Tyler Johnston

Corporate Communications Specialist @ The Humane League
423 karmaJoined Jul 2022Working (0-5 years)Tulsa, OK, USA




The respondents argued that one of the functions of Proposition 12 was to protect the health of California customers w/r/t foodborne illness, which might be more likely from intensive farming systems where diseases spread easier.

So essentially claiming that pork products would be safer under Prop 12, since most of the pork sold in CA wasn't impacted by Prop 2.

Wow. This is great.

I've been looking for a write-up like this for a long time. And thanks for formatting it so well (sections, subsections, effect sizes, hyperlinks, 250+ references).

It's a bit depressing that so many of the effect sizes for interventions with a strong base of evidence are relatively small. I guess there's part of me that wants a silver bullet, but I know well enough that no such thing exists — at least not broadly across the population. Nonetheless, I'm guessing people could get a lot out of experimenting with and implementing many of these.

I'm looking forward to digging more into this!

Some exciting news from the animal welfare world: this morning, in a very ideologically-diverse 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld California's Proposition 12, one of the strongest animal welfare laws in the world!

A quick google suggests the average hourly wage of a social worker in the US is $29/hr — would they be better prepared/trained to do well at this work?

I think this point holds as long as we grant that the estimated cost to staff a hotline is anywhere within this order of magnitude, suggesting that this is one of the most cost-effective mental healthcare + life-saving interventions we've ever identified, particularly in wealthy countries.

Of course, the specifics of implementation would be way more challenging than just writing a check. It would only be if the cost of staffing a hotline with competent employees came out to be 10x or 100x more than the $15-30 range that I think this argument wouldn't apply.

Thanks for writing this up! I think mental health is a really important cause area, and I am always eager to think about ways to reduce the burden of suffering it causes. I also think more EAs should try to find volunteering opportunities that can help them reconnect with their values and have an immediate impact on their community, and this seems like a great opportunity for that.

That being said, if your estimates are correct (100 hours of volunteer work leading to one life saved), and if crisis lines could be staffed at normal call center wages (~$15/hr in the US, implying $1,500/life saved), that would suggest this is more cost-effective than the most effective interventions that Givewell has identified, and many orders of magnitude more effective than most governments' current healthcare spending. Because of this, I think we should probably have very low confidence in crisis hotlines being this effective at saving lives, at least until more research is done that suggests otherwise.

Still plenty of good reasons to consider this opportunity, though. Especially the point you mention about reducing the immediate distress of callers. In my mind, that is probably the most important benefit that these services provide!

I might be taking it too literally, but given these points, it could be worth renaming this post from a "comprehensive fact sheet of almost all the ways animals are mistreated in factory farms" (I wish such a list could fit in a few thousand words...) to something like a "fact sheet of some of the most salient causes of suffering on factory farms." Then again, I realize that's a worse title and has way less rhetorical power... maybe you could come up with something more creative than me!

Thanks for writing this.

Answer by Tyler JohnstonMar 14, 202363

This is a hard question! I think if you are looking for a specific cutoff point for a numerical metric, it's really a Sorites paradox. It's not that there's an obvious cutoff, just a gradual shift toward more and more cruelty.

Jonathan Safran Foer compares it to the famous Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart's take on obscenity (it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it) which seems right to me:

Like pornography, factory farming is hard to define but easy to identify. In a narrow sense it is a system of industrialized and intensive agriculture in which animals — often housed by the tens or even hundreds of thousands — are genetically engineered, restricted in mobility, and fed unnatural diets (which almost always include various drugs, like antimicrobials). Globally, roughly 450 billion land animals are now factory farmed every year. (There is no tally of fish.) Ninety-nine percent of all land animals eaten or used to produce milk and eggs in the United States are factory farmed. So although there are important exceptions, to speak about eating animals today is to speak about factory farming.

More than any set of practices, factory farming is a mind-set: reduce production costs to the absolute minimum and systematically ignore or “externalize” such costs as environmental degradation, human disease, and animal suffering. For thousands of years, farmers took their cues from natural processes. Factory farming considers nature an obstacle to be overcome.

I know this might not answer your question, which I take to be: how do people choose which farms to count when they come up with a number like X number of animals live on factory farms? But I suspect that the people making those estimates don't have a clear and simple heuristic either. Which might seem pretty non-rigorous, but I don't think their conclusions are far off in terms of magnitude.

I found one source that offers a fairly simple definition. It just considers every CAFO a factory farm, which is defined by the USDA in terms of the number of animals: "at least 125,000 chickens raised for meat, 82,000 hens used for eggs, 2,500 pigs, 1,000 cows raised for meat, or 700 cows used for dairy." The # alone might not entail cruelty, but I would guess its hard to run a profitable business with that many animals without making some welfare concessions.

This is a bummer to hear... part of why I felt comfortable buying mana, even when I lost it, was that I figured a lot of it would end up with effective charities at some point.

In retrospect, this was probably a simplistic view of the site, but alas. I do hope their team is successful in finding another solution.

Thank you for sharing this!

If I’m reading correctly, you found that many researchers thought “it’s unlikely that they will find [cost-competitive WAW interventions]” which surprised me, since it seems like you found reducing aquatic noise to be borderline already. Did you just mean in the very near future? Or do many researchers think it’s unlikely we will ever identify such interventions?

Thank you for all the work your team has done, and is doing, on this issue.

And thanks for clarifying the point about reading and responding — I worded it poorly and I've retracted it in my comment. But I do think the sort of thing I was gesturing at is just what you mentioned: right now, the structure is intended such that info is given after a conversation with CEA has been started and some level of nuance and specificity to the individual situation has been divulged.

I see the benefit to that — I guess there are tradeoffs in everything — but I also wonder if some people might prefer more info on confidentality and options without having to open dialogue with CEA disclosing any specifics of their situation. I don't know if that's true, though. I'm not an expert on this by any means, just trying to contribute to brainstorming a bit. I do think reading the forum post you linked helped me understand a bit more about this.

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