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This announcement was written by Toby Tremlett, but don’t worry, I won’t answer the questions for Lewis.

Lewis Bollard, Program Director of Farm Animal Welfare at Open Philanthropy, will be holding an AMA on Wednesday 8th of May. Put all your questions for him on this thread before Wednesday (you can add questions later, but he may not see them).

Lewis leads Open Philanthropy’s Farm Animal Welfare Strategy, which you can read more about here. Open Philanthropy has given over 400 grants in its Farm Animal Welfare focus area, ranging from $15,000 to support animal welfare training for two veterinary researchers, to a three-year-long $13 million commitment to support Anima International

Lewis has a BA in Social Studies from Harvard and a Law degree from Yale. Before starting at Open Philanthropy in 2015, he worked as, amongst other things, a Policy Advisor at the Humane Society of the United States.

Things I recommend reading/listening to to find out more about Lewis’s work:

Consider asking Lewis about:

  • Lessons he has learned from historical activists.
  • How Open Philanthropy chooses its focus areas: why chicken and fish?
  • How you could most effectively help animals with your time or money.
  • What he’s most excited about in the farm animal welfare space.
  • What he thinks is behind the decline in plant-based meat sales.
  • How he thinks about moral weights and tradeoffs between species.
  • How he thinks EA has influenced the animal welfare movement.
  • How he thinks AI may affect animal welfare.
  • How to build career capital for a career in animal welfare.

But, as always, ask him anything!




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To what extent does Open Philanthropy (OP) use Rethink Priorities' welfare ranges to compare interventions targetting different species? What else does OP use?

OP currently uses the welfare ranges that Luke Muehlhauser produced as part of his 2018 moral patienthood report. He lists species’ ranges here, though we use point estimates he produced internally. Luke’s numbers are steeper / more hierarchical than Rethink’s.

We sometimes test the sensitivity of species-specific grants to using Luke or Rethink’s welfare ranges. So far this hasn’t often been action-guiding, since we’re already primarily funding work focused on the most numerous farmed vertebrates (chicken and fish) and our funding on invertebrate welfare is more limited by other factors.

Vasco Grilo
Thanks, Lewis! I actually fitted distributions to the moral weights conditional on moral patienthood Luke shared in that post, and multiplied them by Luke's probabilities of moral patienthood given in his 2017 report, and got expected moral weights pretty close to 1 (i.e. similar to that of humans): SpeciesMean moral weight relative to humansUniformNormalLoguniformLognormalParetoLogisticChimpanzees0.9000.9000.4903.27+∞0.900Pigs1.401.400.76513.1+∞1.40Cows2.002.001.14132+∞2.00Chickens4.004.002.411.50 k+∞4.00Rainbow trouts4.554.553.0028.4 k+∞4.55Fruit flies2.502.501.952.46 M+∞2.50 Would it be possibe to share the specific point estimates you are using, and how Luke (@lukeprog) obtained them? I see. That being said, welfare ranges can still affect cause prioritisation?
Sorry, I can’t share our internal numbers. To date, we haven’t focused on making direct comparisons between GHW and FAW. Instead, we’ve focused on trying to equalize marginal returns within each area and do something more like worldview diversification to determine allocations across GHW, FAW, and Open Philanthropy’s other grantmaking. Luke has written about moral weights in the past, we've commissioned more recent work by Rethink Priorities, and we hope to do more research ourselves in the future -- on moral weights and also on other components of BOTECs that would allow comparisons between animal and human focused work (e.g., welfare range, the difference between the number of humans and chickens, respectively, affected by a marginal intervention in each area), as well as our overall framework for making this decision. That said, the timing is TBD.

What’s a view you hold most EA-minded animal advocates would disagree with?

My views are pretty aligned with most EA-minded animal advocates. But in the interests of finding disagreement, here are a few possibilities:

  • Work to achieve legal personhood for animals is unlikely to help farmed animals.
  • Cultivated meat is unlikely to significantly displace factory farmed meat in our lifetimes.
  • Huel is tastier than Soylent.

Sorry to not be more disagreeable ;) 

Peter Wildeford
Are the things in the bullets the things you believe or the things you disagree with?
Things I believe. Though I'm really torn on the Huel vs. Soylent one

If you had to place the different kinds of work within farmed animal welfare (e.g. corporate pressure campaigns, alternative proteins, persuading people to be vegan, etc) into different tiers based on how optimistic you are about them (e.g. 'very optimistic', 'moderately optimistic', etc) what would they look like?

Fun question! Here’s a rough hierarchy, with my most optimistic up top. Note that these are averages globally, and some approaches might be much more promising in certain countries, or when done by certain groups.

Corporate animal welfare campaigns
Alternative proteins
Farm animal welfare technologies and innovations
Movement-building in LMICs
Legislative animal welfare advocacy
Movement-building in rich countries
Institutional meat reduction
Litigation for farmed animals
Persuading people to be vegan
Holistic food systems reform
Farm transitions

Of course there are lots of other interventions being tried! Let me know if you want my thoughts on any others.

Many grantee organisations report the lessons they learnt to their donors. Open Philanthropy must have accumulated a lot of information on the best practices for animal welfare organisations. As far as I understand, grant makers are wary of giving object level advice and micromanaging grantees. On the other hand, many organisations already spend a lot of time trying to learn about the best (and worst) practices in other organisations. Could Open Phil animal welfare team prepare an anonymised write up about what their grantees report as the reasons for their successes and failures?

This is a cool idea! As you note, we’re wary of telling grantees how to run their organizations. We’ve generally preferred to fund groups that can work with grantees to help them implement best practices that work for them. For example, Scarlet Spark, Mission Realization Partners, and (previously) Sharpen Strategy. But we’ll think about whether we could prepare an anonymized write up like you suggest. 

What's going on with the progress on breeds for the Better Chicken Commitment? I've heard it hasn't been going well. But I think I also read the BCC hadn't actually settled on breeds until after many commitments were made, so we wouldn't expect them to start making progress on breeds until after that, anyway. But I think we have settled on approved breeds for a while now.

Yeah both statements are true. The US Better Chicken Commitment lacked a list of approved breeds for many years due to delays at the Global Animal Partnership, which was in turned delayed by a study on breed welfare outcomes at the University of Guelph. My understanding is that a lot of those delays were due to attempts by the Guelph researchers to address concerns from the breeding companies about how to ensure the fairness of the study's methodology. Of course the breeding companies dismissed the study's results -- finding welfare problems wit their fastest growing breeds -- anyway.

My understanding is that most US companies with BCC pledges are yet to make any progress on adopting higher welfare breeds in their supply chains. I suspect that's mostly because it's the most expensive change in the BCC, since higher welfare breeds grow slower and have a worse feed conversion ratio. But it doesn't help that most major US chicken producers have refused to even meet their corporate customers' requests to raise higher welfare breeds.

As usual, things are going better in Europe. The Danish and Dutch retail sectors now sell almost entirely chicken from higher-welfare breeds, while I think French retailers are making solid progress. Still, there's a lot more work to do!

From ChickenWatch’s Commitment Tracker, it seems like there's a decrease in the number of BCC and in total commitments YearBetter Chicken commitmentTotal commitments202311149202219253202135329202060364201953494201826480201777389 (I simply counted descriptions that included "Better Chicken" as a substring, and haven't double-checked for errors) [It doesn't necessarily mean that things are getting worse. ChickenWatch could be missing more stuff, maybe larger commitments are bundled together, commitments could generally be getting larger in their ask or the target corporate, etc.]

Thanks for the announcement, Toby! Thanks for doing an AMA, Lewis!

What are your best guesses for the mean, and 5th and 95th percentiles of the marginal cost-effectiveness of Open Philanthropy's (OP's) animal welfare grants in DALY/$? For reference:

  • I arrived at a mean/expected marginal cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns for chicken welfare of 14.3 DALY/$ (= 8.20*2.01*0.870), assuming:
    • Campaigns affect 8.20 chicken-years per $ (= 41*1/5), multiplying:
      • Saulius Šimčikas’ estimate of 41 chicken-years per $.
      • An adjustment factor of 1/5, since OP thinks “the marginal FAW [farmed animal welfare] funding opportunity is ~1/5th as cost-effective as the average from Saulius’ analysis [which is linked just above]”.
    • An improvement in chicken welfare per time of 2.01 times the intensity of the mean human experience, as I estimated for moving broilers from a conventional to a reformed scenario based on Rethink Priorities’ median welfare range for chickens of 0.332.
    • A ratio between humans’ healthy and total life expectancy at birth in 2016 of 87.0 % (= 63.1/72.5).
  • The above 14.3 DALY/$ is around 1 k times the 0.01 DALY/$ (= 50/(5*10^3)) respecting GiveWell's top charities,
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If there were 1 blog article on animal welfare that you would want everyone to read so that we were all up to speed on the topic, what would it be? 

I’m not sure there’s one neat article. I’d love someone to write such an overview. In the meantime, your best bet might be Our World in Data’s cool new section on animal welfare. For a wrap up on progress over the last decade, you could also read my 2022 year-end newsletter. 

What percent of farmed animal welfare advocacy does Open Phil fund? How valuable would it be for the cause area to have additional major funders?

We’re about a quarter of global farmed animal welfare advocacy spend, based on a broad definition of such advocacy, i.e. including alt protein work, vegan advocacy, etc. We’re a larger share of what I’d consider evidence-based or EA-aligned advocacy. Depending on what you include in that category, we’re about half to two thirds of funding for such work.

It would be very valuable to have additional major funders! For example, I’m excited to see the Navigation Fund coming online shortly. In addition to enlarging the pie of total farmed animal welfare funding, new funders could add a greater diversity of perspectives and provide more stability for groups. (We’ve seen that groups majority funded by us are often wary of investing in long term growth because they’re nervous about being so reliant on one funder.)

I spend a chunk of my time trying to bring new major funders into the space. We’re also funding work with Farmed Animal Funders and Focus Philanthropy toward the same goal. I welcome ideas on how we could do better at this!

The year is 2100 and factory farming either does not exist anymore or is extremely rare. What happened?

Alien invasion.

Do you think there are promising ways to slow down growth in aquaculture?

No. I think it’s near impossible to slow the growth of a major industry like aquaculture. You could slow its growth in particular countries but, so long as demand remains constant, production will just expand elsewhere. That’s especially true given the vast majority of aquaculture is in countries where we have no hope of slowing its growth. 

You could try to reduce demand for farmed fish, but we’ve never succeeded in reducing demand for such a popular food in the past. (And even if you did, people would probably just switch to wild-caught fish. This might just boost demand for farmed fish, since wild-caught fish are supply constrained, and most people view wild-caught and farmed fish as interchangeable, so most marginal fish demand is satisfied with farmed fish.)

What are your thoughts on replicating the success of prop 12/question 3 in new states as well as campaigning for new initiatives in Massachusetts and California (e.g. chick culling ban)? Is anyone working on this?

I’m not aware of anyone currently working on this. The immediate priority is to stop Congress from preempting Prop 12 / Question 3 and other laws like them. House Republicans have put text in their version of the Farm Bill to do so, so there will be a major fight on this in the coming months.

If we survive that fight, I’d like to see more ballot measures with popular farm animal welfare reforms. There are a few constraints to be aware of:

  • Only 22 US states allow for useful citizen-initiated laws. (Another four allow for veto referendums or constitutional amendments, neither of which would work for us.) Most are conservative-led states where the legislature would likely overturn a pro-animal initiative result, leaving perhaps 10 states where we could bring these measures. 
  • An initiative needs to be simple enough to attract votes (confused voters vote no), but complex enough to address the biggest animal welfare challenges (e.g. try defining higher welfare broiler breeds in a way the average voter will endorse). This limits the number of topics that can be covered.
  • A state-wide initiative requires a major campaign and expertise. The group that traditionally ran them, the Humane
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Do you think broiler breed ballot initiatives are worth trying or at least investigating further, given the potential upside and cost-effectiveness of cage-free ballot initiatives (Duffy, 2023)? EDIT: Also see Khimasia, 2023 on potential broiler ballot initiatives, from CE/AIM's research program. Have there been surveys/polls on potential broiler initiatives (target states, wording, etc.)? They seem quite promising to me, but the first step should be further investigation, e.g. finding the best wording for expected impact (impact if passed x probability of passing).

If I donate 1 k$ to an organisation which is significantly funded by Open Philanthropy, how much less money in expectaction will Open Philanthropy grant to that organisation? I think corporate campaigns for chicken welfare are super cost-effective, so I am tempted to donate to The Humane League (THL). According to Animal Charity Evaluators, they have a funding gap of 10.5 M$ for 2024 to 2025. However, as I commented elsewhere:

Open Philanthropy (OP), which granted 8.3 M$ to THL in 2023, presumably wants to fund THL up to a certain point. Other donors donating to THL could simply mean OP has to donate less. So I wonder whether donating to THL has the same effect as donating to OP. If this is so, donating to THL would be equivalent to mostly supporting human welfare interventions. Based on OP's grants data on 17 February 2024, only 9.98 % of the money granted by OP has gone to animal welfare interventions.

I guess donations to AWF [Animal Welfare Fund] do not suffer as much from the above.

I would also be curious about your thoughts on the sentence just above.

There are two separate funging worries here. First, will donating more to THL mean that OP gives less to THL? Answer: probably not, for a few reasons. (1) One factor limiting our funding for THL and other groups is how much of their budget we're both comfortable with OP being. So donating to them could actually increase our giving by lowering our portion (though see next point that any additional funds will come from elsewhere within the farm animal welfare budget). (2) Room for more funding / neglect is only one consideration in our grant sizing for groups, including THL, and (3) Our grant sizing for big grantees like THL is quite coarse: we only consider it once every three years and are unlikely to be swayed by small fluctuations in their funding.

Second, will donating to THL mean that OP gives less to farm animal welfare? Answer: almost certainly not. OP’s farm animal welfare team has a set budget, so even in the unlikely event we funged your gift to THL, our funds would go to other animal groups instead. In theory, new outside funding could lead OP to view farm animal welfare as less neglected, affecting our budget, but I don't think perceived lack of neglect is a limiting factor on our budget. (And I don't think it would become one until funding increased by a huge amount, e.g. >$50-100M.)

Fwiw, I still personally donate to THL (and other groups).

Vasco Grilo
Thanks, Lewis! How often is this the limiting factor? If quite often, then I agree funging would be small. I think my point holds as long as all the considerations boil down to you setting a given target funding in $. In general, I do not think the consideration above matters much. The situation seems analogous to one eating 100 g less chicken leading in expectation to a decrease in chicken production by something close to 100 g (a little lower because the elasticity is lower than 1), despite the very low probability of eating less 100 g of chicken affecting the number of batches of chicken (which I guess respect at least tens of kg). Likewise for funding? The probability of my donation affecting the funding THL receives from Open Philanthropy could be low, but in expectation the decrease in funding could still be meaningful. To illustrate, if you only adjust your funding to THL in intervals of 100 k$, and set the target funding to THL in $ (instead of as a fraction of THL's total expenditure), a donation of 1 k$ to THL would have something like a 1 % (= 1/100) chance of decreasing your funding by 100 k$ (given a uniform prior about how far away you are from updating you target funding), so the donation would in expectation decrease your funding by 1 k$. I appreciate a donation of 1 k$ is super unlikely to change your animal welfare funding, but this does not necessarily imply the expected change in your animal welfare funding caused by a small donation is neglegible. For example, if you update your targer animal welfare funding in intervals of 100 M$, a 1 k$ donation to THL could have something like a 0.001 % (= 0.001/100) chance of updating your funding by 100 M$ (given a uniform prior about how far away you are from updating you target funding), thus decreasing your animal welfare funding in expectation by 1 k$. Am I missing something?
Thanks Vasco. On (1) and (2), I think that the grant sizing process is messier than it may seem. So the portion of a group's budget we can be is often a major factor, but not necessarily the limiting one. And I don't think our considerations all boil down to us setting a given target revenue for a group, in large part because we don't want to create a perverse incentive for other funders to not fund groups we do and for our grantees to not fundraise. On (3), I agree there's some chance that in aggregate your donation will flip a group into a different funding category. I just think it's quite rare, because the ideal revenue level for a group is not our only consideration in funding levels. See also the point above about us explicitly trying to avoid gaming other funders or groups' fundraisers. On the final point, I think you're wrong to assume that if funding for farm animal welfare increased by $100M then there's a 100% chance our program's funding would decline by $100M (which to be clear is more than our program's budget). I think reduced neglect could influence Open Phil leadership to allocate less funding to a cause area. But I think the odds it did so are much below 100% and the amount it would do so by is far less than the increased funding in the space (here $100M).
Vasco Grilo
Thanks, Lewis! I gave a bad example because 100 M$ is a significant fraction of the amount granted in farm animal welfare over the number of years respecting the budget allocation. I also assumed an elasticity of 1, but I can see something like 0.5 would be more reasonable. So my corrected statement would be something like a new animal welfare donor granting 10 M$ in a similar way to Open Phil (i.e. not just an increase in 10 M$ of funding, which may be poorly allocated) would decrease Open Phil funding in expectation by 5 M$. However, I see your replies to points 1 to 3 would also apply, such that the elasticity may be closer to 1, and therefore one would not need to worry about Open Phil decreasing funding to animal welfare.
Yeah that makes sense. I think you're right that it's plausible that new funding could decrease Open Phil funding in the space. I just think it's low odds, and would only be to a much lower extent than the size of new funding.

Looking at major changes societies have adopted in the past, the path to these changes has often been nonlinear. A frequently-discussed example is the U.S. civil rights movement, where the extent of violent opposition reached a near zenith just before the movement's largest victories in the 1950s and 60s. Gay marriage in the U.S. was another example: in a 15-year period ending three years before marriage equality was decided by SCOTUS, advocates watched a wave of anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendments succeed at the ballot 30-1. Women's suffrage, the New Deal, and (most extremely) the abolition of slavery were all immediately preceded by enormous levels of opposition and social strife.

How, if at all, does OP account for the frequent nonlinearity of major societal changes when deciding what interventions to support on behalf of farmed animals? 

Thanks Aidan. I agree that much social change is nonlinear and hard to predict. I also agree that violent opposition preceded some significant social changes, though I'm more inclined to see that as a symptom of the issue having achieved high social salience rather than as a cause of the change.

I studied historic social movements in college and it's been my hobby since, and it's left me wary of extracting general lessons from past movements, since I think they often fit our prior beliefs. For instance, I see in the US civil rights movement a movement that for decades clocked up small achievable incremental legal and political wins in service of several larger incremental wins (two key federal laws and several Supreme Court rulings) but that failed in its more radical goals (racial and economic equality). I see in gay marriage a movement that largely sidelined radical calls to end marriage and other oppressive institutions in favor of a disciplined focus on a quite narrow practical goal: marriage equality. And I see the US abolitionists' radical goals and tactics as largely a failure alongside the UK abolitionists' more moderate ones, which achieved abolition decades earlier and wit... (read more)

Vasco Grilo
Interesting question, Aidan! Relatedly, I liked 80,000 Hours' podcast Cass Sunstein on how social change happens, and why it’s so often abrupt & unpredictable. One of the topics they discuss is whether the way the world treats farmed animals could abruptly change.

Do you think Open Philanthropy's animal welfare grants should have write-ups whose main text is longer than 1 paragraph? I think it would be great if you shared the cost-effectiveness analyses you seem to be doing. In your recent appearance on The 80,000 Hours Podcast (which I liked!), you said (emphasis mine):

Lewis Bollard: Our goal is to help as many animals as we can, as much as we can — and the challenge is working out how to do that.


If there’s not a track record, if this is maybe more speculative or a longer-term play, we try to vet the path to impact. So we try to look at what are the steps that would be required to get to the long-term goal. How realistic are those steps? Do they logically lead to one another? And what evidence is there about whether we’re on that path, about whether the group has achieved those initial steps? But then there is also some degree of needing to look at plans and just assess plausibly how strong do these plans look? It’s not always possible to pin down the exact numbers. We try as hard as we can to do that, though.

To be clear, the main text of the write-ups of Open Philanthropy’s large grants is 1 paragraph across all areas, not just the on... (read more)

I think this is a fair criticism. For now, I think the costs to longer write-ups outweigh the benefits. I see the costs primarily as:

  • The time to write something longer and align with the grantee on acceptable language
  • The reduced willingness of groups to share confidential info with us if they know it will end up online
  • The risk that people will take our analysis out of context, e.g. making confident statements based on rough cost-effectiveness analyses

The benefit also feels limited given my sense is that few people would read these write-ups, and most wouldn't have the ability to move significant funding or org decision making based on them. But feel free to make the case for this in the replies!

Vasco Grilo
Thanks, Lewis! Instead of writing write-ups with a main text longer than 1 paragraph, have you considered asking prospective grantees to share a version of their application which you could publish? By default, the public application could be the same as the private one to save time, but some parts of this could be anonymised or removed at grantees discretion. Manifund does this, and I think it is a nice way of minimising costs while keeping much of the benefits. Do you think GiveWell should also share much less information about their grants? If not, why?

Thanks Vasco. We actually used to share grantees' applications (with their permission) by default. I suspect you can still find them linked on the older grant pages.

My experience was that this significantly limited the information grantees were willing to share in their application, or forced them to create a second application just for sharing. I was also frustrated at how often these were taken out of context. For example, the meat industry used the Guardian's proposal to us to fund content on factory farming (which we posted) as evidence that the Guardian was biased and just in this for the money.

I'm not sure if GiveWell should share less info. But I'd note that they're in a very different position to Open Phil, in that their aim (as I understand it) is to influence individual donors through rigorous analysis. If I thought we could positively influence the donations of lots of individual donors through longer write-ups, I'd probably think it was worth us doing them.

What are some important lessons or things you've learned on how to do grantmaking well over the past 9 years that you would give to yourself when you were starting at OP? 

In no particular order:

  • Double down on what works. Our most successful grants have mostly been cases where we scaled up an already successful campaign or program.
  • Focus on tractability. Many projects are focused on large-scale and neglected problems. The distinguishing factor in which ones help many animals is typically how tractable the space they’re operating in is.
  • Align on clear goals. Early on we had a number of grants where we disagreed with the grantee on how well things had gone. We’ve found that aligning on specific and measurable goals upfront keeps grants on track and makes renewal discussions easier.
  • Create feedback loops. One of the biggest challenges in funding longer-term theories of change is knowing whether they’re on track or not. The best solution we’ve found so far is to build feedback loops, even if only on intermediate outcomes, into the grant plan.
  • Make more one-off trial grants. I see two problems with funding new ideas: not enough get funded, but too many keep getting funded after the idea has failed. I think the antidote is to make more one-off trial grants, with no expectation of ongoing funding.

Do you think the nascent field of economics of animal welfare will play a significant role in increasing the spending on animal welfare interventions? To illustrate what I am referring to, I share below the abstracts of 2 pieces of research in that field.

Kevin Kuruc's paper Monetizing the externalities of animal agriculture: insights from an inclusive welfare function (2023):

Animal agriculture encompasses global markets with large externalities from animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions. We formally study these social costs by embedding an animal inclusive social welfare function into a climate-economy model that includes an agricultural sector. The total external costs are found to be large under the baseline parameterization. These results are driven by animal welfare costs, which themselves are due to an assumption that animal lives are worse than nonexistence. Though untestable—and perhaps controversial—we find support for this qualitative assumption and demonstrate that our results are robust to a wide range of its quantitative interpretations. Surprisingly, the environmental costs play a comparatively small role, even in sensitivity analyses that depart substantially fr

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I'm excited about the growing field of the economics of animal welfare, including research papers like the two you mentioned. I'm not sure the field will play a significant role in increasing the spending on animal welfare interventions (though curious to hear how you see that happening). But I see a number of important other roles it can play: * Influencing public policy, by allowing the integrating of animal welfare benefits into cost-benefit analysis. I've seen a number of animal welfare regulatory proposals be stopped in part because regulators assigned zero value to the animal welfare benefits. * Influencing effective advocacy. I think experiments, like those done at college dining halls on the meat consumption impacts of lectures and leafletting, can lead us toward more cost-effective interventions. * Influencing the rest of academia. For example, my sense is that fields like environmental economics currently often exclude animal welfare from their considerations, leading to conclusions that can help the environment but harm animal welfare.

What role do you think journalism can play in advancing the cause of farmed animals? Can you think of any promising topics journalists may want to prioritize in the European context in particular, i.e. topics that have the potential to unlock important gains for farmed animals if seriously investigated and publicized?

I think journalism can help farmed animals by reporting regularly on their plight. For an upcoming newsletter, we tracked the number of news articles on factory farming related topics (e.g. farm animal cruelty) against articles on climate change, over the last decade. While both numbers rose, the number of articles on climate change rose at a much faster rate. I think the lack of media coverage of factory farming contributes to political and public apathy on the issue.

I’d especially like to see articles or investigations into the actions of specific corporate and legislative players. Corporate executives and politicians have the most power to stop farm animal cruelty. But they can easily ignore the issue when the media lets them. So I’d like to see more articles asking why specific corporations are underperforming on animal welfare relative to their competitors, or why specific politicians are opposing popular reforms. 

What are some common pitfalls in the field of grantmaking that you encountered, and what advice would you give to new philanthropists to avoid them?

I see lots! Here are the ones that first come to mind:

  • Analysis paralysis. I've seen a bunch of philanthropists spend years trying to learn and perfect their strategy before giving any money. I think they'd learn more, and do more good, by viewing giving as an iterative process, where they can give, learn, and strategize simultaneously.
  • Wanting to solve every problem at once. I often see philanthropists deride alt proteins because they're still "ultra-processed" or welfare reforms because they don't "change the system." Unfortunately my experience has been that when philanthropists seek solutions that solve every problem at once, they normally end up solving none of them.
  • Following future stories, over past track records. I see some philanthropists fall for ideal stories of the future (e.g. "this campaign will end factory farming by X date"). I'd encourage these philanthropists to review whether the group's past track record suggests they have any hope of achieving their story's ending.
  • Too must trust in our future selves. I've seen philanthropists who say they're saving to give in future or just that they'll step up their giving when they retire, get richer, or whatever. I've also see
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What are 2-3 of the biggest ways you've updated your thinking in terms of what works / strategies to improve farmed animal welfare over the past few years?

  • I’ve become more excited about the prospects of investor advocacy to secure corporate animal welfare progress, thanks mostly to the work of The Accountability Board.
  • I’ve become more optimistic about the prospects of climate funders supporting alt protein advocacy and research, thanks to the recent entry of several major climate funders into the space.
  • I’ve become more pessimistic about legislative reform, after seeing industry successfully defeat or stall popular farm animal welfare reforms in the EU and the UK.
  • I’ve become more pessimistic about the likely future market share of plant-based meats, in light of the fall in sales over the last few years. 
  • I’ve become more optimistic about cooperative industry outreach in industries that haven’t yet tackled animal welfare, after seeing the openness of some portions of the aquaculture and insect farming industries to addressing animal welfare proactively.

Hi Lewis, and thanks for organizing this AMA,

I'm working on the notion of cultural change concerning the animal issue. It seems to me that you don't address this point in your reflections, and if I'm not mistaken, OP doesn't fund any cultural struggle organizations.

However, it seems to me extremely difficult to achieve the profound advances demanded by the situation for farmed or fished animals without challenging the extreme speciesist ideology of our civilization. And if we consider the fate of wild animals, the prospects are dizzying: they are infinitel... (read more)

Thanks for the question. I agree that cultural change is important, both for farmed and wild animals. I'm actually thinking about writing a future newsletter on the topic. Our challenge funding in this area has been identifying funding opportunities that seem likely to influence cultural change on a large scale. As you allude to, it's not clear that a lot of our movement's past efforts at education and awareness-raising have been effective in this goal. And I'm not clear that past movements have achieved this absent a huge organic grassroots movement (civil rights) or huge funding (anti-tobacco) or both (climate change). What sorts of interventions do you have in mind? And do you see any examples of past success at cultural change in our movement? It's obviously much easier to scale up successful approaches than to hope for the success of untested ones.
I have in mind several different examples of cultural strategies that are well known in France, but probably less so (or not at all) in the US. - One very effective cultural strategy is that of Paris Animaux Zoopolis / Projet Animaux Zoopolis (https://zoopolis.fr), which deals with wild animals (not RWAS) and liminal animals, but also recreational fishing and farmed fish for restocking rivers, and which, by changing the public's image of animals (e.g. rats), undoubtedly has a general cultural impact that changes the public's view of animals. PAZ uses the cultural (media) impact of its battles to put pressure on political figures (mayors, MPs) and achieve greater cultural effectiveness or even new laws (its other objective): I've written a description of the work of this association, and how it uses cultural struggle very effectively to bring about concrete, sometimes legislative changes. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Cj2w9xd9vNjNBGuTpe_WNjIi816E_2roIx_FnK6cvug/edit - A cultural strategy that would be more effective if it had a bit more funding: the organisation of the World Days for the End of Fishing (and Fish Farming: https://end-of-fishing.org) and for the End of Speciesism (https://end-of-speciesism. org), in which about a hundred organisations from all five continents participate each year (Africa is still poorly represented), and whose aim is to penetrate the culture of the animal advocacy movement by proposing that it take part in these World Days and that once a year (while waiting for something better!) it adopt a discourse centred either on the denunciation of speciesism or on the question of aquatic animals (fish, shrimps), elements that the movement hardly takes into account spontaneously. The strategy is cost-effective (one full-time staff member can reach two times a year hundreds of organisations, some of which will then carry out campaigns), but suffers from its limitations: one full-time staff member can't organise each year more than two da
Thanks Yves! I'll check out those links and groups. 

Hi, Lewis, thanks for this AMA.

Hypothetical situation:

Day 1 after OP announces that it will no longer fund animal welfare.

In your opinion, as an expert individual donor and activist,

  1. what should animal welfare organizations do? 
  2. What should large donors other than OP do?

Thanks for doing this AMA, Lewis! 

What's your take on when a promising intervention seems cost-effective enough to be tried? Do you think we should be using something akin to GiveWell's approach, piloting stuff that's estimated to be, e.g., ~10x more cost-effective than further cage-free campaigns, or...? I realise your opinion on this might not correspond to OP's overall stance, but I'd love to hear your thoughts about such existent and upcoming benchmarks and thresholds within EAA. Thank you! 

This is a challenging question, since new interventions in our space typically lack any good data on cost-effectiveness. But in general I’d set a much lower bar than ~10X cage-free campaigns. Instead I think a promising intervention is worth trying if it has an expected value at least as good as cage-free campaigns. E.g. If we think there’s a 50% chance a new intervention will fail and a 50% chance it will be 2X cage-free campaigns, I think it’s worth a shot.

It may be worth considering even interventions that seem less cost-effective than marginal cage-free campaigns, say because:

  1. You can gather evidence on their cost-effectiveness and build capacity for the future, when cage-free campaigns are less cost-effective.
  2. If the upside is high enough and feedback loops are good enough, you could scale it up if it seems successful or shut it down if not. For example, if it has a 5% chance of being 10x cage-free campaigns is worthless otherwise, then the EV is only 50% cage-free. After a pilot, if you become confident that it will succeed and scale, then you now have a 10x intervention, which would be great. If instead you become confident that it isn't cost-effective, hopefully you didn't spent too much to find that out, and then you can stop funding it.
  3. Diversifying across intervention types, regions, or species might be instrumentally useful (e.g. for capacity building) or otherwise valuable if you're somewhat difference-making risk averse or difference-making ambiguity averse, which I assume most who prioritize animal welfare are.

I suppose for most of these, more careful cost-effectiveness modelling can actually capture these benefits. For 2, ... (read more)

Thanks Michael. Yeah I agree with those three categories. In practice we support a lot of interventions with much worse short-term cost-effectiveness than cage-free campaigns, in part for information value, in part so we can scale them up if they do work out, and in part for diversification purposes.

Alexander Berger and Emily Oehlsen described how Open Philanthropy's Global Health and Wellbeing (OP's GHW) cost-effectiveness bar becoming 2 times as high resulted in less future funding for GiveWell's recommendations, but they did not discuss changes to the funding going towards animal welfare interventions. In theory, all animal welfare grants with a cost-effectiveness between OP's previous and current bar would stop being funded. What are these interventions? I think the absence of such interventions would suggest something is not right with OP's prior... (read more)

Whoops, I put this answer under the wrong question. Here it is here. I think Emily’s Forum comment from six months ago remains most relevant here. In particular: On your specific question, the raising of OP’s GHW cost-effectiveness bar did not affect animal welfare interventions.
Vasco Grilo
Thanks, Lewis! In this case: * How does OP decide on the amount of funding to allocate to farm animal welfare? If it is set to a given fraction of the total funding, how does OP decide on this fraction? * Does OP's farm animal welfare area have other explicit cost-effectiveness bar? Side note. OP's GHW portfolio includes the focus area farm animal welfare. If interventions in this area are not affected by OP's GHW bar, I think it would be better to say in posts like the one I linked above that the bar being discussed only applies to human welfare interventions. Maybe OP could call it OP's GHW human welfare bar.

Are there any interventions that are specially promising to increase the fraction of philanthropic and governmental spending on animal welfare, which is currently tiny? Relatedly, the Danish Action Plan for Plant-based Foods was published in October 2023. According to Good Food Institute Europe:

The publication of the plan follows the landmark investment of 1 billion kroner (€168 million) to advance plant-based foods announced two years ago, most of which went into a new Fund for Plant-Based Foods. The fund focuses on advancing research into diverse or

... (read more)

I'm excited to see governments spending more on alternative protein research and farm animal welfare improvements. I agree that accelerating this work is a priority.

On alternative proteins, I wrote a little while back about public support for alt protein R&D and how we can accelerate it. We're supporting groups like the Good Food Institute, Food Frontier, and Danish Vegetarian Foundation to do so.

On animal welfare, I'm excited to see the EU and some European governments (e.g. Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, UK) considering funding farmers to adopt higher welfare practices. Grantees working on this include Compassion in World Farming and the Albert Schweitzer Foundation.

In your view, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the farmed animal movement today and what is Open Phil doing about them?

I see a few major challenges:

  • Weak demand for plant-based meat. We’re funding advocacy to significantly increase public funding of alt protein R&D, to produce better and cheaper products, which we hope will boost demand.
  • Corporations delaying implementing their animal welfare policies. We’re funding additional advocacy to hold companies accountable for their commitments, including through shareholder advocacy.
  • The European Commission shelving its proposed farm animal welfare legislative revision. We’re funding advocates across Europe to represent the interests of the majority of Europeans who support these reforms.
  • A lack of new successful advocacy approaches. We still have a pretty limited number of advocacy approaches with a track record of significantly reducing animal suffering. We’re funding groups trying new approaches, like Innovate Animal Ag and the Shrimp Welfare Project, and are happy to see others doing so too.
  • Insufficient funding and over-reliance on one big funder. Our space has far less funding than comparable areas like climate change or human rights. We’re funding Farmed Animal Funders and Focus Philanthropy to work on this, and we're open to trying other approaches as well.

Is there a 2nd generation of corporate campaigns for chicken welfare in the works which would build upon the success of cage-free campaigns (hens) and the Better Chicken Commitment (broilers)?

I hope so one day, but I think it's a long way away because there's still so much scope in cage-free and BCC work. In particular, I view the corporate campaign priorities as:

  • Completing the EU and US transition to cage-free. They're at ~60% and ~40% cage-free respectively, so there's a lot of work to do to ensure that companies follow through on their cage-free pledges, most of which come due in 2025-26.
  • Increasing implementation of existing BCC and ECC commitments. Companies have been slow to implement their broiler welfare policies, especially on breed. 
  • Securing new BCC and ECC commitments. Most European and American retailers haven't yet committed to these critical broiler welfare reforms.
  • Implementing global and regional cage-free pledges. Cage-free is just starting in key Asian and Latin American markets, so there's a lot of scope to increase percentages there with existing policies.
  • Securing new global and regional cage-free policies. I think most of the world's biggest food companies now have global cage-free pledges, but a lot don't, nor do a lot of regional food giants in Asia, LatAm, the Middle East, and Africa.

What do you think about the possibility of regulatory rather than legislative change? It seems like there is a ton of room within existing legislation (humane slaughter act, 28 hour law, the animal welfare act, and horse protection act) to improve enforcement and apply the existing legislation to more species. For example, AWA recently expanded to include non-farm birds--rodents (e.g. used in research) could be next. The humane slaughter act has terrible enforcement and my (possibly incorrect) reading of the law itself is that it leaves room to expand to m... (read more)

I think there's a lot of potential in regulatory reform, though I'm probably more optimistic about its prospects outside the US. E.g. I think DEFRA in the UK or the European Commission are more likely to make meaningful regulatory changes than the USDA. My top priority US regulatory reform would be to get the USDA to interpret the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to apply to birds too. Courts have held that its within the USDA's discretion to decide this, but decades of on-and-off advocacy by HSUS and AWI have failed to get them to do so. I do think it's worth trying again if we get a more sympathetic USDA secretary (I'm confident Vilsack wouldn't do this). I think the options under the other laws are more limited. My understanding is that few animals are transported for more than 28 hours anymore, so the 28 Hour Law's protections aren't that helpful. And I don't think the Animal Welfare Act or Horse Protection Act could be extended to apply to farm animals (though better enforcement of the AWA could help a lot of lab animals). Finally, we looked into the potential to move APHIS on the inhumane methods use to kill animals during disease outbreaks. Unfortunately it seemed pretty intractable at the present time.

How has your strategy for assessing potential grants evolved over the years, and what key factors do you now consider that you didn’t before?

Interesting question! I think we've learned a lot over the years, though this is still far from a science. I think the key factors that we now weigh more heavily than we used to are: * Organizational and intervention track record. We've always cared about this, but have come to care even more so as we've seen how often past performance predicts future success. * The presence of feedback loops, or our ability to create them. We've been surprised how how hard it can be to tell if a grant is actually achieving anything, especially if it has a long-term theory of change. As a result, we're more excited about grants with clear feedback loops to measure if things are on track. * The clarity and realism of the grant goals. We've found that a lack of clear and realistic goals is often a sign of internal confusion within the grantee about what they're trying to achieve. By contrast, groups with clear and achievable goals generally achieve more. * The presence of effective organizational governance. I traditionally ignored this one because we care about impact, not organizational form or practices. But we've seen how good governance -- especially a good board -- can help keep an organization on track and manage crises that could derail a group.  * Good answers to specific questions, especially on track records and plans. The best groups are normally able to provide compelling answers to very specific questions about what they claim to have achieved and their plans to achieve more. 

In what ways have your relationships with grantees changed over the years, and how has this influenced your effectiveness as a grantmaker?

Interesting question! I think my relationships with grantees has become more formal / professional over the years, and less informal / friendly. I think a few factors drove this:

  • Concern about conflicts of interest, or the perception of them, from being too friendly with any group (I now recuse myself from grant renewal consideration for groups where I'm friends with the leaders).
  • Relatedly, not wanting to be perceived as having personal favorites, especially given it's easier for US advocates to become friends with me than advocates in other countries.
  • Not having the time to maintain a lot of friendships in the community, mostly because we now have many more grantees than we used to.

I'm not sure if this has made me more or less effective as a grantmaking. On the plus side, it's probably reduced my bias a bit and freed up some time. On the downside, I think I learn less gossip than I used to when I had more informal friendships with grantees, and sometimes this gossip matters to impact. I also miss being friends with such an incredible group of people!

In the 80,000 hours interview, you noted that you thought the Animal Protection/Welfare movement ought to embrace being a more political movement. What forms of policy advocacy seem the most promising to you for improvements to nonhuman animals welfare (i.e. pushing specific states to adopt higher legal welfare standards, pushing for federal reforms, pressure on institutions to go plant-based in their catering, etc.)?

I'm most excited about reforms that can affect the largest numbers of animals, which normally means focusing on political reforms in the largest nations and states where such reforms are feasible. I think the following reforms are currently most feasible:

  • Advocating for the next European Commission revives its stalled farm animal welfare legislative revision proposal, and then ensuring its passed by the European Parliament and Council.
  • Advocating for key European nations, especially France, Germany, and the UK, to follow through on promised major farm animal welfare reforms.
  • Advocating for governments globally with large public R&D budgets to devote some of that funding to alternative protein research.
  • Advocating for sympathetic governments, mostly in Europe, to subsidize the transition to higher welfare animal agriculture.
  • Potentially advocating for more US states to adopt popular farm animal welfare reforms, whether through ballot measures or legislatures.

In your recent 80k podcast almost all the work referenced seems to be targeted at the US and EU (except the Farm animal welfare in Asia section).

  • What is the actual geographic target of the work that’s being funded?
  • Is there work being done/planed to look at animal welfare funding opportunities more globally?
Our farm animal welfare grantmaking is, by total spend, 37% in Europe, 29% in the US, 24% in Asia, and 9% everywhere else. This represents a tradeoff between scale and tractability. In general we have a much lower bar for funding work outside Europe and the US, especially in the largest Asian countries, because we think their scale justifies long-term investments. But because those countries are currently much harder to achieve change in, that work actually looks less cost-effective than our EU and US funding, which has proven much more tractable. We’re still committed to funding a lot of work internationally, and my hope is that our early investments in these countries can in time help generate more cost-effective opportunities to fund.
Vasco Grilo
Thanks for sharing, Lewis! By "farm animal welfare grantmaking", I guess you mean spending which in Open Philanthropy's (OP's) grants database falls under the focus areas "Alternatives to Animal Products", "Broiler Chicken Welfare", "Cage-Free Reforms" or "Farm Animal Welfare". Do you have data on how many M$ OP spent on these 4 areas together in China in 2023? How about the total philanthropic spending to help farmed animals in China including all sources (not just OP)?
Vasco Grilo
Hi DanteTheAbstract, You may want to check Open Philanthropy's grants to support farmed animal welfare in Asia.

Thanks for doing this AMA, Lewis! To steal from the suggested questions, what do you think is behind the decline in plant-based meat sales? And what do you think are some good strategies to build career capital in the animal welfare space? Relatedly, what areas in animal welfare change are more skill/talent constrained?

I think the most likely causes of the decline in plant-based meat sales are:

  • A failure to meet consumers' expectations on taste and perceived healthiness. There was a high trial rate with a lot repeat purchase rate.
  • A significant turn in the media and popular discussion on plant-based meat from overwhelmingly positive (and high volume) to largely negative (and low volume).
  • A reduced willingness to pay the price premium for plant-based meat in a period with higher inflation / a perceived cost-of-living crisis.

I think some good strategies to build career capital in the animal welfare spare are:

  • Read about current and past interventions in the space, e.g. through books like Ethics into Action and research like Rethink Priorities reports.
  • Attend movement events, like the Animal and Vegan Advocacy Summit, and volunteer with groups, e.g. with The Humane League.
  • Develop skills most in need in the animal welfare space, which I think include corporate outreach, campaigning, fundraising, people management, and operations.

What is your take of the impact of fishing on animal welfare? When it comes to aquatic lives, why should we only focus on farmed aquatic life, not fishing? Why not prioritise work towards the ban of all fishing, esp. industrial fishing?

Some info: fishing alone is responsible for 90% of all lives killed per year for consumption, fishing is also destroying wild aquatic life habitats more than we destroy lands, and it also is affecting all wild lives that depend on them to survive: it is pretty much the largest ecocide in the world, and it is legalized. All t... (read more)

I agree with Michael that a ban on all fishing, or even just industrial fishing, seems politically infeasible. I think it's possible that an island nation heavily dependent on tourism might do this, but that would probably just increase the catch of unregulated fishing ships outside of their territorial waters. I don't see any path to the world doing this.

The other complication is that a ban on wild-caught fishing might just increase the spread of aquaculture, which is worse for each fish involved. Most wild-caught and farmed fish demand is interchangeable -- people are just looking to buy fish. If the wild-caught fish becomes unavailable, I'd expect most of that demand to switch to farmed fish, which would fuel an even bigger boom in aquaculture. Sadly I expect that would be even worse for the fish involved :(

We are though funding work to reduce the suffering caused by current fishing methods. I think work to make the experience of capture and slaughter less horrific is really important.

Nathalie Gil
Hello @LewisBollard and @MichaelStJules thank you for your replies. Some answers to your considerations:  1. If replacement to aquiculture is a logic, you can state the same to fight against land animal production, as this will all concentrate consumption on aquatic animals as people do not even know which fish is caught or farmed. Certainly this will mean more lives killed/ in suffering, the same way? Shall we stop talking about transitioning away from land animals? Certainly not.  2. You mention the unlikeliness of promoting a ban on fishing. Although there will always be traditional communities depending on fishing to thrive, from these we should never impose a ban, it is certainly true by facts that: a. aquiculture is not replacing fishing, just increasing fish consumption, as you can see in popular stats from Our world in Data; b. for fishing, you need to consider deaths of fish and crustaceans which are significantly smaller than the fish farmed, a few examples are: krill x farmed shrimp, salmon x anchovies, etc. No wonder fished animals increase number of lives killed in the order of magnitude of 10x (but represents only 1/2 of the current tonnage yearly). Are we ok to ignore this huge elephant in the room?  3. The thinking that fishing is increasing fish populations is certain on short term, but not true long term. A high spike on prey fish means less of their prey, subsequently, therefore diminishing their populations over time. There are a few studies on the effect of removing a predator from their ecosystem resulting not on increase of fish populations or biodiversity, but in fact, the opposite happening: less biodiversity, lower populations, ecosystem collapse. This can be easily noticed in scenarios before and after implementing a Marine Protected Area - I can share a few studies if this helps, let me know.  4. This ask is also not impossible or far fetched: we had already moved great heaps when it coms to our culture of hunting land animals. In Br
On 7 I think this would be true for species caught primarily for fishmeal. While those caught for direct human consumption also contribute to fishmeal/fish oil/feed (through byproducts/processing waste, e.g. OECD/FAO, 2023, Figure 8.4), they seem more likely to compete with rather than support aquaculture overall (World Bank, 2013, Table E.2, scenario 5 Capture growth vs Baseline). On the other hand, shrimp are major fishmeal consumers, so a decrease in fishmeal even with a decrease in overall fish and invertebrate catch could reduce shrimp farming in particular and the number of animals farmed, even if it increases aquaculture by tonnage. The increase in aquaculture by tonnage could result from an increase in more herbivorous species, like carps, tilapias, catfishes and bivalves. That being said, I'm not confident that it would decrease the number of animals farmed. On the other hand again, banning fishing, especially for fishmeal, could also promote insect farming for aquafeed. But we could work on that, too. So, it seems pretty messy.
On point 5 Where did you get 70% of (fished?[1]) species are depleted? Or do you mean in the past, but things might be better now? This seems much higher than related numbers I'm familiar with. It seems that around 66% of stocks that are fished are fished sustainably vs 34% overfished, and 79% of catch by weight comes from sustainably fished stocks vs 21% from overfished (FAO, 2022, Figure 23, Ritchie & Roser, 2021–2024). "on the verge of collapse" suggests they are likely to collapse, but that isn't obvious, because it's possible to maintain stocks in an overfished/overfishing equilibrium, or governments may intervene to restrict fishing (e.g. seasonal closures, total allowable catch) to protect against collapse when it gets closer. And even if/when there is a collapse, there can be recovery, e.g. like Peruvian anchoveta, which could be supported by government. Of course, recovery may not go well, e.g. NW Atlantic cod. By land destroyed by fishing, I assume you mean bottom trawling/dredging. Unlike deforestation, this is mostly the same land being affected each year, and recovery could be faster. Governments are also likely to eventually limit bottom trawling separately from fishing as a whole, because it's much less sustainable. All of this is the result of particular kinds of fishing and management practices. Rather than outright bans, governments will just make fishing more sustainable, and then most of these concerns will no longer apply.   When there's overfishing (high fishing pressure or harvest rate, as the biomass caught divided by current biomass), marginal reductions in fishing pressure allow overfished populations to recover, allowing more fish to be caught in the long run. I elaborate in Sustainable fishing policy increases fishing, and demand reductions might, too. Of course, a total ban is a complete reduction, so should in fact reduce catch in the long run. But I don't think bans are very politically feasible, at least not on a large scale, a
Nathalie Gil
Hello @MichaelStJules,  I am at a conference at the moment, happy to respond when I leave the conference. What I would love to do is to have a session with you once you have an opportunity. I have been talking to organizations such as Faunalytics to have a deeper look into fishing and animal rights and it would be great to have someone like yourself onboard to work on this matter. Is it something you'd like to participate in?  Quick reply on one of the 70% data: sorry, I've made a confusion, as 70% (to be exact, it is 67%) is overfished in Brazil, not worldwide, which is in fact 34%. However, important to mention that the 60% of fish populations that are 'fully exploited to its maximum yield' globally actually means that it these exploited pop. have a much lower quantity of individuals than it originally used to have before exploitation (MSYs vary their limit of % of lower than original pop. per species and locations, however, they consistently are at a significant % lower than original pop. sizes). They're still able to recover YoY, however a significant decrease in their populations is in fact changing the ecosystem balance, naturally.  Even if there are contradictory studies of some fish species growing x decreasing in studies if species are seen in isolation, I'd also encourage you to have a system's thinking approach to this scenario, as studying animals in nature, you need to take the ecosystem context into view: a sudden change of populations of 1 species could generate growth in others, diminishment in others, but in a system's view, this significant disruption changes the scope of the balance and interdependence of species of that particular ecosystem. In ecological terms, this is likely to result in a lower ecossystemic resilience to natural threats (in particular, climate change). I am aware, however, of the huge challenge of researching this ecological view empirically, therefore there is not so many studies taking all of these complex chains of cause
Hi Nathalie, on point 3 I would tentatively guess that this doesn't usually fully reverse the effect on prey fish, only dampens and slightly reverses it, so that their populations still settle higher than without fishing their predators. Furthermore, the food (mostly primary production?) of the prey (mostly crustaceans) of the prey fish should increase, too, which could have the opposite effects. I guess this can lead to algal blooms sometimes, though, which could then reduce all local animal populations. That being said, I worry about this reasoning anyway, because it treats food webs as quite linear. A species X can eat a species Y and the prey Z of Y. By "removing a predator from their ecosystem", do you mean the (near-)complete removal and therefore (near-complete) absence of the predator, or just a reduction in their biomass/populations? The latter seems more representative of fishing to me, especially as management has improved, and local extinction of a predator seems rarer (although it definitely has happened). I'd be interested in seeing these studies, especially any globally representative aggregates, systematic reviews or meta-analyses to avoid selection bias. I'll note that Christensen et al., 2014 is a global aggregate (and extrapolation) of simulations (Ecopath models) spanning 100 years (1910-2010), and Bell et al., 2018 is a meta-analysis of observational studies of biomass data across trophic levels, each spanning at least 18 years, and with a mean length of 34 years. 1. Fishing pressure seems to have increased a lot around 1970, and predator biomass had been decreasing much faster since around then, according to Christensen et al., 2014 (Table 3 and Figure 6). So, most of the changes to prey fish biomass should be since around 1970, too. 40 years (2010-1970) seems like it should have been long enough to see reversal in trends for prey fish from feedback on their prey, but the net effect was still an increase in prey fish biomass. That being

FWIW, it seems reasonably likely that fishing has increased fish populations on the whole, by disproportionately reducing the populations of more predatory species and increasing the populations of their prey. See Christensen et al., 2014 (only considers fish, not invertebrates) and Bell et al., 2018 (very limited in regional representation).

In general, the effects of fishing on welfare seem quite morally ambiguous, when you consider the effects on population sizes across species, tradeoffs between species, uncertainty about whether their lives are overall bad or overall good: The moral ambiguity of fishing on wild aquatic animal populations.

I also suspect efforts to make fishing more sustainable actually just increase fishing, while outright bans seem politically infeasible; see my other recent post Sustainable fishing policy increases fishing, and demand reductions might, too.

Industrial animal agriculture is a system that is supported by a wide variety of factors, from beliefs about animals being a "resource" to the way the political system is structured. In theory, we could coordinate our work so that we targeted numerous different driving forces at the same time, in order to maximally destabilize the existing system and replace it with something better. That could look like working for cultural change while developing alt. proteins and helping farmers to transition out of animal ag., to give a very broad example. You'd probab... (read more)

Thanks Rachel. I think there are people trying the kind of holistic systems-change approach you're describing.  I'm personally skeptical that we have anywhere near the resources to globally destabilize the existing factory farming system. (And I think destabilizing it on a more local basis would have little global impact.) I think the primary drivers of factory farming -- especially the demand for cheap meat -- are so deep-rooted and widespread that they would take immense resources to change. Instead our focus has mostly been on reducing the suffering caused by factory farming, by trying to both reduce the suffering of each animal and reduce the number of animals factory farmed. I think some of the interventions to do so, like developing alt proteins, probably overlap with some of the things you're thinking of.

I liked your post


.  What do you think the most promising interventions / donation opportunities are for decreasing ignorance of conditions for animals on factory farms?

Are there organizations for example that make videos on animal welfare and A/B test which resonate best with typical people?

We haven’t funded much work around this because we haven’t yet found many interventions that we’re confident are tractable at scale. Traditionally, groups like The Humane League and Mercy for Animals did this (both the videos and the A/B testing), but I think they’ve largely dropped it. My best bet for a group doing this today would be One Step for Animals. I appreciate their narrow focus on online videos to build concern for chickens, and their thoughtfulness with A/B testing and strategic placements. (One Step is not an OP grantee, but I personally donate to them.)
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