Event Review: Effective Altruism Global: London, 26th to 28th October, 2018

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

As ever, this post reflects my own views, not those of my employer.

I previously reviewed Effective Altruism Global (London, 2017) here. I also attended EAG in 2018, and I wanted to update the review. If you’re interested, read the 2017 review first for context on how EAG works; this additional review is intended to add further comment after EAG has had time to change and develop and after I have been involved in the EA community for a further year, including taking on a full time role at Sentience Institute. Note that other people have written better guides about how to make the most out of EAG, such as here. These posts cover my own perspective and experience, mainly to help people decide whether it is worth them attending an EAG conference or not.

In summary, I found the 2018 EAG more exciting and less demoralising than the 2017 EAG, and I suspect that it was also more useful for me. This was primarily due to changes in my own approach to EAG, rather than changes in the structure of the event. Otherwise, my broad recommendations remain the same: “I would encourage interested people to attend, but to make the most of your networking opportunities while you are there and to prepare some ideas and questions [and meetings] in advance.”

The main difference in my experience came from additional preparation for the event. Last year, I turned up on the Friday with very little idea of what to expect and having done no preparation. This year, I booked in several meetings in advance, and arranged extra meetings as the conference progressed (12 scheduled meetings this year, compared to none last year). This was partially with the help of a new system implemented by CEA to support one-to-one conversations. One-to-ones often seem form the most useful part of many EA events that I attend, and EAG 2018 was no exception. As well as making the conference more useful, I also found that this made me less stressed, because I prefer structured events with clear plans to lengthy periods of unstructured conversations.

Last year, I wrote that “some of the most useful conversations that I had were with those who shared a primary focus and interest in reducing animal suffering.” This year, I think that I gained more from conversations, meetups, and talks involving researchers working in areas beyond animal advocacy. This is because I had clearer career similarities with them, which led to fruitful conversations about productivity tips and research habits or approaches. In this sense, a key difference also came from my personal increased clarity regarding my own career, and deeper involvement in the EA community; this enabled me to prioritise conversations like this.

It’s worth noting that I think that I underestimated some of the long-term benefits that I gained from meeting others involved in animal advocacy in 2017. Some of these conversations have been useful in terms of organising events in London and in terms of being more able to contact others for advice or to share thoughts. Some of these connections almost led directly to career opportunities for me too.

Practical notes

This year my ticket was cheaper because I booked earlier. Given that discounts are also available, I’ve improved the price rating.

I didn’t feel (notice?) that there were major changes to the organisation or style of EAG this year compared to last year. There were slightly fewer workshops and there were more “meetup” events. I actually found these meetup events to be slightly more structured than I would have liked; I probably would have preferred more unstructured networking, perhaps focused around a wider array of topics.

I’ve upgraded the “ease of use” rating. I think that as long as you make use of the app and information provided beforehand to plan your time at EAG, it’s self-explanatory and easy to use. Gaining maximum value out of the event probably does depend on being proactive, though. There were also some technical difficulties with the Bizzabo app this year that I didn’t notice previously.

Advertisements

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.

Research review: Animal Charity Evaluators Social Movement Case Studies

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

Disclaimer: From tomorrow, I will be working full-time as a researcher for Sentience Institute, who conduct social movement studies themselves. The views expressed here are exclusively my own.

In February 2018, ACE announced that they were discontinuing their social movement project. Apart from resource constraints, ACE also admitted that the social movement case studies that their interns had created were of variable quality. Although I believe these case studies are useful (more on that below), some are better researched, analysed and explained than others. The case studies are all freely available here.

Summaries of the Individual Case Studies

Unnamed intern at ACE (Unknown date) “Environmentalism”: This case study evaluates the impact of three features of the environmentalism movement. Firstly, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and secondly, the widespread promotion of Earth Day, are both credited with playing an important role in pushing environmentalism into the American (and to a lesser extent, global) political mainstream. The author does not really attempt to rigorously distinguish coincidence and correlation from historical causation; they have several paragraphs recognising this difficulty, but seem to proceed on with some perhaps overly confident analysis about the importance of these works. Further research would be needed for me to update my views particularly strongly in favour of these sorts of interventions in the way that the author recommends them. Nevertheless, some of the specific reflections are useful, such as on how the credibility of the author can affect the impact of their works. The third section considers the growth of recycling. The analysis is short, but the discussion of moral licensing effects is useful, since this might imply that individual consumer change is less impactful overall than it might appear.

Amanda Lueke (2014) “Fat Activism”: This post is the shortest of the ACE social movement case studies. It focuses primarily on summarising the Fat Activism movement’s features. The analysis of which tactics have been most helpful for the movement is anecdotal and intuitive. The author proposes some lessons for EAA from the Fat Activism movement – that blogging is a useful entry point for activists, and that coordination with other social movements can increase reach and support – but I did not find the analysis convincing enough to update my views much for either of these issues.

Allison Smith and unnamed ACE intern? (2015) “Social Movements Case Study: Children’s Rights”: I found this to be the most useful of the ACE case studies. The analysis focuses on several different sections. Firstly, on the context of 19th to 20th century British children’s rights legislation. This section mostly takes the form of a chronological narrative, and there is relatively little evaluation, or consideration of causation. This section is therefore not particularly useful in its current form, although I suspect that further research here could be valuable. The second section focuses on the outlawing of corporal punishment for children in Sweden, and the effect that this had on other countries. The analysis here is much clearer, as it draws on wider social science research on the subject. There is a clear effort to distinguish the impact of the legislation from the counterfactuals, which leads the author to tentatively conclude that changing legislation “might spur on opinion change by legitimizing the view it represents”. The analysis also suggests that opinion change correlates at least partially with behaviour change, and that legal change can influence legislation in other countries too. The final section analyses the more recent success of campaigning for similar legislation in New Zealand, with a focus on the activism tactics. Although the lessons are not all clear cut or directly transferable to EAA, this section suggests some methods of institutional advocacy which can be impactful even without widespread public support, including building coalitions of supporting organisations, and lobbying politicians directly.

Unnamed ACE intern (unknown date) “The British Antislavery Movement And The Abolition Of The Slave Trade In 1807”: This analysis is less useful, purely because it has largely been superseded by a more detailed study by Kelly Witwicki of Sentience Institute (see my summary here). The ACE analysis does have some elements not considered in SI’s analysis; the first section establishes the importance of abolition as a “social movement”, rather than as an inevitable economic change. Otherwise, the two analyses share many similarities, such as noting that the British antislavery movement suggests the importance and tractability of legislative change. Like the Fat Activism case study, the author of this analysis also sees historical evidence for the importance of diversity in EAA and of alliances across social and moral causes.

Use of the case studies within ACE

In ACE’s February announcement, Toni Adleberg wrote that “we feel that evidence from other social movements can (and should) be incorporated in our other research programs: our intervention research, foundational research, and experimental research.” Indeed, ACE’s revised intervention report methodology incorporates a section for “Evidence from the Social Sciences”, which includes reference to social movements. The leafleting intervention report hardly focused on this, dealing with it in a couple of short paragraphs and bullet points. The intervention report on protests, however, focused much more on the evidence from a variety of related academic fields. The evidence from social movements play an important part, being referred to 29 times, although they don’t explicitly reference the work of their own interns.

Wider uses of the case studies

Social movement studies provide qualitative evidence which is most useful for macro questions and wider EAA strategy. They have, for example, made me feel that it could be more tractable to secure far-reaching restrictions on factory farming than I had previously believed, and that the EAA movement should therefore prioritise building towards such legislation (see my post on this here). They also suggest that individual consumer action is less valuable than we might otherwise assume.

Social movement studies can also offer more specific lessons for particular interventions, such as how best to implement legislative efforts, or what sorts of dangers might arise. Steven Wise of the Non-Human Rights Project has, for example, extensively studied the 1772 Lord Mansfield case in order to inform his efforts to secure legal personhood for non-human animals. The author of the ACE children’s rights case study had suggested that further study of the legal struggles in that social movement might reveal similar insights.

In all of these situations, we must be wary of the many differences between the social movements being studied and the EAA movement today, of course. The specificities of the past should not be applied in a simplified, thoughtless manner to the differing problems of today. When considering wider questions and macro strategy, social movement studies may only provide weak evidence; but weak evidence can be useful. Even if these case studies by ACE are imperfect, at the moment they are some of the most thorough write-ups we have (in terms of directly linking the movements towards EAA) and so their importance should not be undervalued. If they are all superseded by more thorough analyses, this will be a good thing, but I would encourage the EAA movement to cautiously use these case studies in the meantime.

Although the case studies are fairly intuitively laid out, with clear sub-titles, I have ranked ease of use poorly because the varying quality of the case studies means that I would not encourage readers to take the lessons at face value, without reading the material and engaging with the information there critically.

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.

Book review: Melanie Joy (2008) Strategic Action For Animals (Lantern Books: New York)

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

This is a book which focuses on strategy for organisations advocating for animals, but which also considers many ideas about individual activism and effectiveness. By the end of the book, Melanie Joy summarises that the book has “examined how social movements evolve and win; the difference between animal liberation and human liberation movements and how this impacts animal advocacy; the divide-and-conquer counterstrategy that makes the movement kill itself; how to maintain a strategic organization and run strategic campaigns; why and how to start your own animal liberation organization; how to be a strategic advocate for animals; and how to make sure your activism is sustainable.”

The book, consisting of 147 small pages with large font, does indeed consider all of these topics, though without much depth. The book primarily consists of some common sense thinking and some checklists of ideas to consider for each of these respective issues. The checklists may be useful if you are having to consider any of these issues, for instance tips on pages 44-46 about holding valuable “strategic meetings”, or ideas for ensuring that your campaigns have a clear goal and focus on pages 56-68. The disadvantage is that these checklists seem to be based primarily off of common sense and past experience, with only occasional reference to external literature, and no explicit reference to any particular kind of research. As a result, the checklists act more as toolkits and lists of ideas that you might like to consider, rather than as a go-to guide for the most important research or factors for each particular area.

The book is clearly subtitled – if you are soon to face any of the issues described, and don’t have much experience in the area yet, then you might find the checklists useful. A Google search might provide similarly useful information, although at least with this book you can have faith that the reflections come from an experienced and intelligent animal advocate. As with the animal activists’ handbook, this book is old enough to pre-date the majority of effective altruism writings and EAA research; whilst I am sure it was an excellent resource for its time, I probably would not recommend this book to anyone who didn’t have a specific need that I thought the book was particularly focused on.

I have copied photos of the contents below, in case any parts of the book seem particularly relevant to your needs.

Joy contents

Book Review: Nick Cooney (2011) Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change (Lantern Books: New York)

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

 

This book by Nick Cooney is an excellent resource for understanding how psychology affects our work in social movements. It draws primarily on external psychological studies, combined with Cooney’s personal advocacy experience, primarily for the Humane League (he had worked for or helped to found many organisations by 2011, and done so for more since then) and some strategic thinking and common sense.

The book is intended to be applicable to any social movement, with his examples frequently alternating between animal advocacy, environmentalism and other causes. This does not significantly detract from its value for animal advocates (even if some of the specific suggestions aren’t directly relevant), although I suspect that advocates for other causes might find that the book focuses on issues most pertinent to animal advocacy.

The structure of the book is simple. Chapters 1 to 3 lay out a variety of cognitive biases that affect how successful various types of advocacy efforts are likely to be. This section leaves you with the impression that successful advocacy is incredibly difficult, and that you shouldn’t rely on your intuitions.

After building up your sense of the gravity of the problems (in the manner of a successful salesman?), Cooney then moves on to demonstrating solutions for the issues. Chapters 4 to 7 all list a huge number of “Tools of Influence” to support our advocacy. The final three chapter then contain wider social scientific learnings and business strategy ideas which put the ideas from the rest of the book into context.

The book is therefore packed full of useful information. Here are some of those who might benefit, organised roughly in order of who I think would benefit most:

  • Advocates hoping to increase the effectiveness of their individual outreach, or increase their chances of success in discussions with corporate, institutional or governmental contacts, partners and targets
  • Those currently working for non-profit organisations who might want to read through to see if the ideas contained might help to streamline their work, and improve efficiencies.
  • Aspiring social scientists, EAA researchers, or those working in non-profits interested in measuring the impact of their own programmes, to read through the first few chapters to broaden their understanding of how cognitive biases might affect their research.
  • If you are already familiar with both psychology and the animal advocacy movement, you might not learn as much from this book, although I imagine that it might still piece some ideas together in ways that you had not already done yourself.

The wide appeal of the book necessarily means that it won’t be consistently 100% useful, word for word, for any one reader. It contains an overwhelmingly large number of useful new ideas for those new to the field of psychology, which makes the book almost intimidating to use.

For those under time pressure, I’d encourage you to follow one of these two strategies to get the most out of the book:

  • Read this list I have created of 23 of the different cognitive biases and 42 of the tools referred to in the book. This list cuts out much of the useful explanation and examples given in the book, but condenses the key concepts. You could copy and paste the information into a separate Excel/Google sheet and add an additional column for the relevance of the concepts to your work. I would advise also buying the book, so that you can look up the specific examples and relevant studies, as and when appropriate.
  • Flick through the book, looking at the clearly labelled subtitles, and stopping to read those strategies which seem most useful for you.

As usual for such books, the Kindle edition is relatively cheap, but the paperback is more expensive than most paperbacks. It gets 4*s anyway, because the book is so packed full of information, most readers would easily get their money’s worth!

For those looking for easier (i.e. less research-heavy) introductions to effective animal advocacy outreach, I’d recommend starting with Friedrich and Ball’s Handbook or Leenaert’s book.

Note, that whilst I am fairly unreservedly endorsing the helpful information and advice contained within Cooney’s book, I am not endorsing his personal conduct. Although I know very little about the issue beyond hearsay, this article addresses some of the concerns. It is a complicated issue, so if you are engaging with it, I encourage you to read to the bottom of the article, which includes some replies. The accusations are grave, but we should not stop benefiting from Cooney’s (otherwise unrelated) productive work – to do so would be to prioritise personal purity over effectiveness in reducing animal suffering.

An additional criticism might be that some of Cooney’s suggestions essentially accept (and therefore, implicitly endorse?) certain assumptions and prejudices. To reject these strategies in favour of challenging privilege might lead to reduced effectiveness in the short term, but might be considered important for the long-term health of the movement, or for its intrinsic value. I don’t have strong views on this issue, but if your views are stronger than mine then you might reject some of the advice in the book, although only a relatively small proportion of the book would be affected. Those interested in the topic might find Melanie Joy’s new essays on privilege useful.

There are some other reviews of Cooney’s book. This one has some interesting rough and ready estimates about the (meta level) impact that this book might have on the effectiveness of animal advocates.

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.