Monica

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Is there a market for products mixing plant-based and animal protein? Is advocating for "selective omnivores" / reducitarianism / mixed diets neglected - with regards to animal welfare?

I've seen a few blended products. Perdue has a line of blended nuggets and there is a burger chain in the DC area called elevation burger that markets "half the guilt" burgers with one vegan patty and one beef patty. Not sure if it's a great strategy but I imagine it could be helpful if it were marketed more directly toward meat eaters and less toward reluctant omnivores.

EAA is relatively overinvesting in corporate welfare reforms

To be clear, it is entirely plausible to me that you are right and that there are large net moral gains to be had from CWRs. I only mean to bring up an area of uncertainty not to say I think it clearly comes out to CWRs=bad. 

The Humane League has some discussion of the relationship between broiler welfare, growth, and slaughter weight. While I agree that you might be able to find some slower growing breeds that get to the same weight eventually as some faster growing breeds, I would guess that if slower breeds were widely adopted, we would be looking at a 5-10% average difference in  slaughter weight. However, I certainly concede that the harms of the bird being unable to hold their own weight might far outweigh the harms from any increase in the number of birds.

As for the egg-laying case, I agree that 15% sounds like an upper bound to me and I suspect much lower.

EAA is relatively overinvesting in corporate welfare reforms

While I absolutely think CWRs have a lot of upsides, one thing I will add to the discussion of their downsides is that there is almost always a productivity tradeoff that causes more animals to be raised in factory farms under the more humane conditions. For example, slower growing chicken breeds tend to weigh less at slaughter than faster growing breeds, and switching from from fast to slow growing breeds may increase the number of chickens consumed. Obviously this may be partially offset by price increases but the net effect may still be more chickens living better but still not lives worth living. A similar situation arises with caged vs cage-free eggs. Even if you agree with this calculus, I completely understand thinking that it is a worthwhile tradeoff and I think that myself half the time, but I do feel torn.

Analgesics for farm animals

Hi Paul, I am absolutely with you in that I think factory farms are awful and would of course continue to be awful with the widespread use of analgesics. I fully support doing everything we can to eliminate them through some combination of developing alternative proteins and moving people and institutions toward eating the plant-based alternatives we already have. I in no way support mutilating animals even with analgesics. The reason I wrote this post is because I think it would be an improvement for animal welfare over the status quo of using no analgesics, and I think that this improvement is relatively achievable.

As a side note, my position has shifted a bit since I've written this based on new technological developments. I now think efforts in this domain should be more targeted toward adoption of drugs and genetic engineering that eliminate the need for the modifications in the first place. When I wrote this, those seemed a long way off but I no longer feel that way. But to be clear, even if we could completely eliminate all forms of direct mutilation that this post discusses I will still think factory farms are horrible.

Should EAs in the U.S. focus more on federal or local politics?

I agree with evelynciara that animal welfare in agriculture is highly relevant to EA and that most progress toward animal welfare laws are being made at the state and local level. I would add that progress towards national and global goals often starts at the local level--more states adopt a particular law (e.g. increased welfare standards in agriculture), and that sets an example for others to start a more national conversation. 

Other things that come to mind are scalable improvements in institutional and governmental decision making such as adopting approval voting. These are  important for similar reasons to animal welfare laws--they set an example and set the stage for a national conversation.

Local governments also fund universities and other research programs that might be high impact and in principal they could fund much more and much more effectively. They have jurisdiction over housing, zoning, and transport which have enormous environmental and economic impact. They have at least partial jurisdiction on mental health programs, policing, criminal justice, vehicle and pedestrian safety, lead abatement, and charitable grants.

With that said, no one can make much of dent in nuclear weapons policies by showing up to their local city council meeting, so there is plenty of work to be done on the federal level as well and where any individual should focus probably depends on their personal situation, skills, interests, etc. 

Are mice or rats (as pests) a potential area of animal welfare improvement?

There has recently been some really exciting progress on mouse and rat fertility control. There are several products already on the market that claim to reduce fertility but they could certainly use more development and third party rigorous testing to show effectiveness. I think that investing in developing, testing, and promoting fertility control methods is likely to have a high payoff. Doing so is also likely to be profitable to private companies and in the interest of various governments, so this is a good opportunity to leverage resources of larger non-animal-welfare focused institutions. 

AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy

Thank you for doing this AMA! I have three questions:

1) The FDA has approved at least one alternative to pig castration (the brand name is Improvest) that involves two injections behind the ears rather than surgery. Similar technology has been shown to work in cattle but I don't believe that has FDA approval. I've heard that this product works well and is cost-effective for farmers but that it has not been widely adopted because processing plants tend to reject in-tact pigs more or less out of inertia. Do you have thoughts on whether working to address this problem (at least for pigs) is tractable and cost-effective? 

2) What kind economic research do you think that plant-based food companies would find most useful? Do these companies typically have their own data analysts to privately answer common economic questions? If not, would they be likely to read relevant literature or change their strategy based studies in econ journals? Examples of the sort of research I had in mind might include: 

  • Prices: What is the price elasticity of demand for plant-based products? How much do temporary sales induce consumers to switch from animal products to plant-based analogues in the short-term? What is the cross-price elasticity of demand for these products? Do consumers who respond to sales subsequently purchase the analogues?
  • Packaging: Are consumers more likely to try a plant-based product if it is in a smaller, cheaper package? Do smaller packages causally induce a sustained customer shift towards the analogue?.
  • Partnerships: Industry groups representing input commodities (e.g. the National Rice Company) assist large purchasers to anticipate price and supply and to acquire supply contracts. Do similar opportunities exist to assist plant-based companies in their mission?

3) There has been significant recent progress in wild-animal fertility control, some of which is already being implemented (target species are often otherwise killed inhumanely). Do you think that this is an approach worth directly pursuing now or do you feel we need more information or research to see if this is a good idea? If you think we need more information, what kind of research would you like to see? 

A ranked list of all EA-relevant (audio)books I've read

Regarding your first point, I do worry that strong community norms against having book lists include only male authors risks the perception that female authors that do get included are only there to fulfill some imaginary quota rather than on their merits. Not saying that there isn't an important conversation to be had about fostering diversity of viewpoints and representation along gender or other demographic lines, but in my view that is at least a pretty strong downside to this approach.

Has there been much work on figuring out the impact of plant-based foods?

There is a ton of research tracking the environmental impacts of various crop products. See for example our world in data: https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food

Tracking the animal welfare effects of crop products is much more difficult and involves thinking about very complex ecosystems. Brian Tomasik  has some work on this as does the Wild Animal Suffering Initiative ( https://was-research.org ). I personally think that where you come down on the relative rankings of various foods will come down to your opinion about the probability and intensity of insect suffering. In my view that probability is quite low but the number of insects is large enough that it is certainly worth considering.

I would classify the next category of harms as "human conflict harms" which would include things like slavery in the production process or frequent violence over production disputes. These harms are very product specific and I have seen a lot of research and discussion about individual products but not a comprehensive list or ranking of various products. It is also worth noting there is a lot of heterogeneity within particular products. For example, chocolate has a problem with child slavery in the supply lines but some brands have done a great job transparently ensuring that no slavery occurs in their supply chains. I do think this is an area that could use a synthesis of the existing research to explain which foods are most problematic in this areas (and where applicable, what brands/countries avoid issues). One thing to keep in mind about this category though is that they are often not inherent in the production of any particular product. It just happens that certain foods are associated with these harms. If we launched a successful campaign to stop eating chocolate, for example, it is not clear to me that child slavers wouldn't just switch to forcing children to grow coffee. Seems like we need a more general approach like supply-chain certification and regulation for a lack of slavery (fair trade certification does this but also unfortunately has some other problems, so I would like to see a certification that is strictly limited to the lack of slavery). 

The author of the paper you mentioned also discussed some harms that are in my opinion non-issues. For example, the fact that global demand for quinoa has priced local growers out of eating quinoa seems like a net-good for them because now they have higher incomes and can afford more of other types of food.

I happen to think that the harms from animal agriculture are orders of magnitude higher than the harms from  plant-based food products on average, but I certainly agree with you that we should not consider transitioning society to veganism as the end-all fix to our food system (though it would certainly be a good start!).

80,000 Hours: Where's the best place to volunteer?

At least in the US, it is very common for cities/counties/other local governments to have boards and commissions that advise the elected officials (and in some cases have certain direct decision making power). These are typically part time volunteer positions that you have to apply for to get, but are often not that competitive. If you volunteer for your city's charter review commission and advocate for instituting approval voting or volunteer for the environment commission and advocate for policies that promote plant based food (e.g. meatless Mondays in schools) or volunteer for the grants review panel and advocate for directing funds toward relatively more effective organizations, then that might be a good use of your time. Typically volunteering in this capacity means that you are also committing to spend time on projects and policies that you might be less excited about, but that means you might run into other opportunities to learn something new or have an influence that you haven't thought about yet. The specifics will vary by location and your own interests/strengths, but from what I can tell these types of opportunities are pretty common across the U.S.

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