Reflections on grassroots protests

Disclaimer: I am an employee of Sentience Institute but, as usual, this post represents entirely my own views.

There are already excellent resources considering the effectiveness of grassroots protests and how to maximise their effectiveness. These include:

  • Animal Charity Evaluators’ report on protests. The list of likely positive and negative outcomes seems quite comprehensive, and the relevant evidence is clearly summarised.
  • Sentience Institute’s foundational question summaries, especially on confrontation vs. nonconfrontation, individual vs. institutional interventions and messaging, and controversial publicity stunts vs. other tactics.
  • A 2015 essay by Jacy Reese on “Confrontation, Consumer Action, and
    Triggering Events.”
  • A report by the Anyi Institute, commissioned by Open Philanthropy Project, on “Funding and Growing Social Movements.” This includes an explanation of a theory of how grassroots protests fit into a wider social movement “ecology,” evidence that they are underfunded relative to their effectiveness, and some ideas for how to measure impact.
  • A 2016 summary of relevant evidence on direct action by Zach Groff, considering Direct Action Everywhere’s tactics.

Should we support grassroots protest with marginal EAA resources?

Individuals often have strong intuitions on the foundational questions in effective animal advocacy. Lack of awareness of particular arguments or pieces of evidence could lead to excessive optimism or pessimism about particular intervention types.

Other possible causes of excessive optimism about the effectiveness of grassroots protests:

  • Preference for radicalism — Some interventions, such as those to improve the provision of animal-free food or to improve farmed animal welfare, may seem frustratingly slow and conservative. Grassroots protests may feel more direct, rapid, radical, and consistent with activists’ own beliefs.
  • Getting swept up in mass enthusiasm — Engagement from activists may be a poor proxy for effects on the targets of the protest, be they institutional actors or the general public.
  • Assumption that all publicity is good publicity — The way that society frames discussion of animal issues may be more important than how highly the public prioritise animal issues.[1] High salience of an issue could encourage polarization, which could encourage stagnation longer-term.[2]
  • Overestimating the public’s enthusiasm for change — To the extent that we think that grassroots protests are likely to have diminishing returns and should be used sparingly, it may be better not to use them at this time. [3]

Other possible causes of excessive pessimism about the effectiveness of grassroots protests:

  • Measurability bias — It’s tempting to focus on interventions that have more measurable outcomes and quicker feedback loops, such as corporate welfare campaigns, because the effects are clearer. However, more measurable interventions are not necessarily higher impact.
  • Short-term focus — Certainly, some forms of grassroots protest actions are high risk. For example, high-profile protests may be perceived negatively and shift the framing of debate in an undesired direction.[4] Nevertheless, certain protests could have high positive impact if they shift the framing of public discussion in a positive direction, build substantial momentum for progress on animal issues, or secure major institutional commitments.
  • Aversion to confrontation — Even if an intervention encourages a backfire effect among some of its audience, its overall effects could be positive.
  • Low precedent within EAA — Apart from groups that use protests as part of campaigns to secure corporate welfare commitments, there are few groups funded by Open Philanthropy Project or recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators that use grassroots protests extensively.

Below are several different examples of grassroots protest tactics, with those that I think are the highest priority to support with marginal EAA resources listed nearer the top:

  • The Humane League and the Open Wing Alliance — The welfare campaigns that these groups work on are very cost-effective on short timeframes.[5] Protests are a key part of these campaigns and the movement building efforts of these groups. On longer timeframes, however, I am uncertain whether welfare campaigns encourage more momentum for further change than complacency.[6]
  • Animal Rebellion — This group (first protest scheduled for October 2019) has a clear institutional focus. It is taking advantage of the window of opportunity in the UK opened by Extinction Rebellion’s protests and the government’s declaration of a “climate emergency.” Given the disruptive nature of the protests, I am concerned about the risks of alienating the public and of activists burning out. Additionally, the goals of the environmental movement are not always aligned with those of effectiveness-focused animal advocates, so greater collaboration could have negative effects in the long term.[7]
  • The Save Movement — The Save Movement has built up an impressive network of local groups that conduct regular vigils, “bearing witness” to animal suffering. The direct impact of these actions is likely low, since the disruption does not seem likely to pose a substantial threat to the slaughterhouses’ profitability. However, the large numbers of individuals that have been inspired to join vigils could possibly be mobilised for targeted campaigns with more specific institutional demands. The Save Movement is exploring this sort of opportunity, having seconded three staff members to work full-time on Animal Rebellion.
  • Anonymous for the Voiceless — This group’s street demonstrations mobilise large numbers of regular activists to engage in individual vegan outreach using videos. Given the number of these events, even if this use of time would not likely be cost-effective for paid employees to conduct directly, it could still add up to a substantial impact overall. Research I’m doing for SI in the first draft stage has mixed implications for this.[13] On the other hand, I worry that the use of masks is counterproductive and that the activists could be engaged in higher impact interventions. 
  • Surge — Large scale marches for animals without specific institutional demands, organised by groups like Surge, have similar promise to The Save Movement’s vigils. However, I suspect that annual marches are less effective at building up a community of regular activists. In the short-term, I would guess that the chanting and focus on individual dietary change alienates more people than it encourages to reduce their animal product consumption.
  • Direct Action Everywhere — DxE’s  focus on systemic change (that is, longer-term impact), including via movement building, is great. My impression is that the narrative is really appealing to a lot of animal advocates. The focus of many of their protests on confronting individuals about their current consumption habits seems less promising to me. I also worry that these protests are shifting public discussion towards a more negative view of animal activists and the changes that they advocate for.

How can organisers maximise the impact of grassroots protests?

Questions to consider when seeking to maximise the impact of grassroots protests include:

  • How can you increase the likelihood that media coverage and public discussion will be supportive of your aims, rather than hostile? For example, can you ensure that you use institutionally focused messaging? Can you target locations that symbolise the most unpopular and emotionally salient aspects of animal agriculture, such as slaughterhouses?[8] If the protests cause hostile public reactions, they could do more damage than good overall.
  • How can you ensure that publicity and the increased salience of animal issues are converted into positive progress for animals? For example, what are the concrete demands that you will make and how likely are these to be accepted?[9] Some animal advocacy groups have built excellent support bases, but have not (so far) used this mobilisation to make concrete demands of relevant institutional actors.[10] This seems like a missed opportunity.
  • How can the sustainability of this type of action be ensured? Protests that risk arrest could be demoralising if change is not forthcoming,[11] as well as damaging to the individuals involved.
  • The factors listed by ACE’s report.

Research that I’d love to see

The research suggestions below could support improvements the effectiveness of grassroots protest groups and help to support resource prioritisation decisions in the EAA community. If you’re interested in conducting any of this research, feel free to get in contact with me directly at james_a_harris [at]; I’d love to chat and possibly to help out directly.

  • Surveys conducted before and after a wave of large-scale mass protest to evaluate the levels of support for the protesters’ demands and for other animal advocacy issues. Some questions could be based on those in SI’s survey. Asking participants in the second survey whether they had heard of the protest group would enable separate analysis of a “treatment” group (those who have heard of the group’s protests) and an imperfect “control” group (those who have not).[12]
  • RCTs testing the effects of variations in messaging strategies, calls to action, and sites of protest (e.g. slaughterhouses, supermarkets, or government buildings) on support for the protesters’ demands and the likelihood of engaging with the protests.
  • Tracking of media mentions of the protests, categorised on a scale from opposition to support. Noting features associated with particular protests (e.g. target location) could enable the tracking of correlations between use of those features the volume and supportiveness of media coverage. Tracking would be easier with online articles, e.g. via Google alerts.


[1] The importance of issue framing has been a consistent theme in Sentience Institute’s case studies.

[2] An example of where this may have happened is in the anti-abortion movement; I have a research report on this forthcoming for Sentience Institute. See also SI’s summary of the arguments for and against “controversial publicity stunts vs. other tactics.”

[3] It may be better, for example, to focus the use of these tactics around trigger events such as a food safety scandal, or the release of undercover investigation footage that has received unusually high media attention.

[4] See, by comparison, the effect that Operation Rescue has had on the anti-abortion movement.

[5] Although there is some scope for disagreement with this based on the size of the welfare improvements (e.g. see this comment by Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere) and the possibility that companies will backslide on their commitments (see this report by Rethink Priorities), numerous groups have come to similar conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of these campaigns: Open Philanthropy Project, Animal Charity Evaluators, Founders Pledge, Rethink Priorities, and (sort of) Charity Entrepreneurship.

[6] I am about 75% confident that the movement-building effects of these campaigns are substantial enough that the interventions are positive overall, even if they do have small effects on encouraging complacency. I am less confident that the campaigns have substantial positive effects on increasing momentum for radical change, such as ending factory farming.

[7] See SI’s summaries of the arguments and evidence for “Broad vs. animal focus” and for “Animal protection vs. environmental vs. human health focus.”

[8] In Sentience Institute’s 2017 survey in the US, more people (47%) supported a ban on slaughterhouses than supported a ban on animal farming (32%).

[9] The protests by The Humane League provide a good example of where clear, concrete demands are being made. The protests are used to put pressure on a company to make a specific welfare pledge that has usually already been made by other companies. Consequently, large numbers of organisations agree to THL’s demands. A similar approach could be used for government targets.

[10] See discussion of The Save Movement, Surge, and Anonymous for the Voiceless above.

[11] Alesha E. Doan, Opposition & Intimidation: The Abortion Wars & Strategies of Political Harassment (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 88, writing on Operation Rescue, a direct action group in the anti-abortion movement, notes that “Many rank-and-file members could not keep up with the hectic pace of blockades, arrests, and imprisonment, especially as jail sentences were stiffened. By 1990, Operation Rescue was down to a core of ‘professional rescuers’ who traveled from city to city living off free food and lodging provided by pro-life sympathizers.” On page 86, Doan notes that “By 1990, Operation Rescue’s activities had significantly diminished—a paltry 34 blockades were held that year, and only 1,363 protesters were arrested [compared to 201 and 12,358 respectively in the previous year].”

[12] For an example of a paper that used a similar methodology, see Charles H. Franklin and Liane C. Kosaki, “Republican Schoolmaster: The U.S. Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and Abortion,” The American Political Science Review 83, no. 3 (1989), 764-7 and the methodological discussion in John Hanley, Michael Salamone, and Matthew Wright, “Reviving the Schoolmaster: Reevaluating Public Opinion in the Wake of Roe v. Wade,” Political Research Quarterly 65, no. 2 (2011), 408-21.

[13] Although I can’t condense the relevant evidence into a short footnote, the anti-abortion movement has used “sidewalk counselling” outreach extensively, but this seems unlikely to have had much/any positive effect on the rate of abortion incidence. However,  I place high weight on the evidence from the health behaviour literature that “brief interventions” can be effective, and meta-analyses I have seen suggest that small effect sizes are most likely. This is similar to other forms of individual intervention in the health behaviour literature. Additionally, there is some evidence suggesting that brief interventions are not made more effective by increasing the amount of contact time involved in interactions. This suggests that interventions used in the farmed animal movement that rely on short interactions to encourage behaviour change, such as street outreach promoting veganism, may have some effect.


Effective animal advocacy movement building: a neglected opportunity?

This is a linkpost to a post I have written on the EA Forum. Below, I have copied over the summary. Click the link above for the full post.

Organisations such as the Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours, as well as the individuals involved in local effective altruism (EA) groups, have conducted excellent work supporting aspiring EAs to do good. However, these organisations and many of the individuals involved in local EA groups focus predominantly on supporting work on reducing existential risk (x-risk), either directly or indirectly, especially extinction risk. The communities of other cause areas, such as the effective animal advocacy community (EAA, i.e. the intersection of effective altruism and animal advocacy) have comparably less access to movement-building services than do those in the EA community who prioritise reducing extinction risks. There is likely substantial unmet demand for movement building services in EAA.

EAA movement building projects are suggested that might meet this demand. Some of these projects may be best-suited to volunteers, some to new, targeted organisations, and some to existing EAA organisations. Some general considerations of the advantages and disadvantages that each of these has for taking up EAA movement building opportunities are listed.

Book Review: Jacy Reese (2018) The End of Animal Farming (Beacon Press: Boston, MA)

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

Disclaimer: I work full-time for Sentience Institute. This post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of  my employers. Given that I work with Jacy, I am not the best person to write a review of the book, but I thought it was worth including the book on But Can They Suffer, so that the site can continue to list reviews of books from members of the EAA community.

To some extent, The End of Animal Farming has a dual audience: 1) animal advocates seeking to integrate the perspectives and insights from the Effective Altruism community and its research into their advocacy; 2) those otherwise not deeply engaged in animal advocacy, who can benefit from understanding how animal advocacy interacts with the wider goal of moral circle expansion, with the effective altruism movement, and with current technological developments. I would guess it would be slightly more useful for the former than the latter.

The book uses research from Sentience Institute and the wider animal advocacy community. It covers much of the same ground as the foundational questions summaries and research posts, but the insights from previous work are integrated into a narrative form. In this sense, it is a comfortable and enjoyable read, which helps to familiarise the reader with some of the current research insights, but also with many of the key “scientists, entrepreneurs, and activists” involved in the predicted end of animal farming.

Due to the more narrative style than most of SI’s materials, the book tends to read slightly more like a statement of Jacy’s current beliefs in some key issues in animal advocacy than as a neutral list of all relevant arguments. Counterarguments are still included, however, and the book remains balanced and fair.

I would recommend TEOF as a fantastic introduction to effective animal advocacy, above Cooney’s book, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change. Cooney’s book is very useful, but is quite narrow in its focus and is dense with psychological studies. TEOF has a broader focus and is more readable. Aside from the notes – which are often worth reading – there’s only 164 pages.

For many already involved in animal advocacy, the book will likely include some evidence from less familiar sources (from historical social movements to psychology studies) or broader perspectives on the farmed animal movement which incorporate wild animals and longer-term future considerations. If you are already very up-to-date with effective animal advocacy research and Sentience Institute’s work, there may not be many particularly surprising insights in the book, although you will likely enjoy reading it. You may also find some of the discussion and re-phrasing of familiar issues to be useful, or gain insight into less familiar issues (for me, a good example was a discussion of how to frame messages to appeal to more conservative audiences).

Overall, an excellent book for a variety of audiences.

If you’d like to see a more critical, external review, see here, although I’ll note that I don’t really agree with the criticisms.

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


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.  


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


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.


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


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”.


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.

Research review: Kelly Witwicki (2017) “Social Movement Lessons From the British Antislavery Movement” on

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

Disclaimer: I will be working full time for Sentience Institute from the 1st of August.

Sentience Institute’s research is available here, and the report is available here.

I had previously summarised Kelly Witwicki’s British Antislavery study for Faunalytics here, so I thought I would just add it to the blog to keep the reviews in one place.

As I note in the section “uses of this study” on my summary for Faunalytics, “this report, and its implications, can be useful for all animal advocates.” I think the report is most useful for thinking about the tractability and best strategies for multiple different intervention types. It has the effect of making legislative change seem more tractable, and individual outreach seem less so.

Although the report is long, it is very easy to access. The key findings are listed at the start, and so if you are happy to trust Witwicki’s analysis, then reading through this section will only take a few mintues.

Relatedly, I think social movement studies are undervalued for evidence and insight into EAA issues. For one explanation of why it can be useful, see this post by Jacy Reese of Sentience Institute. I am aiming to make a post soon reviewing the social movement studies for Animal Charity Evaluators.

Research review: J. Mohorčich (2017) “What can nuclear power teach us about the institutional adoption of clean meat?” on

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

Disclaimer: I will be working full time for Sentience Institute from the 1st of August.

Sentience Institute’s research is available here, and the report is available here.

Recently, I posted a review of Sentience Institute’s technology study on the adoption of GM foods. I had previously summarised J. Mohorčich’s previous technology adoption study for Faunalytics here, so I thought I would just add it to the blog to keep the reviews in one place.

The nuclearisation study is much shorter than the GMO study, but possibly equally useful to those interested in clean meat. I think it has fewer implications for intervention prioritisation, however so is perhaps less useful for EAA beginners.

Research review: J. Mohorčich (2018) “What can the adoption of GM foods teach us about the adoption of other food technologies?” on

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

Disclaimer: I will be working full time for Sentience Institute from the 1st of August.

Sentience Institute’s research is available here, and the report is available here.

This report from Sentience Institute looks at the history of Genetically Modified foods and draws lessons for advocates of clean meat (and to a lesser extent, plant-based meat technologies).

The report is very easy to access and read through. The “introduction” and the “summary of implications and findings” are mostly similar in that they summarise the key takeaways of the report. If you are happy to trust Mohorčich’s analysis, then reading these sections will only take a few minutes, and will give you most of the main ideas.

The report starts with a summary of the history of GM foods and the contrast between their adoption in the USA and rejection in Europe. The analysis then clearly lists “analogies” to clean meat, as well as “disanalogies” and points of “unclear relationship”.

Overall, the report may have the effect of making the successful implementation of clean meat (which completely or nearly completely eradicates the use of traditional animal agriculture) seem less tractable. This is mostly through the analogy to the “two-phase industry model”. Initially, GMOs were supported and developed by optimistic startups who wanted to change the world and deal with environmental issues, which were backed by venture capitalists. This phase looks very similar to the situation clean meat is in at the moment. Later, however, the optimistic startups underwent mergers and acquisitions from larger companies, which led to a variety of issues and fears around corporatization and centralization of the food industry, which reduced consumer acceptance of GMOs.

If the analysis makes EAA readers less optimistic about clean meat, it also suggest important actions that could be taken, and serves as a useful warning to the startups and to clean meat advocates. For example, one lesson from the failings and difficulties of the proponents of GMOs is that “clean meat advocates should probably [focus] on developing a robust industry advocacy group in each market they plan to enter”.

Another key finding of the report is that concerns around unnaturalness were insufficient to prohibit adoption of GMOs; it was a broad coalition of concerns which led to reduced support in Europe and caused problems elsewhere. Furthermore, “constant discussion of safety concerns, even if to answer these concerns in a technically-sound manner, tends to displace positive framing of an issue and reinforce the idea that there is something to fear.” Accordingly, advocates should focus on the positives (especially the ethical positives) of clean meat, rather than focus on responding to dangers. This also fits with the implications of Eva Vivalt’s studies, which found that “embrace naturalness” messaging was more effective at encouraging support for clean meat than messaging which tried to disprove claims about its unnaturalness. Interestingly, her conclusion on the tractability issue, much like that of “Mohorčich”, is that “clean meat is not a panacea”.

Those newer to the topic may like to start with the resources recommended here, or by reading Paul Shapiro’s book, Clean Meat. For those involved in the clean meat space or considering intervention prioritisation within EAA, however, this analysis is essential reading.