precautionary Principle: ‘I think there’s some chance, even if it’s a low chance, that fish and shrimp experience qualia, so there could be ethical issues with eating them’. In a world with uncertainty about whether fish and shrimp experience qualia, one scenario is the torture and exploitaton of trillions, and another scenario is a slightly narrower diet. Why risk an ethically catastrophic mistake?

(writing in a personal capacity)

Thanks so much to Angelina for looking into this. This post illustrates two of my favourite things about EA: a willigness to dive in and do, and an openness to strange ideas being important. I agree that, from what we know, plant-based shrimp paste could be a way to save many lives, and I'd be excited to hear from any animal advocates thinking about this problem.

Rethink Priorites will soon be hosting a webinar on our farmed shrimp welfare research, where we'll discuss the farming practices behind concerningly high pre-slaughter mortality rates. This research isn't directly related to shrimp paste, but I expect it'll still be interesting to anybody who enjoyed this post. The webinar will be held on Monday the 20th of November from 11am to 11-45am (East Coast US time). I've already sent Angelina a link; if anybody else is interesting in coming along, please DM me!

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