Event review: 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit

Price: *****
Ease of use: ****
Value for EAA beginners: **
Value for EAA pros: *****

The 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit in Berlin was a conference for those focused on corporate or institutional outreach to encourage greater provision of vegan food. It was organised jointly by ProVeg International and the Humane Society of the United States. “50by40” refers to the aim to reduce animal product consumption by 50% by 2040.

This review is intended to help animal advocates decide whether they’d like to attend the next conference, and reflect on the usefulness of such conferences in general. If you’re hoping for a concise summary of what was shared in the talks at the conference, you may find this article by Tobias Leenaert more helpful.

As Sebastian Joy explained in his speech, the conference was intended to provide “loose collaboration”, focusing on “shared goals”, rather than on “shared values”. This is an area that he believes there has been a gap for.

The talks

The weekend consisted of several days’ worth of talks. In comparison to EA Global, there was a greater emphasis on all attendees listening to each talk. There was no overlap, so I attended every talk. You can see the agenda here.

The talks were all filmed and so I am hoping that they will be put online soon. You can access the slides here.

All of the talks were extremely interesting, and some of them were extremely personally useful. Many of the talks on the first day overlapped in their content, since they mostly focused on institutional outreach, encouraging university caterers to increase their provision of vegan offerings. To this end, I think that slightly more specific briefs for the talks would have helped to make the day more productive for all. Nevertheless, the overlap was helpful in that it showed some clear consensus on some issues. For example, many of the speakers emphasised the importance of not only initial networking, but really building strong relationships with the clients (i.e. their advocacy targets). Whilst HSUS started by cold calling, they later built up strong relations with their clients, and emphasised the helpful offerings that they had. This was then followed up by offering to help their clients’ own connections. Several of the speakers emphasised the importance of clear planning and tailoring your research and message to the individual company’s needs. They also seemed to emphasise the importance of introducing vegan meals of high quality, to ensure that the change is liked and is lasting, with HSUS hiring chefs to advise their clients.

The following days were more varied. Hearing May Mei of Goal Blue (a Chinese environment NGO) speak made me more optimistic about the opportunities for international non-profits’ efforts in China, as long as good local partners were found. The talks that I was most excited by in the conference were Mahi Klosterhalfen’s talk on the work that he is doing for the Albert Schweizer Foundation, which includes creating a ranking of supermarkets on their vegan offerings, as well as Melanie Jaecques of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative talking about the research into veganism and supermarkets in Belgium. It was interesting to hear that the work of Albert Schweizer Foundation, GFI and Compassion In World Farming all involves various forms of rankings of their partners. This was seen as a useful way to encourage competition among companies to improve their vegan offerings, as well as to lead to useful conversations between the advocacy groups and the companies. One interesting avenue that I had never considered before was that raised by Pablo Moleman of ProVeg Netherlands, of working with the food industry to replace animal ingredients such as eggs or gelatine from their production. His estimate, from data received from one company, was that leaving out chicken eggs from a large vegetarian meat alternative company would save 260,000 animal lives per year, for example.

An additional benefit of the talks was hearing about the work going on in various countries. This included the huge success of Meatless Mondays in Brazil, and the passing of a law making caterers obliged to provide vegan meals for people upon request in Portugal, as well as the work of various organisations in Asia. Similarly it helped attendees to stay up to date with the current campaigns of more familiar organisations (I learned lots about ProVeg and HSUS that I didn’t previously know, for example), which will facilitate coordination and mutual support, as well as preventing overlap and duplication.

It would be good for future conferences to have greater opportunities for more focused talks (given the experienced audience), as well as for workshops, idea-sharing and discussion. Additionally, an input from researchers into the effectiveness of different intervention types would have been helpful to give a sense of overall strategy. The conference felt inclined more towards applause of all organisations’ previous efforts than to asking tough questions about how to prioritise different actions and time inputs, for example.

Networking and useful conversations

Due to the small size of the conference, it was incredibly easy to meet people with shared or similar experiences and role focus. This meant that it was easy to share ideas, reflections and tips. With 3 full days of talks (and their subsequent evenings), there was time to meet lots of individuals. There was no sense of pressure to make the conversations especially useful, although attendees mostly seemed quite determined to do this anyway, so there was a nice balance of both focused discussion and more informal, friendly conversation.

There was relatively little experimentation with methods of facilitating networking, beyond a task early in the conference where attendees were divided into small groups and played a game where they had to explain their values to each other. Although the values exercise felt a little forced, it was useful as an opportunity to meet some new people. Despite the relatively small size of the conference, I still only managed to speak to between one-third and one-half of the attendees, at a guess (although I might have been able to speak to more, had I been more determined).

It would have been helpful to have a list of attendees and their roles in advance, so that attendees could structure and plan their conversations and networking. I realised from my experience at EA Global that planning for such conversations can be helpful.

Value for money?

The conference was free to attend. Even if the price of accommodation and travel pushed the price of the conference into the hundreds, I personally think that the conference was better value for money than EA Global was for me, and certainly worth the cost (see my review of EAG for a discussion of why the price of conferences matters).

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Book review: Paul Shapiro (2018) Clean Meat (Gallery Books: New York)

Price: ***
Ease of use: **
Value for EAA beginners: ****
Value for EAA pros: **

Shapiro explains the concept of clean meat (also known as in vitro meat, cultured meat or cellular agriculture, i.e. real meat which is grown in a fermenter, or brewery, rather than in an animal), its advantages, and the history of its development in this book. He explains these ideas from a personal perspective, leading with experience and anecdotes, and the stories of the key players in the development of clean meat. This is a book intended to engage the reader and convince them of the importance and worthiness of clean meat more than it is about trying to create a reference work for those whose work or advocacy requires a deep understanding of clean meat.

The book does explain some of the technological basics, and does refer to various studies relating to likely consumer acceptance of clean meat. Shapiro points out the contrasting results of these, and suggests that the phrasing of the less optimistic studies, such as the 2005 European Commission poll which saw that “more than half of the respondents said they’d “never” approve of it” renders them less informative than some of the more positive studies. A 2017 survey published in the PLoS One journal saw two-thirds of respondents probably or definitely willing to try clean meat, for example. (This is a sentiment echoed and developed by Bruce Friedrich of GFI in his 80,000 Hours podcast. Friedrich argues that similar surveys which tested for consumer acceptance of chickens raised in factory farmed conditions would likely be similarly negative, and yet consumption of such products is both high and rising.)

Combining the results of multiple surveys, studies and polls into one book is helpful, but they are dotted throughout the book. From an advocate’s perspective, the organisation of the book is slightly frustrating, with topics and issues abandoned and revisited later, as and when they relate to the various stories that Shapiro is telling. This does make the book engaging to read, as it has natural and flowing prose, rather than a dry, informative tone, but makes it harder to use as a reference for specific topics or issues. There are no footnotes or references, which makes the ideas and reports harder to follow up on. The chapter titles are also confusing; combined with the lack of an index, this does make it harder to look up or revisit useful information discovered. For those who do want to use the book as a reference, here is a rough explanation of the contents:

  1. “The Second Domestication” – introduction and overview
  2. “Science To The Rescue” – early scientific development; comparison to some previous scientific developments
  3. “(Google) Searching For A Solution” – more of the same as the previous chapter, but brings the science a bit more up-to-date
  4. “Leading With Leather” – development of leather through cellular agriculture
  5. “Clean Meat Coming To America” – overlaps with chapters 2 and 3, nut slightly more specific to US developments
  6. “Project Jake” – the story of Hampton Creek; consideration of how clean meat intersects with plant-based meat; comparison of clean meat chicken to clean meat beef
  7. “Brewing Food (And Controversy) – acellular agriculture, i.e. growing dairy products, egg products, and gelatine without (much) use of animals
  8. “Tasting The Future” – conclusion and epilogue

For me, the book’s main use was to help me to become more familiar with the various stakeholders in the field; what each company does, and the roles of various investors, incubators and supporting non-profits (especially learning about New Harvest, which I knew relatively little about before). This is picked up gradually; it would have been helpful if the book had a short table as an appendix summarising what each company does. Open Philanthropy Project did something along these lines here (see the section on “private companies”), but this is now relatively out of date, having been published in December 2015. Indeed, one of the book’s main advantages is that it is currently the most up to date, comprehensive survey of the field.

An additional advantage was the numerous historical comparisons to previous new technologies, to understand how consumers, businesses and regulators responded to them. These ideas will be addressed more fully in another blog post, with reference to Sentience Institute’s more detailed technology adoption study.

The book also convinced me that some products may be more immediately marketable to the public (and quicker to develop) than others, from gelatin, which is already on the market, to leather, to foie gras – this last one chiefly because it will become cost competitive with conventional foie gras more quickly, and its welfare advantages will be even more apparent.

One mild criticism of the book is that it seems to slightly downplay the barriers to development. Although Shapiro regularly poses the question of whether consumers will accept clean meat, he slightly brushes the scientific and developmental difficulties aside by noting the beliefs of those working in the field that progress is inevitable. Open Philanthropy Project’s 2015 report into clean meat concluded that “we currently see developing cost-competitive cultured muscle tissue products as extremely challenging, and we have been unable to find any concrete paths forward that seem likely to achieve that goal”. The report provides a clear list of the barriers going forwards.  A more recent talk from EA Global (especially 8:15 to 24:27) notes the same difficulties, but maps out some potentially solutions. For an analysis of the estimates of when clean meat will be available by – significantly less optimistic than those of some of the individuals considered in the book – see ACE’s report here. It seems odd that Geltor is largely excluded from ACE’s analysis, however, given that they already began selling their cultured gelatine to other businesses in mid-2017.  Indeed, Bruce Friedrich of GFI is also much more optimistic than ACE, as you can hear here.

The book also serves as a great advert for careers in technology start-ups, especially as a co-founder. The book certainly makes this seem glamorous and exciting, through its personal stories and anecdotes; at several point, you are hooked waiting for the verdict of a large investor or a taste test. This career path has high potential, but wouldn’t work for everyone. Those interested should read as a starting point 80,000 Hours’ review of that career path and their review of being an early employee in a start-up. Also relevant is Friedrich’s 80,000 Hours podcast, where he encourages ambitious people interested in this area to aim to become CEOs of such start-ups, or conduct the relevant scientific research and work as CTOs.

The book is a really enjoyable, easy-going read. It’s a great introduction to the topic if you’re looking for something quite casual. For those already somewhat knowledgeable on the topic, the book may help you to feel more familiar with the history and current landscape of the field (although I suspect that it may become slightly out of date quite quickly). Costing between £13 to £20 in the UK, it’s unlikely to break the bank, but isn’t too cheap either.

For those looking for a shorter (free) introduction to clean meat, I’d recommend New Harvest’s “about” page and Sentience Politics’ 2016 report (although note that there has already been progress in eliminating the use of foetal bovine serum).

For those interested in relevant research and surveys (either so far, or upcoming), I would advise that people read the blogs and research libraries of the following groups, and sign up to their newsletters:

  • New Harvest – original research and advocacy to support the development of clean meat / cellular agriculture
  • The Good Food Institute – some original research, otherwise supporting and coordinating the development of clean meat / cellular agriculture and plant-based meat
  • Faunalytics – summaries of relevant research on their research library, some original research. and a “bibliography for cultured meat research” here
  • Animal Charity Evaluators – reviews of the non-profits working in the space, and occasional research relating to the development of cellular agriculture
  • My own blog, butcantheysuffer.wordpress.com – I will be publishing relevant reviews, reflections and updates over the next few weeks and months