My name is Saulius Simcikas. I am a researcher at Rethink Priorities. I currently focus on topics within farmed animal welfare. Previously, I was a research intern at Animal Charity Evaluators, organised Effective Altruism events in the UK and Lithuania, and earned-to-give as a programmer.


Dutch anti-trust regulator bans pro-animal welfare chicken cartel

It’s interesting that this article was from 2015, so it preceded all the broiler welfare campaigns that are happening now. I think it’s good for animal activists to learn from successes and failures of those who tried to achieve similar goals before us, like the one in the linked article.

Speaking of which, this paper called Market barriers for welfare product innovations describes some other previous efforts to improve chicken welfare in the Netherlands that also failed in interesting ways. Here is one interesting excerpt:

Consumers may find it difficult to interpret welfare attributes. Animal welfare is a so-called credence attribute, i.e., it cannot be verified by the consumer - not even after consumption. Consumers will use certain cues (such as labels and package) and associations (Keller, 1993). Such associations may not always be correct: wrong links could be activated in the consumer's mind, and incorrect information could become associated with a product. An example of this is the failure of the introduction of slow-growing chicken meat in the Netherlands in the 1980s: consumers were not aware that regular chickens only live 42 days, and thought the 56-day grown chickens were slaughtered too young.

Finally, product image may inhibit the growth of welfare initiatives. The Dutch word for barn eggs, 'scharrel' eggs, may evoke an idyllic image of happy animals that live in small couples with a cock and roam around freely on the farmyard pecking about a bit (as suggested by Van Leeuwen, 2005). This perception is actually incorrect as hens are kept indoors. Yet, there is little knowledge amongst Dutch consumers about welfare labels on eggs (Burrel & Vrieze, 2003). Whereas 40% of the Dutch consumers state that they buy outdoor eggs (Anon., 2005c), the actual market share of outdoor systems is less than 4% (Anon., 2005a).

Consider the situation in Germany, where barn eggs are called 'Bodenhaltung' eggs (literally translated: floor-produced eggs) and free-range eggs are called 'Freiland' eggs (literally translated: freeland, 'open-air' eggs). One could argue that the positive and better fitting associations of the Freiland eggs in Germany translated into a better market share: 18.0% in 1999, compared with 2.5% for the free-range outdoor eggs in the Netherlands (Tacken & Van Horne, 2002). This illustrates the potentially powerful role of a positive and fitting image.

(sorry, this is a bit off topic. I wanted to share this stuff anyway but didn’t think it deserved its own post and thought that posting it here would be better than nothing as it might reach the same kind of people I wanted to reach).

Dutch anti-trust regulator bans pro-animal welfare chicken cartel

Interesting. The text is not very clear about this, but my understanding is that the anti-competitive aspect of this was an agreement between different retailers and producers to stop selling and producing cheaper low-welfare chicken on the condition that everyone else will do the same. When companies commit to the Better Chicken Commitment or a cage-free commitment, these commitments are not conditional on anyone else doing the same thing. So at least anti-competitive laws are not relevant in these situations, right?

Corporate commitments breakdown

I just want to say that a week ago I updated this spreadsheet to include newer commitments

The ten most-viewed posts of 2020

These are total pageviews, not unique views, right? So if I view the same article five times, it counts as five views, not one view, right?

The ten most-viewed posts of 2020

How long does it take to research and develop a new vaccine? was probably viewed so much because it was cited by The New York Times article in 2018 to back up a claim that "it takes 10 years and more than $1 billion to develop a vaccine" (which obviously wasn't talking about the kind of situation were are in now). And I imagine that the New York Times article got some reads in 2020 as it became very relevant.

How much (physical) suffering is there? Part II: Animals

It's an interesting project, thanks for doing it. But if you are measuring suffering in DALYs, shouldn't you look at the number of animals alive at any time, rather than the number slaughtered every year? Because most slaughtered chickens live for only about 6-8 weeks, while some animals like diary cows can live for years. I don't see where in the write-up you account for this difference. You can see estimates of how many captive animals of each species are alive at any time here or here. If you want estimates for specific fish species, they can be found here.

Big List of Cause Candidates

I feel it should be pointed out that there already is a similar standalone wiki and until recently there was another similar website PriorityWiki but I think that neither of them have received much traffic.

Physical Exercise for EAs – Why and How

I just want to add that if the above gym programs seem a bit too intense or time-consuming, I recommend this beginner gym workout routine. I personally do a similar program at home with some substitutions. E.g. pushups instead of bench press.

I'd add some core exercises to this, like situps and planks

I just want to note that multiple sources I trust don't recommend situps in particular. E.g. this

Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA)

Good to know. I've talked to Gautier who wrote the French article I linked to, and he said he had already tried to figure out the scale of the industry in France, but didn't manage to find stats on it. However, he said that there are indications that it is a small industry compared to the U.S. He said there was work on it mostly due to legal precedent reasons rather than direct impact.

Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA)

Thank you very much William for your comment! I will follow up with you in private but there are few things that I thought would be suitable to say/ask here as well.

It was very recently brought to my attention that baitfish seems to also be farmed in France and that there is an animal advocacy organization that has a petition on it (see here and here). I don’t know what is the scale of baitfish farming in France or in any country other than the U.S., so I don’t yet know if it is an issue I would recommend tackling in France. I just thought I should mention that in case you or someone else could be interested in doing some lobbying on this issue there.

Also, at Rethink Priorities we try to track any possible impact we had on the projects of animal welfare organizations. So I wanted to ask, do you think you would have worked on fish restocking if this article was never written? And please don’t hesitate to say that you knew about the industry and its size independently of that article and it had nothing to do with it, if that is the case :)

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