First, I think this is a really good flag on an important issue and a great first post :)
As others mentioned CIWF have a good Octopus farming report highlighting the terrible consequences for animal welfare (underrated but I believe that Octopus could live 2-3 years in these conditions). I believe CIWF also presented the report to the Animal Welfare Intergroup of the European Parliament! They have also written to various places (governments, governors etc.) trying to have the practice outlawed or shut down.
Specifically within some of the key countries in Europe for this, namely Spain and Italy, Equalia and Essere Animali respectively might have interest in working on this. Though so far I am unsure how much either have worked on this.
However, I guess I’d say prospects for nipping this in the bud from a legislative perspective seem unclear to me. As in, say a country like Spain outlaws the practice of farming octopus (which in itself may be pretty unlikely), then I think a big multinational company like Nueva Pescanova (the company claiming to start the first commercial octopus farm) perhaps just goes to some other country they work in (and they are present in 20ish).
Further, research labs all over the world (US included) continue to chip away at farming octopus. And if one of the big seafood/fish farming countries in east asia (think Japan and/or China) takes up the helm, which they may as they have both big seafood companies and big domestic markets for octopus, I am really not sure we have the political power there yet (or will for some time) to try and nip it in the bud there.
A line of reasoning that I am maybe a bit more optimistic about is that perhaps we can nip this one in the bud from a capital perspective?
Nueva Pescanova (the company claiming they’ll be selling farmed octopus in 2023) has some seemingly poor financials. They went through a debt equity swap earlier this year and had basically declared bankruptcy and then restructured in ~2015.
They are reportedly planning to invest over 50M euro to create the farm. The farm will produce 2400 tonnes of finished product annually. The wholesale price for the wild type of this octopus product is ~11,000 euro/tonne (p.13). If that is the wholesale price, it gives ~26M euro turnover a year. I think it also takes more than a year to raise octopuses to be adults so they may not see that for 2-3 years, so maybe that should be modelled as being time discounted.
Then the running costs for the port facility would involve reportedly employing 450 staff (at ~20k euro each that would come to 9M euro/year). It will also take the equivalent of at least something like a few tonne’s of fishmeal per tonne of octopus (fishmeal at ~1250 euro per tonne) and would guess they have to use feed somewhat more expensive for octopus. Electricity sounds like a big factor too given they wanted to go ahead with the farm in the canary islands (rather than having the farm in Galicia, Spain the companies, headquarters, they looked to the canary islands because the electricity bill there would not be excessive). So might I’d tentatively guess they could be looking at millions of dollars per production cycle in electricity costs.
All that is probably why they are seeking a grant from the EU to fund this first farm. Otherwise they could be looking at least several years until getting a positive ROI on it. So I think that could be a good thing to target efforts against, as if the EU doesn’t offer funding, plausibly this farm doesn’t go ahead. But maybe Nueva Pescanova would just go ahead with it anyway though, and just absorb some greater initial losses though.
Same food for thought at least! I guess would be curious to find groups who might want to target that capital side of it now.
> Also, how do you judge their expected marginal cost-effectiveness? Do you do back-of-the-envelope calculations? Compare to previous projects with estimates? Check the project team's own estimates (and make adjustments as necessary)? All of the above? Any others?
It varies by project and depends on who the grant investigator is.
If a) the project is relatively well-suited to a back of the envelope and b) a back of the envelope seems decision-relevant, then we will engage in one. Right now, a) and b) seem true in a minority of cases, maybe ~10%-25% of applications depending on the round to give some rough sense. However, note that there tends to be some difference between projects in areas or by groups we have already evaluated vs projects/groups/areas that are newer to us. I’d say newer projects/groups areas are more likely to receive a back of the envelope style estimate. In cases where we do them, we generally look to compare to one’s we have previously done. If the project team submits an estimate (which tends to be relatively rare, again perhaps in that 10-25% range and they can be of varying quality), a fund manager will certainly review and note thoughts during the grant investigation.
More generally, here are some of the main general things that I’d say we like to look at to judge marginal cost-effectiveness (though note again the extent really depends on the fund manger and the specifics of the application):
The investigator produces a brief write-up summarizing their overall thinking, and assigns a vote to the application.
Good questions, and appreciate you raising them. I am going to split the responses because they’re somewhat long.
>How do you think the expected marginal cost-effectiveness of the grantees compares to the large effective animal advocacy charities like The Humane League?
Tl;dr: Main things I think about are i) the generally lacking evidence base leaves it unresolved, ii) risk and variance across the respective portfolios, iii) "big-picture" takes about the different portfolios, and iv) dynamics at the community level, as well as, what the community level portfolio should be. Spoiler: for those really interested in an explicit estimate, I don't give one but would be happy to connect if you would like to discuss it!
I would be pretty curious to hear your perspective on this (or that of others) :) For those interested in delving deeper, it could be worth reaching out to a few sources regarding this. For instance, I think people from THL probably have some good thoughts, and I would be happy to introduce anyone who might be interested. Also, flagging that I really could be biased here, as I am chair of the EA AWF and so probably have some interest in claiming greater effectiveness of grantees! I think there could also be some variance in the opinions of different fund managers, and I am just reporting some of my thoughts here.
Part of how I think about it is, the relatively lacking evidence base we have definitely contributes to it being difficult and I think leaves it all fairly unresolved. To help put the evidence base size in perspective, the total size of our animal sectors (FAW and WAW) is well south of 10% of the annual public global health r & d. Perhaps 5-10% of our sector’s resources (c. ~$200M/yr) could be categorized as research and development right now. So each year, we are looking at an evidence base, that measured by $ size, seems to grow at < 1% of the evidence base for global health. Furthermore, global health has been around much longer, so plausibly the difference in sizes of the respective evidence bases could be on the order of a thousand times. (Sidenote: I am glad to see groups like RP working towards making the evidence base from which we operate better)
Another part of how I think about it is that right now at least, there seems to be clearly greater levels of risk and variance in the ROI associated with the AWF grantees compared to THL. In fact, I’d say perhaps the main distinguishing factor between the two options’ marginal cost-effectiveness is there appears to be much greater risk and variance in good/marginal $ associated with the AWF grantees. A big part of that is, relative to THL’s programmatic portfolio, the AWF grantees’ programmatic portfolio seems much riskier, and embraces some areas that are less proven, or have relatively long pathways to impact such as research, farmed fish, wild animals, invertebrates, or early-stage seed funding. The geographic portfolio of AWF grantees in sum also seems somewhat more risk-tolerant to me too (e.g., slightly more of a % focus on parts of the globe where there’s little or no organized animal advocacy).
I think then combining the above two points we all then quickly end up in this position where it is i) to an extent importantly unresolved due to lacking evidence, and ii) it seems like a main distinguishing factor in the marginal cost-effectiveness estimate could be the variance and risk in AWF grantees. I think probably given i) and ii), different reasonable people can have different reasonable-sounding takes here with regards to which is more effective on the margin. Probably a lot of it will come down to some “big-picture takes” on the promisingness of some quite different approaches. E.g., degree of sentience across different species, priors on different approaches, the weight to give different evidence, and the value/risk of early-stage funding for promising areas/groups/locations.
Without revealing too much, one thing I would say is that I have personally come to feel more risk-tolerant over the years. However, I am still pretty hesitant to give a direct estimate or strongly indicate my preferences because some interested parties might skip straight to that, regardless of how many caveats I put on it or nuance I add. Honestly, I also have some sense that doing so publicly may also result in losing credibility in the eyes of some important stakeholders too. That said, I would be more than happy to personally chat and connect with anyone who is thinking through this question!
Relatedly, another layer to it all is, as a community that is looking to most help animals, to what extent does it make sense for representatives to publicly weigh in on how promising "their" option is specifically relative to some other competitive option. Another part of that is, perhaps what is quite important is what is above the bar for funding from the community, what ought the community level portfolio look like, and how would additional donations to various options most bring us in line with the optimal portfolio. Within that community portfolio lens, I think that both options (EA AWF and THL) really firmly land above the bar for funding. Another thing I’d say is that I think there can be an underrated degree of fungibility within EA-aligned funding within the animal sector. That is, some EA-aligned donor/funder A deciding to give less or not giving at all to one promising option, often importantly resulting in some EA-aligned donor/funder B giving more to that option.
Hopefully, that's all helpful! :)
Thanks, Ben! :)
This was really cool! Thanks a bunch for writing it up :)
For those interested, it somewhat reminded me of Some Case Studies in Early Field Growth and Establishing a research field in the natural sciences.
One quick observation that is probably a small thing or not right:
For the 8 fields that reached establishment, the median time between a field’s origin year and establishment year was 18 years, with the quickest field (Genetic Circuits) becoming established after 5 years, and the slowest (Clean Meat) becoming established after 63 years (the full list of times to establishment for the 8 fields, in years, is: 5, 16, 16, 17, 19, 26, 26, 63).
For Clean meat it looks like you use something like the date of postulation as the initial time point to measure the length of time to field establishment.
I don’t have a great understanding but have a feeling that for Genetic Circuits something like the date of postulation point maybe isn’t the initial time point used when measuring the length of time to field establishment?
If so, that might be doing most of the work in setting Genetic Circuits as the quickest and Clean Meat as the slowest.
This round, we report five anonymous grants after receiving advice from internal and external advisors, and further weighing the pros and cons of public reporting. We consider these grants to have a high expected impact, and report that there were no conflicts of interest in evaluating them.
Thanks for this post! I believe this is the first time that the Animal Welfare Fund is giving anonymous grants, but someone can correct me if I'm wrong. I was aware that the EAIF and LTFF are now able to do this, but I wasn't aware that the AWF is now able to do this too.
Thanks! Yeah, that is right, this is the first time.
Anyway, maybe EA Funds should indicate in their Apply for Funding page and the application form that the AWF will consider funding applications from grantseekers who wish to remain anonymous in public reporting? It currently says that only the EAIF and LTFF do this.
Good point! Thanks for pointing it out :)
We should have those updated shortly.
Somewhat building on one that is currently mentioned on the page. Advocates have secured thousands of corporate pledges for cage-free eggs globally since 2015. That’s built global pressure for legislation, e.g. the European Commission, UK governments, and various US states have cited corporate progress as a major motivator for them to act. (I think as of latest figures about ~100M (?) US hens were cage-free vs. about 20M in 2015, when the campaigns started ramping up.) In the US, the cage-free flock size has dramatically increased in size these past few years. See, e.g., p.4.
Right. So I still might not be fully understanding.
I guess it seems hard for me to understand thinking both:
A) Diet change has more negative effects on wild animals than positive effects on farmed animals.
And B) Diet changes’ negative effects on wild animals are in expectation greater than the positive effects from further work on wild animal welfare (e.g., of the sort WAI completes).
But maybe I am misunderstanding. Do you think both of those?
Separately, and another quick thought, it could be helpful to more formally model it, as that could help with intuitions here.
Part of what seems to be going on in my head is very roughly something like, some diet change CEE gives say a 95% CI [60,140] utils/$, excluding impacts on wild animals. So say mu=100, sigma=20(?)
Then impacts specifically on wild animals cause the estimate to shift somewhat downward. Impacts on wild animals may be, say, [-1000, 900]. Say, mu=-50, sigma=~450
In my head that additional consideration on wild animals just doesn’t shift the mean util/$ estimate much. That is because the variance on that estimate is so large compared to the variance on the original.
I think what may end up mattering a lot for this type of thing is the ratio of the variance on the cee for utils/$ of diet change intervention for farmed animals, compared to the variance on the impact of diet change on wild animals.
How does that all sound to you?:)