Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a Chinese student activist

Post author: Ouyang Huiyu. Huiyu is President of Student Vegetarian Association of Tsinghua University and Co-convener of China University Vegetarian Association Network.

Jamie, I broadly agree with your three focuses in your post. The method of legislation to restrict factory farming is often overlooked, but I will point out some possibilities. And hopefully I will briefly introduce the efforts and challenges in advancing such legislation in China in my report at International Animal Rights Conference next month.

For Max’s post, let me first point out some mistakes of little matter. Chinese people don’t use HappyCow, so you simply can’t find many places with veg options on HappyCow. In fact there are as many veg restaurants in Shanghai as in Tokyo.

The situation in Japan is also not necessarily better than China. Society there does not respect personal choices. Many young people follow the western trend, but the trend might be unpredictable. I learnt from one Chinese report that not hiring vegetarians is a hidden rule for many Japanese companies. When I traveled to Tokyo in the winter of 2017, which was an exchange program with Meikai University, the teachers just didn’t know much about vegetarianism or veganism and they would not ask me questions to learn about it. In China, when a teacher knows that I am vegan, he or she would often be very open minded to talk with me about this topic.

We probably don’t have many dog farms in China. The dogs seem to be mostly stolen, mainly from rural areas. We’re unsure what portion of Chinese dog meat comes from farms. But there are many dog/cat shelters, estimated several thousand across the country. I went to a typical one in Chengdu earlier this month; they spent 9 thousand yuan (including the salary of 18 or 19 staff) per day to take care of 4 or 5 thousand dogs and cats. And they feed the dogs and cats meat (mainly animal organs) and expired milk.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that “the level of respect the general public holds for animals like pets seems barely present in China”, using the Yulin dog meat festival as evidence. Many people are mobilized to fight against the dog meat trade (Yulin is a typical case). People are organized to stop the vans on highways to save the dogs, demonstrate or give speeches at the dog festival, which can be seen as a beginning of the animal rights movement, or even the forming of a civil society, considering such assemblies are not allowed in China. I think such direct actions have the potential to be connected to the worldwide network the Save Movement (I talked with Anita Krajnc about this). And hopefully people will start to care about not only companion animals but also farm animals. I heard a lecture from an activist with years of experience challenging the dog meat trade, which suggested that a considerable number of people who have participated in dog rescue have turned into vegetarians or vegans within a year.

Lawyers play a vital important role in dog rescue actions. Since we don’t have laws against animal abuse, legal mobilization strategy transforms into real opportunity space, together with other activists’ work. In the case of dog rescues, lawyers help to defend the legitimacy of the actions. Collaboration between animal rescue organizations, volunteers, lawyers and animal hospitals constitutes the movement foundation, during which the courage of citizen is essential. In this process, animal activists learn to cooperate with lawyers to protect animals by law, which is why I say that there could be possibilities on your second suggestion, that “animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming”. But I’m not sure how the overall process of promoting legislation would go, as the rule of law in China is getting worse these years.

A short update what the Student Vegetarian Association of Tsinghua University (SVATHU) and the China University Vegetarian Association Network (CUVAN) have been up to.

Here is a post of what SVATHU did in the Spring Semester. I will update the post next month to add our progress after June. You will see that SVATHU avoided the environment and health causes being emphasised too much in the past. But we will try to advocate from the environmental perspective (on our vegan starter kit) whilst not to increase the suffering of small animals.

CUVAN more widely has been busy. We’ve been working hard to reach out to veg associations of several universities in major cities in China to expand our network. We participated in the Good Food Hero Summit organized by Good Food Fund (China), where we had roundtable conference with catering directors from two of China’s top universities. Last week we hosted a lecture by Peter Singer in Tsinghua University where he talked about Effective Altruism.

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Some brief thoughts on effective communication about veganism

Very often, people I meet at Effective Animal Altruism London events are keen to discuss how to make their communication with non-vegans effective. What should I say when somebody asks me why I have gone vegan? How can I discuss this issue with friends, family and strangers?

Before I share my “advice”, it’s important to put this question in context. Most researchers in the Effective Animal Advocacy community agree that focusing on individual vegan outreach probably isn’t the best use of our time and resources – see this summary of the points on either side of the debate. So I’d encourage you to make sure you’ve spent a little time planning how to maximise your overall impact. Additionally, make sure you aren’t burning out as an activist by forcing yourself to engage in individual outreach at every possible opportunity. Your long-term impact is more important than those individual conversations!

Nevertheless, every vegan will have this sort of conversation from time to time.

I’m not aware of any extremely strong evidence on the issue, but in general, there is a lot of evidence from outside the EAA community which has relevance to the topic:

  • An understanding of humans’ cognitive biases, and findings from psycholgy more generally, will inevitably help an understanding of what sorts of communication work well. The best practical summary of psychology for EAA purposes that I know of is this book by Nick Cooney.
  • Literature on negotiations and sales techniques will also be useful, as long as this is used cautiously, and you recognise the differences between the contexts that they were intended for, and an animal advocacy context. You might find my summary of Neil Rackham’s book, with (relevant) research-based sales advice, helpful.

Within animal advocacy, many people have written about the messages we should share, both from moral and effectiveness perspectives. A lot of this work is based on the intuitions of (experienced) activists; personally I would place less weight on any of this advice than on conclusions from external, specialised fields. Here are a few examples:

  • Tobias Leenaert’s book and blog; he argues vegans should be inclusive and empathetic in their approach.
  • Melanie Joy’s talks and books; she also argues for empathy, and has a few specific tips about language to support this.
  • Earthling Ed’s advice; like Joy and Leenaert, he advocates empathy. His socratic dialogue technique could be easily combined with the research-based sales advice of Neil Rackham.
  • Others (Gary Francione etc) would emphasise the need for expressing a consistent moral baseline of veganism, and taking an uncompromising position. I can see why consistency might be persuasive over time, but I’m not convinced this is the most important consideration. See here for a summary of the debate on this issue.
  • Plenty of other resources, I’m sure. Here are some other people’s suggestions, when I asked them about this question as I was brand new to the EAA community.

I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an expert on effective communication, but here’s a brief summary of the perspective I tend to take:

  • I’m wary of the backfire effect, so I tend to avoid challenging people without invitation, and only discuss veganism with people when they ask me, or seem interested.
  • I lead by example, rather than explicitly conducting outreach. So I try to present veganism as easy and enjoyable enough that becoming vegan doesn’t seem like a burden.
  • I try to be inclusive and empathetic (although I’m not necessarily great at this).
  •  I try to be sensitive to my context and to the person or people I am discussing the issue with: some people might be more or less receptive to logical arguments arguments; some people might be more persuaded by ethical arguments compared to environmental and health arguments (note, however, I think its important we emphasise an ethical argument where possible, and use other arguments as supplementary).

So if people ask me why I’m vegan, I usually say something like:

“Most of the animal products that we eat involve raising animals in terrible conditions and cause intense suffering. These days, there’s more and more vegan food available, so it’s relatively easy to avoid animal products entirely, and to prevent that suffering from happening.”

Then depending on how people react, I judge whether to a) stop talking about it (often this is the best response, to avoid the backfire effect), b) explain more in depth some of the negative consequences of eating animal products, or c) just focus on the positives of veganism.

I don’t have any evidence that this approach works better than any other beyond the anecdotal: out of people I have lived with in the past, 2 have gone vegan, 2 have become consciously reducetarian. So I don’t hold any of these views particularly strongly. At the CEVA training that I attended, Melanie Joy argued that it a productive approach is to lead by explaining your personal vegan journey, as a way to reduce defensiveness; I think I will try this out in future. I hope some of the links and reflections on this short post are useful for a few people, however.

My areas of potential disagreement with other EAAs

Disclaimer: From 01/08/18, I will be working full-time for Sentience Institute. I was also considering a potential role at Veganuary and have been in regular contact with the co-founder. I hold both organisations in high regard; probably higher than average within the EAA community. Thanks to Connor Jackson, Vicky Bond and Matthew Glover for their feedback on the first draft. This post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of the commenters or of my new employers.

Recently, Jacy Reese of Sentience Institute posted a blog post on “3 Big Changes We Need in the Farmed Animal Movement”. It seemed like a useful post for members of the Effective Animal Advocacy movement, in that it clearly outlines three suggestions for major reforms. I would encourage all readers of this blog to read that post. It has also inspired me to create a similar list of areas where I suspect I disagree with others in the EAA community, broadly defined. This is less of a confident, well-informed plea to those involved in EAA organisations (which is broadly how I see Reese’s post) and more of an attempt to draw attention to some potentially important issues. These issues might potentially meet Reese’s criteria of being “important” and “under-discussed”, although I am not yet particularly confident about any of my own thoughts about the long-term implications of animal advocacy strategies, and I can’t claim that my reflections here have as extensive a research basis as those in Reese’s post.

This post may generate useful feedback for myself, so that I can update my own views, but may also encourage others to change their own views and behaviours.

For simplicity’s sake, I have focused on three issues. For those interested in wider debates within EAA, some of the best resources are Sentience Institute’s list of foundational questions, and Animal Charity Evaluators’ intervention reports, plus materials on cause prioritisation.

The three focus areas are:                     

    1. High profile vegan pledge campaigns have been relatively under-utilised as a method of taking some of the low-hanging fruit of individual transitions towards veganism, but also as a method of generating momentum for corporate outreach. This view comes with some important caveats, however.
    2. Animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming. This is more tractable than we might assume, and potentially more desirable, although there are risks involved.
    3. Some EAA efforts are close to saturation in developed, Western countries, and greater effort should be placed on expanding into countries with less of an EAA presence. This must be done in a very careful manner, which is considerate to varying cultures and conditions.

 

 

High profile vegan pledge campaigns have been relatively under-utilised

Description

Supporting individuals to reduce their consumption of animal products has short-term benefits by reducing the demand for animal products, and therefore reducing the number of animals suffering in factory farms. Reduced use of a particular behaviour can correlate to (and may directly lead to) reduced support for a wider practice; reducing animal product consumption might therefore help to challenge speciesism and encourage wider moral circle expansion. Where it is cost-effective to do so, this is therefore a useful intervention.

Proactive, individual vegan outreach is difficult, for a number of reasons. Vegan pledges are more “reactive” in the sense that they support individuals who are already close to making the switch to veganism to do so. They essentially pick the low-hanging fruit of potential vegans. I suspect that the main benefit of widespread publicity of pledges is in redirecting people towards the pledge itself and its supporting resources, rather than in independently changing people’s attitudes. Even if the EAA movement de-emphasises a vegan ask, there will likely be those who wish to personally abstain from cruelty, as discussion of animal issues becomes more widespread and pledge campaigns support those individuals to do so.

Perhaps most importantly, high-profile pledge campaigns have the potential to have a large indirect impact by provoking businesses to perceive there to be an increase in demand for vegan products. Rather than simply encouraging veganism among the low-hanging fruit, high-profile pledge campaigns may therefore also drive corporate and institutional change which makes consumption of plant-based foods instead of animal products easier and more widespread.

An important caveat, however, is that there are a number of ways in which pledge programmes could fail to be effective, thereby wasting resources, or could even be counter-productive. Although far from failing completely, other charities in the UK (see here and here as examples) have run vegan pledges which have never achieved the same publicity or success as Veganuary has. This suggests that the specific planning and marketing of the campaigns could be crucial, although the differences in success may partially reflect differing levels of resource input. For an example of a potentially counterproductive pledge, see this one, which encourages reductions in red meat consumption, which could potentially lead to increased consumption of chicken meat and therefore an increase in total animal suffering (for an estimate of the suffering caused by different animal products, see here). Furthermore, there may be some dangers of encouraging veganism, and it may be better for the EAA movement to focus primarily on institutional messaging. See a summary of that debate here.

The potential for more widespread change arising from vegan pledge programmes is untested at this point. This seems like a promising avenue to explore, however. I would encourage those looking to found new charities outside of the UK to consider focusing on a pledge programme, and those who are happier to donate to riskier intervention types to consider funding pledge programmes.  

Evidence

In support of the claim that reducing animal product consumption will possibly challenge speciesism more widely, this study, though with a small sample size, suggests that those who consume animal products extend compassion to a smaller “moral circle” than those who do not. Psychological understanding of cognitive dissonance more widely makes this seem plausible, although I am not aware of more conclusive evidence that this process is inevitable.  

There is a wide variety of evidence showing that individual outreach is difficult. Some of this will be considered in more depth in the second section, below, but a speculative cost-effectiveness comparison makes the basic point. Individual outreach can often be costly to lead to meaningful change for animals, when advocates are seeking to proactively reach out to potential vegans. One of the most promising interventions in this area has turned out to be disappointing. Recently, Peter Hurford and Marcus Davis’ reanalysis of the study by Faunalytics and Animal Equality into individual video outreach “points to an estimate of $310 per pig year saved (90% interval: $46 to $1100)”, which is incredibly expensive compared to other intervention types, such as corporate outreach or undercover investigations. Although their cost effectiveness estimates are speculative, and they don’t place much weight on them, Animal Charity Evaluators estimate that undercover investigations might spare between 0.15 and 820 animals from living through factory farming conditions per dollar spent (with their “realistic” estimate being 210 lives). By comparison, Hurford and Davis’ analysis suggests that, if applied to chickens and converted into a lives per dollar figure, video outreach might spare between 0.03 and 1.4 animal lives (with a manipulating of their main estimate suggesting 0.18 lives). Although we shouldn’t take such cost-effectiveness comparisons as particularly reliable, the figures here would suggest that undercover investigations were over 1000 times more cost-effective than individual (video) outreach at sparing animals from living through factory farming. 

In contrast to this expensive form of outreach, a relatively thorough evaluation by Veganuary suggests that their pledge programme is sufficiently cost-efficient to make their impact per dollar comparable to ACE top charities, and could spare between 5 and 20 animal lives per pound, which translates to between 3.8 an 15.2 animal lives per dollar, at current exchange rates. They are currently seeking fuller evidence and external review from ACE to corroborate this, but this could suggest that their pledge programme is well over an order of magnitude more impactful than individual video outreach, if we compare the figures to those from Hurford and Davis’ reanalysis of the Faunalytics study.

 Veganuary’s experience has shown that their pledge programme has led companies to provide more plant-based foods and sometimes to actively promote plant-based foods and diets. The pledge campaign has also led to opportunities for direct corporate outreach. Although Veganuary’s success in these areas has been mostly confined to the UK, it seems possible that success with highly-publicised pledge programmes could drive momentum for wider corporate and institutional change in other countries too, whether through Veganuary or other charities.

Animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming

Description

Although there are a variety of different forms of individual vegan outreach, as noted above, this does not seem to be a particularly tractable area for reducing animal suffering in many cases. This suggests that a shift towards institutional interventions and messaging would be more impactful. A shift from individual to institutional interventions is advocated by Jacy Reese, Tobias Leenaert and other EAA researchers, whilst the wider debate is summarised here.

Political and legislative efforts are a particular type of institutional intervention. There is evidence that wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming is more tractable than common sense would suggest (see below).

Efforts to implement such radical legislation to reduce animal suffering are high-risk, but potentially offer high-rewards.

They are high risk in the sense that they seem ambitious and difficult, and could fail. This would drain significant resources from the EAA movement, that could otherwise have made a huge amount of difference for animals. Perhaps worse than the resource cost, however, is the risk that failed efforts could set a dangerous precedent or perhaps lead to a backlash effect, either in terms of legislation or in terms of changed public perceptions of animal advocacy. This might make further victories for animals more difficult.

Radical legislative efforts would, however, probably have an extremely high impact for animals, if successful. Such legislation could not only make significant improvements in animal welfare in the short-term, but would cripple the profitability of the animal agriculture industry by forcing businesses to use less efficient practices and may therefore help to make widespread animal agriculture impractical.

The closest effort that I know of to the sort of far-reaching legislation that I am proposing here is being pushed by Sentience Politics in Switzerland; read more here.

Evidence

As noted in the first section of this post, efforts at proactive vegan outreach can be expensive. This study by Animal Welfare Action Lab seems to suggest that a reducetarian ask is not significantly more cost-effective than a vegan ask. The differences were not statistically significant between the treatment groups; compared to a control group, those exposed to an “eliminate” appeal reported to have reduced their meat consumption by around half a portion over 30 days on average, whilst those exposed to a “reduce” appeal reported an average reduction of around three-quarters.

More widely, there is a range of psychological biases and effects that reduce the tractability of efforts to systematically change individuals’ behaviour. Many of these are listed here and here. Efforts at vegan outreach have been ongoing for decades, and yet have had extremely limited success. Animal product consumption continues to rise, both globally and, in some cases, within developed countries, whilst the proportion of vegans has not risen substantially.

There is a range of evidence from social movements showing that efforts to change individual consumption habits have not played a significant role in wider successes for social movements, except where it has been used in a targeted way to facilitate wider political campaigns. As an example, one historian of the Free Produce Movement to boycott slave-made items in the USA has written that “there is little evidence that slaveholders or their political representatives paid much attention to [the free produce movement] and no evidence that it had a discernible economic impact on them” (I’ve cited them second-hand from here). In the British anti-slavery movement, there was a boycott of West Indian sugar, but this only reached 4-6% of the population, and yet slavery was abolished in 1833, after being severely damaged by legislation that ended the slave trade in Britain in 1807.

Furthermore, the historical success of this movement suggests that a single piece of significant legislation, which fundamentally weakened the institution and industry of slavery helped to lead to its eventual full, formal abolition (at least in that country). Legislation banning factory farming, or perhaps even slaughterhouses, could have a similar effect on ending animal agriculture. Other historical social movements, such children’s rights, also suggest that legislation can be successfully implemented without full public support for an issue, but can subsequently shape both attitudes and behaviour.

The best evidence that wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming is surprisingly tractable is that in a recent survey (which has been replicated, and its findings confirmed), 49% of US adults said that they support a ban on factory farming, 47% said that they support a ban on slaughterhouses, and 33% said that they support a ban on animal farming. That said, some countries are probably more amenable to such legislation than others. In Canada, modest animal welfare measures (against practices which are unpopular and illegal in other countries) were rejected in 2016, for example, suggesting that more radical reforms are not tractable there, unless political circumstances change.

One benchmark for how much such a campaign might cost in a developed, Western country could be a comparison to the campaign costs for the Brexit referendum, which were limited to £7 million. Clearly costs could be far higher, or somewhat lower than this, however. Given that Open Philanthropy Project has recommended grants totalling over $48 million in the past few years towards animal welfare causes, such costs seem large but achievable, if the EAA movement prioritises legislative efforts enough.

Many examples could probably be found of times where failed legislation either has or hasn’t delayed progress of a social movement or popular goal. An intuitive political analogy is how in the UK, in 2011, the issue of electoral reform was shaped by the Liberal Democrat Party into a referendum on the issue of whether or not to changed the voting system from First Past The Post to Alternative Vote. AV was an unpopular system, and the public rejected the change; voting reform has not been discussed much in the UK since, and I suspect that the political campaign has delayed progress on the issue by many years. One example which serves as counter-evidence is that in the late 18th century, several abolition bills were suggested and rejected, and yet the slave trade was abolished in 1807.

Greater effort should be placed on expanding into countries with less of an EAA presence

Description

Many developed, Western countries have had animal advocacy movements for decades, and this has combined with Effective Altruism ideas to develop the EAA movement in recent years. There are, however, many countries in the world which have not had substantial animal advocacy movements and are comparatively disconnected from the developments in the EAA movement. Some of these countries are also countries with incredibly high use of animals for food (in total, if not per capita), or are currently on a trajectory towards increasing use of animals as food. This website is useful for easily visualising and comparing countries’ animal product use, and comes from UN FAO data. Note how China produced 18.19 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2014, second only to the USA. Brazil produced 13 million tonnes, while even India, known for relatively widespread vegetarianism, produced 2.76 million tonnes. See Lewis Bollard’s newsletters for excellent summaries of both the problems and opportunities in China and India.

These countries with high total animal product use have had various forms of animal advocacy; see PETA India as one example. Nevertheless, my impression is that the proportion of people working on animal advocacy in some of these countries is far smaller than in much of the developed, Western world and that this is even more the case for those connected to EAA research and ideas. Given the huge scale of (potential) animal suffering, and the relative neglectedness of advocacy in such countries, the EAA community should be focusing its resources, where possible on exploring opportunities for action there.

This will almost always involve trade-offs for organisations, and will often be a relatively “risky” opportunity. But the expected value of seeking to expand into countries with a lower track record of animal advocacy seems higher.

The leadership of multiple charities have expressed explicitly to me that fundraising reasons at least partially underpin their expansion into the UK or USA. But by entering such countries, charities are essentially trying to compete with other animal advocacy charities already in that country. This may still be beneficial overall, if the charity is more impactful than other animal charities. However, by entering countries with less of a track record of animal advocacy, I suspect that animal charities are more likely to locate and open up new sources of funding for the movement, which may be small at first but may grow over time.

I hold the views expressed in this section slightly less strongly than those in the previous sections, however. This is because there are still intervention types which have not come anywhere close to saturation in many developed, Western countries. I also suspect it is possible that the leadership of EAA organisations also share my priorities longer-term, but that they are simply being relatively cautious, and focusing on expanding their successful programmes into culturally similar countries before they attempt to expand them elsewhere.  

If you agree that more neglected areas should be a higher priority, even if the tractability of interventions there is unclear, then there is still a need for caution. We don’t want organisations to take action in a culturally insensitive manner, which could potentially reduce the tractability of future actions, by alienating the governments or wider populations of those countries. Some relevant concerns are listed here, such as the danger of creating bad first impressions, although I’d suggest that some of the concerns about Effective Altruism there apply less to EAA specifically; there is less of a requirement for specific, complex concepts, for example.

For further reflections on a related issue, see Max Harris’ recent post on But Can They Suffer: “Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a UK Activist and Tourist”.

Evidence

In the past year or so, I have seen The Humane League and Open Cages expand into the UK. Veganuary are currently hiring to expand into the USA. I have also seen several new EAA groups spring up in the USA, such as Better Eating. I use these examples not to criticise the specific organisations or decisions, but merely to point out that EAA organisations are continuing to focus significant efforts and resouorces on expanding further through developed, Western countries. In some expansions of EAA organisations within Western, developed countries, a niche is being filled that other organisations have either neglected or lacked the resources to fill. Whilst Compassion In World Farming have been working on chicken welfare for decades, the rapid rate of success achieved by The Humane League in the UK proves that they have made a valuable contribution. Similarly, even if PETA have been working on banning fur in the UK for decades, Open Cages have brought an EAA perspective and a different campaigning style.

There have been some efforts to expand into areas where animal advocacy is neglected and potentially highly important; ProVeg have a team focusing on China, for example. The Humane League have staff in Mexico, and Animal Equality is active in South America more widely. Lewis Bollard has been keen to fund work in countries in Asia and South America, both with EA Grants and Open Philanthropy Project. Excluding money given to international meta groups (you might disagree with my categorisation here),  69% of the money from 2018 animal welfare EA Funds grants have been to “international grassroots groups” or groups in Asia and Latin America. For OPP, the figure is 32% (see my quick calculations here).

Nevertheless, the growing number of groups active in western, developed countries and the relatively small number of groups active in Asia, South America and Africa suggests to me that there is still an imbalance to be addressed. Whilst Lewis Bollard is funding groups outside of North America and Europe, the main focus of most of Animal Charity Evaluators’ top recommended charities and standout charities remains in those areas, and so I suspect that most money from smaller donors in the western, developed world is still focusing on causes closer to home.

Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a UK Activist and Tourist

Post author: Max Harris. Max is a UK volunteer for The Humane League who has travelled around East Asia.

In December 2016, Lewis Bollard of Open Philanthropy Project laid out his vision for improving animal welfare in China. This post is intended to complement the work of Bollard and others, by throwing out some ideas based on my personal experiences in China, and considering what the EA community knows about this issue currently. I shall begin by evaluating how successful attempts to reduce animal suffering have been in the west. Using this information I will look at the situation in China (mainly), and make suggestions about what may be the best methods of reducing suffering over there.

Animal activism has been going for a while in the western world, with varying degrees of success. Here is my take on some of the most successful things which have helped the cause in the West:

  • Vegan products now have a much larger share of the market than they used too, plant-based milk sales growing 61% in the US over the last 5 years for example, which makes reducing animal product consumption much smaller and easier to try out for those interested.
  • We aren’t solely reliant on the number of vegans/vegetarians to drive the consumption of non animal products, various market research (e.g. here) suggests that a large amount of consumers for non animal products are meat reducers. This means a percentage of people have been convinced that it’s worth leaving animals of their plates for at least some of their meals of the week, for whatever reason. Tobias Leenaert has written about the importance of this in his book.  
  • Groups like The Humane League and Mercy For Animals have successfully campaigned to get commitments from companies to improve the lives of livestock in the worst conditions (see here for a report from THL).
  • The clean meat industry is making significant progress, some sources saying it could be in stores by then end of 2018.
  • There are large amounts of material available to help those who want to transition to a vegan diet (youtube, documentaries, vegfests, veg societies at unis) that make it easier for people to transition and not be alone in their journey.

With all the above listed out it’s easy to see a light at the end of the tunnel where in a some number of years the number of animals forced to live in horrific conditions is significantly reduced. However it hasn’t all been perfect, there are some challenges which include the following:

  • The number of animals being slaughtered has increased in the US.
    • Consumption of pigs and cows has gone down, whilst consumption of fish and chickens has gone up. This is an issue because you have to kill more chickens to get the same amount of meat as when you kill one cow (see here for more).
    • This is likely due to the health benefits of avoiding eating cows and pigs are becoming more apparent, so people are avoiding them in terms of “healthier meats”.
  • Vegetarians and vegans have a hard time sticking to it.
    • I personally would say this is because sometimes we demand perfection from people. If a person is 80%+ vegan then they’re still doing a significantly more good than if they aren’t vegan at all so that should be encourage and not chastised. Five 80% vegans does us more good than 1 vegan and 4 non vegans. Basically we should be more accepting of people who aren’t completely vegan.

So there’s still some things to iron out, but with this all in mind let’s have a look at how things are going in the China (and a little in Japan).

This is going to be quite anecdotal, but one of the reasons I’m writing on this topic in particular is that I recently spent about a month travelling around Japan and China. I prepared myself for a drop in the variety of options of foods I could have, of course. However I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that Tokyo has over 50 vegan only restaurants on Happy Cow (which may not reflect the full local variety). Japan in general feels quite heavily influenced by western trends. This lends itself to relatively smooth expansion by Western groups;  the American charity The Humane League has expanded into Japan with some success.

After visiting Tokyo though I hopped over the pond to China to find a very different picture. The level of respect for animals seemed to be quite minimal. In other parts of the world I have been to, when I explain that I don’t eat meat, they generally understand, even if they assume that I’m “probably one of those hippies that cares about animals or something”. In China, though, outside of areas where there are temples that generally serve veggie food, when I explained that I didn’t want meat, it was generally a look of confusion that I got. Why on earth would I not want to eat meat? The level of respect the general public holds for animals like pets seems barely present in China (think of the Yulin dog festival). This translates horrifically into the scale of the farming and legal protection for the animals on said farms (although it is improving slightly). In one survey, a majority of Chinese respondents said they had never heard of animal welfare and/or approve of factory farming in general! Thankfully this does show some signs of improving thanks to a new government initiative to introduce basic animal welfare teachings into schools, but this is far from enough.

In my time in China, I travelled in sort of a line from Shanghai to X’ian, and I experienced quite a mix of city living and small towns where they were even shocked to see foreigners. In the larger cities like Shanghai, when I used Happy cow, I found  about 8 places with vegetarian options (as opposed to Tokyo’s 50+ vegan eateries). I didn’t come across any dedicated vegan/vegetarian places in my time in China. Luckily, Chinese restaurants and people in general are very friendly and flexible, so I was still able to eat out vegan all the time. I pretty much just had to insist on the phrase 不要肉 – Bùyào ròu, which translates to “I don’t want meat” – a fair amount. They’ll happily just invent something or edit a menu item to serve you some noodles and vegetables fried in oil! Also dairy is not commonly part of the diet in China so you don’t have to worry about that so much, just eggs and meat.

Moving on from my anecdotes about my travels, the reason I’m writing this blog post is that the level of respect for animals I observed in china is concerning. Given the size of China’s ever growing population and the fact that the country is responsible for the highest amount of amount of slaughter for any country in the world and that number is rising by the year. I think it would be an effective action to look into how to best reduce animal suffering in China.

China graph

The graph above (data sourced from here) demonstrates graphically that China controls the fate of nearly 20% of the world’s animals. Lewis Bollard mentions mentions in his post about China about the scale of the issues, and has some stats demonstrating how China confines as many pigs as the rest of the world combined, as well as other shocking things.

First off, let’s start with the negatives and what we should avoid: I think a hugely important approach to avoid in China is the environment and health being emphasised too much by animal charities as a reason to ditch meat (because it leads to an increase in consumption of smaller animals like fish and chicken). From my limited personal experience observing the haggling that goes on in some parts of China, and the openness that they seem to have to street food, I’d honestly expect price to be the main driving factor in food adoption. Granted I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but I hope a different angle like that could be tried out.  

There is some very interesting research however about how a large portion of Chinese like to import food from the west and the primary driving factor for this appears to be food safety. It’s quite easy to highlight the safety issues with fish (pollution in the sea making fish contain scary chemicals) and chicken. So perhaps another way to go would be market plantbased products as a safer option?

Another thing I think it would be prudent for the movement in China to avoid, would be being seen as the West trying to impose their views on China. The activities charities like Mercy For Animals and The Humane League do when campaigning against businesses probably wouldn’t fly in China either. An organisation from outside China campaigning against a Chinese business would likely get shut down by the government very quickly; China has a history of protecting chinese businesses over western ones, even when Chinese businesses are in the wrong, committing something like copyright fraud. From this, I think it would be a good idea to have seperate Chinese based charities which are set up in China which we can support (perhaps rather than extensions of American ones? ProVeg is setting up a branch in China currently, so hopefully I’m incorrect about this and their expansion goes smoothly.

I think my main issue with the animal charities in China is that, to my knowledge, none of them are anywhere near as effective as Animal Chariy Evaluators’ top recommended charities. My reason for saying this is there is no charity (that I can find) set up and going which is dedicated solely to reducing meat consumption, which is the leading cause of animal death and suffering. My favourite chinese charity is probably TACN (mentioned below), who spend time promoting a vegan diet but also spend a significant amount of effort rehoming dogs. While this is lovely, if they focussed solely on farm animals/vegan diet promotion, they’d save more animals overall. I do recognise though that there are fewer dog adoption charities in China than the West so it’s not as if another charity will do this if they don’t. This means it’d probably be a very difficult decision to stop doing this work for the dogs now that they’ve started, as it’d essentially be condemning them to live on the streets.

From this point onwards let’s take a look at some current animal charities in China and from that I’ll draw some observations based on what I think is lacking. Here are some animal charities of note in China:

  • ProVeg
    • Is working to set up in China (hopefully will fill the role I mentioned earlier when they are up and going!)
    • Hosted a vegfest in Shanghai which was quite popular
  • TACN (Towards a compassionate nation)
    • A Chinese charity
    • Primarily focuses of saving dogs and anti dog meat
      • I think this is still quite high priority work because dogs are really terrible to farm because you have to feed them meat which multiplies the amount of animals that die depending on the type of meat that is fed to the dogs
    • Works with Veganuary to promote veganism in China, especially around the time of January. They claim to be a big part of the 3000+ participants that signed up to Veganuary in China this year
  • GoalBlue
    • Promotes environmental living
    • Promotes eating chicken and fish over cows and pigs which is terrible if you’re concerned about animal suffering.
    • I personally would not recommend donating here due to the promoting of eating smaller animals which increases suffering.
  • No To Dog Meat
    • Lobbies to ban the dog meat trade in countries where lobbying is allowed and in countries where lobbying is not allowed they pressure other countries to put pressure on them.

I could go on but pretty much all of them are dog meat or dog rescue charities. Based on this, I think the core of what we need in China and possibly Asia more widely is:

  1. General farm animal charities
  2. General animal welfare promotion charities
  3. Charities which measure their effectiveness and are transparent
  4. Charities that promote a vegan lifestyle (there’s ProVeg and TACN but those were all I could find).
  5. I think we could potentially benefit largely from having a charity which tries to put out cheap plant based meat/vegan products in china, but this one is just a hunch based off anecdotal evidence from me.
  6. More effort just trying things out, there really haven’t been that many intervention types tried in China, so we need to see what works and gather evidence.

It’s fantastic to see that work has already begun towards several of these goals, funded by the Open Philanthropy Project – which has made 16 grants to charities operating in China, which has helped to fund, for example, advocate summits in China – and by EA Grants.

Also one thing to note is that if clean meat becomes cheaper to produce than normal meat then I think we can probably win China if it can be emphasised that clean meat is a safer (and cheaper) product than normal meat. However, this successful transition is not guaranteed, and there’s plenty of work to be done in making the lives of animals better before this point far in the future.

(The photo at the top is a picture of some vegan food from Max’s travels in China)

Monthly newsletter; April 2018

This is a new type of post, where every month, I send out an update with around 10 highlights of news articles and EAA posts that you might have missed. After today, I will only be sending these out by email, but since the mailing list is new, I am posting it here for the first time.

To sign up to future newsletters, and updates about new posts, sign up here.

But Can They Suffer posts:

Book review: Neil Rackham (1995) SPIN Selling (Gower Publishing Limited: Aldershot)

Effective Altruism or Effective Animal Advocacy posts:

  • A new career path recommendation – becoming a China specialist (80,000 Hours)
  • A useful deep-dive into the cost effectiveness of The Humane League’s cost effectiveness (Avi Norowitz)

Other interesting news:

  • France has banned labelling which refers to meat alternatives as meat. This opinion piece suggests that the ban might force creative marketing in plant-based meat; is there something to be said for pushing plant-based products to innovate and move away from mimicry of meat, whilst pinning our hopes on direct replacements on clean meat? (Plant-based News)
  • Meanwhile, GFI continues to fight against similar efforts in the USA (GFI)
  • A survey suggests a much more favourable consumer response to the term “plant-based” than vegan (Food Navigator)
  • The UK has introduced an ivory ban. Although this might seem like a way to distract from the issue of factory farming (people focus on issues that affect a small number of animals, which are easier to empathise with), it suggests that total bans on animal products are possible. Perhaps the next step will be fur – this is certainly something that Open Cages, PETA and others are campaigning for. Who knows what would follow after that? (Plant-based News)
  • An amusing article which confuses correlation and causation, and therefore claims that Instagram is “THE SURPRISING REASON WHY VEGANISM IS NOW MAINSTREAM” (The Independent)
  • A new plant-based meat company, launched by GFI’s previous senior scientist, is experimenting with production technologies (GFI)
  • I continue to have discussions with people about impact investing, but I continue to feel pessimistic about the opportunities arising from it, since looking into the topic for my post in March. See this article which assumes that impact investing is positive. (Plant-based News)
  • Two examples of UK mainstream media coverage of EAA topics – BBC newsnight on clean meat and BBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigationsBBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigations

Initial investigation: combined “impact investing” fund for small investors into plant-based meat

The concept

 

I carried out an initial investigation to explore the extent to which small investors pooling financial resources to invest in plant-based meats might have greater impact than donations to effective charities. My initial investigation suggests that funding does not seem to be a major constraint for plant-based meat manufacturers. This implies that it is unlikely that individuals may be able to increase their impact by substituting donations to effective charities for investments in plant-based meat manufacturers.

There were three main elements to my investigation.  First, I explored the theoretical concept of “impact investing”, and the criteria under which impact investing may be more effective than charitable donations.  I then examined whether investments in plant-based meat manufacturers might meet these criteria.  Finally, albeit separately, I briefly examined the practicality of setting up a vehicle for small investors to make such investments.

In order for impact investing to be effective, it seems that the investments would need to be in areas where socially neutral investors are unwilling to invest, or for investments to be made at concessionary rates.  Investments in plant-based meat companies don’t appear to match these criteria since they don’t seem to face major funding constraints from for-profit investors; the constraints faced by these companies appear to relate to scaling up and distribution. I identified a number of ways in which small investors could plausibly pool resources to make investments.  This could be useful to explore in the future if an exciting “impact investing” opportunity is identified.

This reflection post is intended as an insight into these three issues, and is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of the relevant literature. (Brief explanation: I have decided to use this blog to focus on sharing partially developed ideas and seeking feedback, but then to research them further and write them up more fully, e.g. on the EA Forum, if the topics seems to be something worth pursuing further)

As well as the various resources I have linked to in this post, much of my thinking on this has been developed in conversation with others, whose ideas and comments I have not always referenced explicitly. Thanks to Bruce Friedrich (co-founder and executive director of The Good Food Institute and co-founder and adviser at New Crop Capital) and Sagar Kirit Shah (a public policy economist) for speaking to me about these topics, plus to Matt Ball (senior media relations specialist at GFI) for his feedback on my initial draft. I should also note that I am currently completing an internship at GFI and generally have a very high opinion of their work and importance within the Effective Animal Advocacy movement, which others may disagree with.

 

1) Impact investment as potentially more effective than donations

 

My hypothesis was that investment into for-profit businesses might have a greater impact than donating to effective charities if the loss to Return On Investment (ROI) was small enough to justify the positive externalities generated by the businesses.

The idea of investing in for-profit companies, with the goal of achieving a social impact, whilst still making a profit on your investment, is not new. It is known as impact investing. Brest and Born (2013) define impact investing as “actively placing capital in enterprises that generate social or environmental goods, services, or ancillary benefits such as creating good jobs, with expected financial returns ranging from the highly concessionary to above market” in this article.

Under certain specific conditions, it seems likely that impact investing can increase a donor’s impact.

The conditions in which impact investing might increase a donor’s impact

There are some reasons to think that impact investing can produce substantial positive outcomes for the world which might enable investors to increase their impact overall compared to if they were only donating to charities:

  • Even if there was a loss to ROI compared to other investment opportunities, some impact investing might have a greater impact than donating to effective charities if the loss to ROI was small enough. This is because it could support the companies who were invested in to generate positive social outcomes that they would have otherwise been unable to achieve, if they lacked sufficient funding.
  • Impact investments are still intended to make profits overall, and these profits can be donated to charities later.
  • There may be a number of smaller, private markets where “market frictions” exist that dissuade larger socially neutral investors from investing in a business, but where a knowledgeable and well-placed impact investor might be able to support a company to meet its capital needs. See Brest and Born (2013) – search for the word “frictions” – for further explanation.
  • Brest and Born (2013) note that “fund managers as well as other actors can improve an enterprise’s social outputs by providing a range of nonmonetary benefits”, such as “providing technical and governance assistance to enterprises, and helping them build strategic relationships”.
  • As well as supporting existing plant-based meat start-ups in need of investment, the existence of the impact investing fund might, in theory, help to incentivise the creation of new start-ups in this space, as they would know that it would be easier to find investment than it might otherwise have been. Note, however, that there are already multiple funds fulfilling a similar role, such as New Crop Capital, as discussed more fully below.

There are also some ways in which the creation of a fund or pool of the finances of small investors for the purpose of investing in plant-based meat might have additional strategic benefits from the perspective of Effective Altruists:

  • People otherwise not involved with the Effective Animal Advocacy and Effective Altruism movements, or people who are unwilling to make substantial donations to charities, might be encouraged to invest in an impact investment fund. This might therefore redirect resources towards the goals of the fund (in this case, reducing animal suffering by supporting people to reduce their consumption of animal products) that might otherwise not have been mobilised for these goals.
  • The creation of an Effective Altruism-inspired impact investing fund for small investors might present opportunities for greater publicity and outreach about Effective Altruism, and therefore support wider goals of Effective Altruism movement building.

Theoretical reasons why impact investing might fail to increase a donor’s impact:

However, there are several criteria required for impact investments to achieve this potential, and to enable investors to have a greater impact than donors:

  • Impact investing will only support a company to generate more positive social outcomes if it provides access to capital that it would otherwise not have been able to have access to. This means that impact investing only leads to improved social outcomes if it takes place in a private market, where the company would otherwise have been unable to access other investment opportunities, or if the ROI is lower than the market rate. In this second scenario, impact investing which actually has a positive outcome necessarily involves a lower ROI than other investing opportunities, otherwise socially-neutral investors (i.e. those not seeking to maximise positive externalities) would use up these opportunities for profit for themselves.
  • This means that impact investing is financially equivalent to giving a grant to the company of the size of the difference between the ROI of the actual investment and the ROI of the most profitable alternative investment. In some cases, it might be better to simply give a grant to the company, worth the same amount as the difference between the ROI they would gain from investing in the plant-based meat company, and the estimated highest ROI they could gain otherwise. This point is argued strongly by Hauke Hillebrandt (unpublished).
  • There may be effective charities who would be able to use a donation to create a greater impact than a for-profit company would be able to with the same amount of money.

Note that “impact investing” is different from other forms of “Socially Responsible Investing” (SRI), through “negative screening”, or “divestment”. These have their own list of pros and cons, but seem less likely to have an overall, counterfactual positive impact; if some investors divest from a company, the price of their stocks will fall, and other investors will step in to buy up the cheaper stocks anyway. This point is argued strongly by Hauke Hillebrandt (unpublished)..

Conclusions

  • There are many cases where impact investing will have no socially positive outcomes.
  • In some exceptional cases, impact investing may be still have a greater positive impact than donating to an effective charity would.
  • Impact investing funds can offer additional nonmonetary benefits to enterprises.
  • A fund for impact investing into plant-based meat companies (and clean meat companies) no longer seems to be one of those exceptional cases, as will be explained in the following section.

 

2) Plant-based meat start-ups as an opportunity for high-impact investing

 

A second hypothesis was that plant-based meat companies might be an example of where additional investment might lead to significant additional positive externalities, by supporting people to reduce their consumption of animal products. This might therefore be a good opportunity for small-scale investors to pool together resource to create an investment fund, which would increase their impact compared to donating without investing. On investigation, however, it does not seem to provide a good opportunity at this time.

The opportunity

  • Better provision (and marketing, distribution etc) of alternatives to animal products will facilitate a move away from animal product usage. In one example, an estimated 70% of the consumers of the Beyond Burger (a plant-based burger created by the company Beyond Meat) are not vegetarian or vegan (see more examples on this 2018 post on GFI’s blog). This suggests that successful, well marketed plant-based products will support omnivores to eat fewer animal products.
  • To quote Sentience Institute, “It might be prohibitively challenging to convince others to make a significant change like switching many of the foods they eat or adjusting their identities to become antispeciesist, so what’s most needed could be to make going vegan or opposing harm to animals require less of a transition cost for people (e.g. with better plant-based meats).” You can see their full summary of the debate for whether to focus on food technology or social change here. Traditional animal advocacy – including organisations considered to be effective in terms of “bang for your buck” – seem not to be not working as quickly as we might have wished for, in the sense that the average number of animals consumed per capita is still rising internationally. In more recent years, there has been a slight decline in average total weight of meat consumed per capita in the USA and UK – in 2013, the figure is 81.48kg per person, per year in the UK, and 115.13kg in the USA, compared to 85.7kg and 125.53kg at peak consumption in 2006 for the UK and USA respectively. Nevertheless, these figures are far higher than in previous decades, and globally, per capita meat consumption has increased by around 20 kilograms, 1961-2013. In particular, the consumption of poultry has increased the most – from 862 million chickens in the USA alone in 1961 up to 2.23 billion in 2014, and with global production of poultry meat growing more than 12-fold between 1961-2014. This is especially concerning, given that factory farmed chickens suffer far more than many other farmed animals to provide the meat people eat. See here for a comparison of the suffering caused by different animal foods. These statistics are all available at Our World In Data, and are based on data published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This all suggests that traditional animal advocacy and vegan outreach has not led to hugely significant victories in terms of reducing demand for animal products, even if the situation would likely be slightly worse without their interventions. Efforts to support adjusting the supply of animal products and protein, such as by supporting the development of plant-based meat (and clean meat), might therefore be more effective in the long run. It should be remembered that these non-profits have had other forms of successes, however, especially in terms of welfare reforms.
  • Many interventions in reducing animal suffering seem to have very large uncertainties over their long-term implications. For example, welfare reforms might encourage complacency in people’s use of animal products (see here for Sentience Institute’s summary of this particular issue).

Why this might not be needed currently

  • Plant-based meat start-ups appear to currently be well-funded, and therefore (following the theoretical arguments outlined above) impact investment in this area might have no positive counterfactual impact. This was the impression of both Bruce Friedrich and Sagar Kirit Shah, as well as the Open Philanthropy Project report (2015). Impossible Foods has more than $200m in venture capital investment total for example (Shapiro, 2018).
  • This is partially because socially neutral investors consider them to be good investment opportunities. Large, international companies have bought up small plant-based meat companies: Kellogg bought Morningstar Foods in 1999; Pinnacle Foods bought Gardein; Monde Nissin Corp. bought both Quorn and Cauldron. Meat companies have also sought to diversify and to become shareholders in alternative sources of protein, such as Tyson investing in Beyond Meat and both Tyson and Cargill investing in clean meat companies.
  • Perhaps more significantly, plant-based meat companies have also already been funded by large impact investors with relevant knowledge and experience in the field. Beyond Meat has investments from Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio, to take famous examples. Perhaps more importantly, there are several impact investing funds and individuals looking to fill any funding gaps that arise for plant-based meat or clean meat companies. These include New Crop Capital and a network of other investors and funds, such as Stray Dog Capital, Fifty Years and VegInvest – see this 2017 article on the latter three. Friedrich’s impression is that these investors are already filling the funding needs of plant-based meat companies. He believes this to the extent that New Crop Capital no longer really acts as an impact investment fund, but more as a vehicle to make profitable investments, the profits of which are then invested into effective animal advocacy groups (with 50% going to Mercy For Animals). Clear Current Capital has similar goals, having been set up, largely to fill any gaps left by New Crop Capital. Although filling funding gaps is certainly not inevitable or automatic, these various impact investors seem consistently interested in the area and are therefore well-placed to meet further funding gaps as they arise. These investors and fund managers are also likely well-placed to provide any nonmonetary benefits that the manager of a pool of funds from small investors might be able to provide.

Casting the net more widely – restaurants? Distributors?

Although there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to pool additional funds to support the technology start-ups which are developing the field of plant-based meat, it seems important to consider whether there might be other opportunities to achieve the same goals by investing in different levels of the supply chain. There do not seem to be many good opportunities here, either, however:

  • Distribution of products and especially product placement are extremely important issues for plant-based food companies. When the Beyond Burger got placed in meat aisles, its sales skyrocketed, according to Friedrich (I couldn’t find stats on this, but if anyone has any, please let me know!).
  • For a new company to break into the market as a successful distributor would be a very difficult task, however, especially in order to specifically promote plant-based meat options; they would be competing against national and international competitors, but without the advantage of the market-disrupting new technology or unique selling point that many plant-based meat start-ups possess. These challenges would also make a new company a much worse investment opportunity, with likely far lower ROI.
  • It seems like this particular problem is more likely to be solved by building strong relations with both distributors and retailers. This is up to the plant-based meat start-ups themselves and possibly to GFI.
  • Restaurants and a variety of other smaller scale businesses working with plant-based meat, dairy and egg products are much more likely to be in need of investment than plant-based meat technology start-ups, since the latter have access to multiple sources of funding (as seen earlier in this section) that the former do not.
  • On the issue of investing in restaurants, Friedrich was not optimistic, saying that “my understanding is that the vast majority of them fail”. In one example of a study into this, a survey from Restaurant Startup & Growth magazine indicates a “23%” first year restaurant failure rate. Another analysis suggests that a similar rate for turnover, which includes changing ownership, as well as closure. This would make restaurants poor choices for impact investment, as the money invested would have a strong chance of being lost. Friedrich noted that New Crop Capital had seen pitches from about 20 restaurants, and they hadn’t accepted any of them. He noted that many of these pitches came from charismatic founders, with a clear vision, but that it is nevertheless hard to tell how likely the restaurant is to succeed.
  • A vegan restaurant would have a direct effect on reducing animal suffering by helping its customers to reduce their consumption of animal products and by supporting veg*ns to avoid recidivism. It would also have an indirect effect beyond its customer base by changing people’s perceptions of veganism and therefore (depending on the impression that this conveys) making a vegan diet seem more or less appealing and more or less difficult to stick to. However, for a restaurant to have a significant impact on reducing the consumption of animal products anywhere near comparable to the impact of plant-based meat technology start-ups, it would probably have to be so wildly successful that it would gather huge amounts of media attention, which would enable it to have a much larger indirect effect, since its direct effect is likely to be limited to a few thousand individuals. This would be even less likely than the initial profitability and success that would be required for a decent ROI.

Casting the net more widely – clean meat?

Clean Meat (also known as cellular agriculture, cultured meat, or in vitro meat) is real meat which is developed in a fermenter or a brewery, without (much) direct use of animals. Investment here faces some of the same issues as plant-based meat, as well as some separate issues:

  • The start-ups working in this space are also well funded by both impact investors and socially neutral investors – in many cases, the same individuals, funds and companies that are investing in plant-based meat. See Shapiro’s Clean Meat (2018), Open Philanthropy Project’s 2015 report and the various updates to GFI’s blog for details on this. Indeed, one of the main advantages that for-profit clean meat start-ups bring, compared to non-profits working in this area, is their ability to attract funding. As Matt Ball from GFI advised me, “in just their initial round of funding, Memphis Meats raised more money for this field than had gone into all academic research before.”
  • Since the technologies of cellular (and to a lesser extent, acellular) agriculture are still in development and not yet cost-competitive with the industries they are trying to disrupt, there is even more scope for supporting researchers and effective non-profits than there is for plant-based meat. Furthermore, research in this area is not well-funded, since the field is so new and since it lies in between the more established fields of food science and medical research – see New Harvest’s post on this for more. On research funding opportunities, see the section “Interventions to reduce cost and scale-up production of ground meat” in Open Philanthropy Project’s 2015 report  but note that the OPP report is slightly outdated, and that for-profit start-ups have made significant progress since then; Memphis Meat has been created and led breakthroughs, such as this. The opportunities for giving towards non-profits in this space are largely to New Harvest (see contrasting reviews here and here) and to The Good Food Institute (see the summary of their work here and their review by ACE here).
  • There is comparatively less scope for for-profit start-ups to make a difference in the short term.
  • Note, however, that there are contrasting views on how money would be best used to advance clean meat. Isha Datar of New Harvest argues that research is the priority: “start-ups keep their intellectual property private… at this point in time, open-source academic research will do a lot to advance the science of cultured meat. Once the base technology is advanced enough, then we can get into competition.” In contrast, Bruce Friedrich argues that “cellular agriculture has been exclusively the province of the academy for more than a decade, and it seems to me that leaving it there will guarantee that we don’t have a product on the market for at least another decade” (quotes from Shapiro, 2018, pp. 53 and 85). My perspective would be that supporting start-ups might help the field to progress faster, but might lead to loss of control over a coordinated market entry strategy for cellular agriculture technologies as a whole. It seems important that the introduction is managed and marketed very carefully so that consumer acceptance is high, and competition between different start-ups might pose a slight danger to this. In any case, the decision is largely outside the control of individual donors, since these start-ups are being funded; it is GFI and New Harvest that still have room for more funding.

Casting the net more widely – effective non-profits

This post has been framed as an exploration of whether donors might increase their overall impact by engaging in small-scale impact investment as well as their donations to non-profits. It seems likely that donating to effective non-profits will be a better use of money for small investors/doors at this time.

  • Whilst funding is overall not a significant bottleneck for plant-based meat start-ups at the moment, they do face internal issues of scaling up their production, Friedrich advised me. To some extent there is an inevitable time delay in this process. Shah believes that these companies are more in need of strong advocacy on their behalf, in terms of lobbying for favourable legislation and regulation and of bringing together interested parties. This is part of the work that The Good Food Institute is already doing in order to support plant-based meat companies, and so a donation to them is more likely to help overcome the bottlenecks to development that the plant-based meat industry is facing.
  • There are a variety of other effective animal advocacy organisations whose impact would likely be greater for an equivalent donation than the plant-based meat companies would be from a grant. Organisations like The Humane League and Animal Equality directly reduce animal suffering in the short term through encouraging changes to corporate welfare policies, through publicising investigations of farms and through general advocacy and outreach (see ACE’s reviews here and here).
  • These same organisations make the adoption of plant-based meat products (and clean meat products) more likely as they are developed, through increased concern for the wellbeing of animals, and increased anger at companies for the treatment of animals. It may well be that those who are aware of the problems of eating animal products, even if not currently persuaded to go vegetarian or vegan are still more likely to reduce their consumption of animal products as new plant-based products are developed. There is a variety of theoretical and social scientific evidence to suggest that this might happen. In one study, for example, “participants who rejected the human values of power and dominance over others generally rated the vegetarian option as tastier than the beef option, even when they had been misinformed about what they were eating” (study by Allen, Michael W., R. Gupta, and A. Monnier, quote from the Faunalytics summary of it).
  • Effective animal advocacy charities such as The Humane League, Animal Equality, The Good Food Institute will not have their funding needs met by any means other than through donations, although the Open Philanthropy Project is now a major donor in this area (see a list of their grants here). Such opportunities are therefore likely to be more neglected, and it makes sense for people who care about farmed animals to use their resources to support these more neglected opportunities.

Conclusions

  • The fact that funding isn’t a bottleneck for plant-based meat start-ups means that a combined impact investing fund for small investors into plant-based meat isn’t necessary at the moment and would not be helpful.
  • Given that a loss to ROI from money invested is to some extent inevitable, it is likely that, even if funding were a bottleneck, that a donation towards effective animal advocacy organisations, especially GFI, might do more to advance the field.
  • If the situation changed and funding became more of an issue compared to other needs of these companies, then an increased level of impact investing, supported by a fund of small investors, could theoretically become useful again. I have not come across anything to suggest that this is likely to happen soon, however.

 

3) The practicality of creating a fund for smaller investors

 

If you agree with my conclusions so far, then there is no need to set up a combined impact investing fund for small investors into plant-based meat at the moment. The following suggestions would therefore only apply if my reasoning is shown to be flawed, or if the bottlenecks to the development of plant-based meat changed significantly, for example if funding gaps developed again.

There are a variety of ways that smaller investors might be able to contribute towards a combined impact investing fund for small investors into plant-based meat:

EA Funds sets up an impact investment fund

EA funds currently offers philanthropic funds for small donors, managed by experts in the field; in the case of the animal welfare fund, this is Lewis Bollard, the Program Officer responsible for farm animal welfare at the Open Philanthropy Project. Since EA Funds already accept donations from small donors and act as a larger, knowledgeable donor on their behalf, it seems easy to imagine that they could set up a similar concept but for impact investment.

New Crop Capital (or other, similar group) could set up a fund representing smaller investors

New Crop Capital currently already invests in ventures within the fields of plant-based meat and clean meat that it expects to have a good ROI. Currently, they use funds from larger investors, rather than from smaller investors. It seems easy to imagine that they could set up a similar fund which represented smaller investors, or broaden their current fund to accept smaller investors too.

An independent group (not affiliated to the Effective Animal Advocacy or Effective Altruism movements) or fund manager could set up the fund, with advice

Small investors are currently able to invest their own money into a variety of impact investment funds. In some senses, a combined impact investing fund for small investors into plant-based meat need not be very different from these other examples. Interested and knowledgeable individuals (such as those at Open Philanthropy Project, New Crop Capital etc) might be able to provide advice to the fund manager.

Considerations which would affect all of these options

  • Each of these options could simply be evaluated on the standard criteria for seeking a good ROI, but only consider start-ups working to develop plant-based meat (or clean meat).
  • Alternatively, they could make explicit calculations and trade-offs between estimated/projected impact of the start-ups being invested in and ROI. In other words, in some cases the fund managers might accept a lower ROI on specific investments, because they thought that the estimated positive externalities of those investments was sufficiently high to have greater impact than a grant of the equivalent amount would. This may be incredibly difficult and time-consuming (unless the fund manager was willing to place lots of trust in the estimates and calculations provided by the start-ups seeking investment) and so is unlikely to be worth it in individual cases.
  • Early stage investment into start-ups, such as seed funding, angel investing and series A funding, is different from other investing. Firstly, there is a greater risk than usual of the invested money being lost. Secondly, for each investment, there is a relatively high chance that the invested money may be locked away for quite some time before it starts generating any returns. Sophisticated, larger investors tend to understand these risks and requirements, but smaller investors tend to expect to be able to access their invested money whenever they like. This means that investing in the fund might be less appealing for small investors than the sorts of investment funds that they are used to dealing with, which may reduce the amount of money actually invested. Indeed, Clear Current Capital write publicly that they are “open to accredited investors only, as Seed/Series A investing is a high risk/high return proposition”.
  • Additionally, these above differences might create communication difficulties. Start-ups often share sensitive information with their early investors, which they may be unwilling to share with a large number of smaller investors. Whilst they might be happy to share this information with a fund manager who was acting on behalf of lots of smaller investors, this may mean that smaller investors would have to be content with receiving relatively little information about their investments, which, again, might make investing in the fund less appealing.
  • Soliciting investment in the fund would inevitably require using time, resources and money. It is easier to publicise and advertise to a smaller number of informed investors than to a larger number of potential small investors. These publicity and advertisement costs might outweigh the benefits gained.

Conclusions

  • It seems theoretically possible that a combined impact investing fund for small investors into plant-based meat could be set up, even if there are some difficulties and costs which would need to be considered.
  • There are several organisations which might be well placed to do this.
  • This is all simply theoretical, as there is no need for such a fund at the present time.

 

Final thoughts

 

  • Even if a combined “impact investing” fund for small investors into plant-based meat is not required at the moment, it is possible that it could become useful in the future. The same is true for clean meat.
  • There may be cases in other key cause areas for Effective Altruists where a combined impact investing fund for small investors might still be useful. As one theoretical example, to address global poverty, a fund could be created for investing in new technologies or in technology which is available in the developed world but hasn’t had enough investment in cheaper alternatives and equivalents to make it usable in the developing world. For dealing with the risks from artificial intelligence, a fund could be created for investing in machine learning products and development which are seen to likely be safer, but otherwise potentially less profitable than alternative technologies, or which is struggling to attract funding for some other reason. This would clearly be different from safety research itself, which is where charitable donations in this area tend to focus. Both of these examples are hypothetical, and I haven’t considered the pros and cons of each, or read into whether similar things exist.
  • In the meantime, people looking to use their money to reduce animal suffering are probably best off donating to the most effective animal advocacy organisations. For the basics on how to do this, read the reviews created by Animal Charity Evaluators. There may be better ways to use your career to reduce animal suffering than seeking to maximise the amount of money you donate to this cause, however. If you have not already done so, you will likely find the advice and tools from 80,000 Hours (free and available online) useful.
  • Accredited investors who still think that impact investing presents an opportunity to increase their impact might like to contact Clear Current Capital, who are inviting investors to contact them.

(Outdated post) Call to action: Response to the UK government consultation on the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill

Previously, I posted about the need to pressure the government about suitably protecting consideration for animal sentience after Brexit. The government responded by announcing a new bill. PETA have written a great guideline for responses to the consultation here. I have mostly followed their wording, but have made a few additions, which I have copied below.

Enter your responses to the consultation here.

If you are short on time, please simply copy and paste responses from PETA (and perhaps any additions that I have made below, if you like. If you have a little more time, it would be best to personalise responses.

Note that I have only included answers below which differ from PETA’s original wording – otherwise I have simply copied their guide responses.

  1. If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should we use?

It is important that the Bill recognises that sentience can be applied to most non-human animals (see next answer).

Otherwise, PETA’s suggestions for wording defining sentience itself are good:

“the capacity to feel or perceive things, including but not limited to awareness of one’s surroundings, relationships with others, and both physical and emotional sensations such as pain, fear, and distress.”

  1. If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should we use?

I would suggest extending it to as far as the closest thing to “consensus” of the scientific community goes, in terms of which animals are considered sentient, but that where there is doubt, assuming that those non-human animals are sentient. E.g. it seems fairly clear that many invertebrates are capable of at least physical suffering, and so should be included within the bill. The following survey of the scientific literature may be useful in summarising the existing scientific understanding.

https://was-research.org/writing-by-others/invertebrate-species-feel-pain/

Therefore, PETA’s suggestion seems good: “ To avoid doubt, this definition should at the very least incorporate all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, cephalopods, and decapod crustaceans and should be defined so as to allow additional invertebrate groups to be included based on appropriate scientific evidence.”

  1. If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should be used, and should the list of needs in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 be changed?

I support PETA’s suggestions: “The list of needs in Section 9(2) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 should serve as a starting point to bring animal-welfare legislation in line with public opinion and contemporary scientific understanding of sentience. For example, the need for animals to be explicitly protected from emotional and physical pain, suffering, injury and disease should be incorporated into the definition. The legislation should also recognise the desire of animals to hold personhood, bodily liberty, and self-determination in light of scientific consensus that these traits exist in species including but not limited to great apes, grey parrots, elephants, dolphins, and cetaceans.”

I would also add that it is a huge priority that the definition of “unnecessary suffering” in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 be tightened up. Currently, this legislation permits (in practice) huge amounts of unnecessary suffering, through both regular farming practices which keep animals in intensive confinement and suffer painful interventions, but also due to mistakes, which are not prosecuted: an estimated 1.8 million pigs regain consciousness on the slaughterhouse production line each year after stunning and being fully conscious as they die from blood loss.

  1. Do you have any views or comments on the consequences of this new duty?

The duty as it stands in the draft bill requires Ministers of the Crown solely to take animal sentience into account during the decision making process. This requirement should apply to all public policymakers – including but not limited to ministers, local authorities, and devolved legislatures.

It is of vital importance that the bill does not offer important protections on paper whilst permitting loopholes in the law which allow other policy makers to bypass its requirements. To guarantee that the requirement to recognise sentience is being adhered to correctly, a mechanism must be put in place to ensure the government’s full and consistent execution of this duty.

  1. Do you have any views about whether a different formulation or approach might achieve the policy objectives? Views would also be welcome on how the approaches adopted in other countries might apply here.

I suspect that amendments and tightening up of the initial Animal Welfare Act 2006 might be better (especially as I think that many of the definitions contained within that Act need significant tightening), but I am not confident about this (or indeed if this is possible).

Otherwise, I agree with PETA that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill should be used as the backbone to introduce other forward-thinking animal-protection measures to ensure that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of global animal welfare.