Top Animal Charity Ideas We're Researching In 2020 (Idea Prioritization Report)
From a starting point of 395 ideas, we selected the top 22 for further research through an idea sort. This Idea Prioritization Report is the second stage of our research process, and ranks the 22 ideas from most to least promising. Now the top 9 ideas will move to the next stage: 80-hour reports, which we will release in the coming weeks.
To rank the 22 ideas, we spent two hours evaluating each idea using the weighted factor model (WFM) methodology. We chose this method because the evidence base in the animal advocacy space is insufficient, experts are fairly divided, and there is a lack of hard data to use in cost-effectiveness analyses. The WFM method allows us to overcome some of these issues, as it can be employed flexibly using multiple sources of information. Additionally, using a WFM allows a more direct comparison with last year’s recommended animal charities, which were primarily evaluated using a WFM (although this model also included factors such as cost-effectiveness and expert views). The table below shows the rankings of all 22 ideas. The two-hour WFM report for each idea is linked in the score column. Ideas in bold are our top priorities for research and will be assessed in more depth this year.
Painting beehives to reduce homing errors
Factory farmed birds
Footpad burn and feather pecking
Interventions in this area ranked by promise after shallow research are: maximum of three changes to diets during the laying period > food quality and using more drinkers > mashed food instead of pellets > using nipple drinkers instead of bell drinkers
Campaigning for snap traps to be used instead of glue traps
Factory farmed chickens
Introducing welfare certification for imports to decrease or remove the option of purchasing cheap animal products from low-welfare countries
Low welfare and low price of animal products
imports to decrease or remove the option of purchasing cheap animal products from low-welfare countries
Antibiotic resistance and the low price of animal products
Reducing or preventing the use of antibiotics on farmed animals, and possibly increasing the price of animal products through these means
Interventions in this area ranked by promise after shallow research are: dissolved oxygen > temperature > ammonia > pH > “other water quality” (e.g., salinity)
Incentives for welfare improvements (e.g., conditional cash transfers for farmers who improve animal welfare on their farms)
Existence (net-negative lives)
Lobby to eliminate human-biting mosquitoes
Research to create profiles detailing the most promising interventions to work on in a given country
Animal welfare policy
Sponsoring and working on getting animal-friendly political aides hired by politicians to ensure more animal issues make it onto policy agendas
Farmed and wild animals
Existence (net-negative lives)
Lecture/university/broader education-based vegan outreach, promoting measures that reduce the suffering of farmed and wild animals
Moral circle expansion
Moral circle expansion in neglected countries (e.g., through campaigning against clear animal welfare issues, such as the Yin Yang fish in Asia who is often eaten alive, or through rationalist education in schools)
Factory farmed turkeys
Interventions in this area ranked by promise after shallow research are: stocking density > lighting > air quality
Poor welfare and low price of animal products
Banning imports from low-welfare countries to remove the option of purchasing cheap animal products from these countries
Analgesics for farmed animals
Interventions in this area ranked by promise after shallow research are: stocking density > lighting (daylight hours, shade)
Existence (net-negative lives)
Improving waste utilization in low- to middle-income countries and/or supporting garbage incineration to remove the main food source of rats, insects, etc.
Existence (net-negative lives)
Utility farms for small animals. A utility farm aims to maximize the happiness of its animals (animals live out their natural lives, they are not slaughtered or their products used for human benefit)
Existence (net-negative lives)
Targeting factory farmers and helping them transition their assets to higher welfare farming or, ideally, other more lucrative farming activities not involving animals
Reducing the effects of air and water pollution on wild animals
Below, we describe each idea and provide a short summary of the main factors that contributed to its place in the ranking.
REDUCING HOMING ERRORS IN FARMED HONEYBEES
This intervention involves doing outreach to farmers to get them to take steps, such as painting their hives in different colors, to prevent honeybees from flying to the wrong hives and spreading diseases. It is one of our top priorities for more in-depth research as the evidence is already robust, there are clear feedback loops, and it is likely to be quite cost-effective. Additionally, this intervention is in farmers’ financial interests, though this may mean they are doing the intervention anyway (there is some evidence of this) and so the size of the problem is smaller. This intervention relies on several controversial philosophical assumptions, for example, that bees are sentient in a morally relevant way. While it is possible that there are positive externalities in creating moral concern for ‘weird minds’, an intervention focused on such ‘weird minds’ could also negatively impact the movement’s reputation.
INTERVENTIONS TO PREVENT FOOTPAD BURN AND FEATHER PECKING IN FACTORY FARMED BIRDS
These interventions aim to address footpad burn and feather pecking, two serious problems for factory farmed birds. They involve signing partnerships with farmers to improve food quality and prevent water spillages on farms through several methods, such as reducing food moisture content and replacing bell drinkers with nipple drinkers. This area is one of our top priorities for further research as its key strength is that it is supported by the animal agriculture industry (though this may create replaceability problems in the future). Furthermore, the interventions considered could be low cost and have strong evidence behind them. On the negative side, because these interventions have a number of interconnected parts, it is more difficult to accurately predict their effects.
PROMOTING SNAP TRAPS OVER GLUE TRAPS
Glue traps are a method of rodent control that often result in a slow and painful death for the animals trapped in them. Snap traps are considered to be a much more humane method as they kill trapped animals instantly. This intervention involves advocating against the use of glue traps, either at the business or government level, and possibly working towards the replacement of glue traps with snap traps. This is one of our top priorities for more research since it could be a relatively promising intervention for several reasons: (1) it would create a guaranteed welfare improvement for wild animals without any expected negative side effects; (2) it is unlikely to have significant opposition; and (3) it would help to promote values related to improving wild animal welfare. A potential negative of this intervention is that as it deals with acute suffering at the end of an animal’s life, it may not be as cost-effective as interventions that address more prolonged forms of suffering.
FOOD QUALITY FOR FACTORY FARMED CHICKENS
This intervention involves changing the food quality of farmed chickens to improve their welfare in two ways: (1) fortifying chicken feed with calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3 to reduce the incidence of broken bones; and (2) convincing farmers to switch to alternative methods of feed restriction that will decrease chronic hunger and feather pecking. The implementation of this intervention would require an organization signing partnerships with farmers or feed producers to bring about these changes. This is one of our top priorities for in-depth research and could be relatively easy to implement as the industry is already in favor of reducing the energy or protein content of feed. However, it also means the industry may implement it in the future anyway. Food fortification is also expected to be a highly cost-effective way to improve chicken welfare. While an organization in this area should be relatively easy to found, there are worries the industry would be resistant to another campaign for chickens. An additional negative is that there is a relative lack of evidence supporting these interventions.
WELFARE CERTIFICATION FOR IMPORTS
This intervention involves creating a set of minimum welfare standards for imported animal products and imposing import tariffs on products that do not meet these standards. It aims to improve animal welfare by making lower-welfare products more expensive, thereby reducing the demand for them and encouraging lower-welfare producers to improve their welfare standards. This intervention is one of our top priorities for further research since it has been done on a smaller scale with egg production in the EU, and there is broad support for this kind of intervention within the UK. However, it would likely be met with resistance and possibly retaliation from countries facing tariffs. There is also the risk of consumers substituting beef for chicken as beef accounts for approximately half the meat imports to the UK. If this happened, the net effect of the intervention on animal welfare could be negative.
ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE CHARITY
The use of antibiotics on farms is causing antibiotic resistance in bacteria. This is a major health threat for humans because antibiotics used to treat illnesses are becoming less effective. Increasing regulation for the use of antibiotics on farms or increasing the price of antibiotics can reduce this effect, and there will be benefits for animals, who also suffer from infections caused by antibiotic resistance. This intervention may also increase the price of meat by making it more costly for farmers to raise animals. If antibiotic prices are increased and this price increase is passed on to consumers, this would reduce the demand for meat, sparing animals from lives on factory farms. This intervention is one of our top priorities for more in-depth research based on the combined human and animal effects. However, there are strong externalities to consider because if regulating against the use of antibiotics is not combined with welfare improvements for animals, this intervention could have a negative effect by worsening the conditions on farms. This is particularly worrying as welfare improvements seem unlikely in our target countries (China, Brazil, and India).
IMPROVING WATER QUALITY FOR CRUSTACEANS
This intervention involves working with farmers to encourage them to improve water quality for farmed crustaceans. There is moderately strong evidence of the relationship between water quality and crustacean welfare, and since poor water quality negatively affects the welfare of crustaceans throughout their lives, this intervention has the potential to be very cost-effective. However, there are points that may limit the expected impact of this intervention: (1) for several key water quality parameters, the right level for crustacean welfare is not fully understood; (2) this intervention relies on several controversial philosophical assumptions, for example, that small crustaceans are sentient in a morally relevant way; and (3) the fact that crustaceans tend to be farmed in outside sea cages rather than aquaculture facilities, which may limit the scope of the problem.
INCENTIVES FOR WELFARE IMPROVEMENTS
The crux of this intervention is paying farmers to make animal welfare improvements. It would most likely be carried out in a developing country, where the incentivizing effect of a cash transfer of a given size would be greater. This intervention is one of our top priorities for more research because it is a novel approach that seems initially promising. The cost-effectiveness of this intervention will depend on the details of the size of the cash transfer and the welfare improvement. It is important to note that conditional cash transfers are widely used in global health and development and are considered to be effective; however, this may not be the case in animal welfare. Also, there may be some logistical difficulties associated with working in a developing country, but once the program is implemented, quick feedback loops will give information about its impact, and it will be easy to pivot to other interventions. One key negative externality is that raising farmers’ incomes may increase their meat consumption and, therefore, cause unintended harm to animals.
LOBBYING TO ELIMINATE HUMAN-BITING MOSQUITOES
This intervention involves lobbying governments to eliminate human-biting mosquitoes via gene drives. From an animal welfare perspective, this intervention is being considered since the reproductive strategies of mosquitoes (and insects more generally) mean that the majority of them suffer painful deaths shortly after birth; therefore, it is plausible to argue their lives are not worth living. Because those that die in this way make up the vast majority of all mosquitoes born, preventing all of them from coming into existence may be a good thing. This intervention is one of our moderate priorities for further research since it would be the first Effective Altruism (EA) organization focused solely on insect welfare. It would also benefit from a key positive externality—that mosquitoes also cause significant harm to humans—making it appealing for altruists concerned with human welfare as well. However, on the negative side, if this potentially controversial approach to reducing animal suffering is not carefully communicated to the wider population, the reputation of the EA movement could be negatively affected. It also relies on the assumption that mosquitoes are sentient in a morally relevant way. Additional weaknesses are that lobbying is expensive, and the intervention involves long and complicated feedback loops.
For this intervention, agreements would be signed with farmers to ensure they use pre-hatch sexing technology when it becomes commercially available. This intervention is one of our moderate priorities for more in-depth research since the adoption of this technology could prevent vast numbers of deaths—around 7 billion male chicks are killed (by gassing or maceration) worldwide every year because they are useless in the egg industry. A key benefit of this intervention is that farmers are likely to favor it as it would reduce their labor costs; however, this means they are likely to make use of this technology without the encouragement of an organization. Although the number of chicks being culled is huge, the size of the problem is somewhat limited since campaigns have already been carried out in several countries. As a result, this intervention would likely be focused on Asia. While this will come with challenges, it is also a good opportunity to do animal advocacy in a new region.
COUNTRY PROFILES (RESEARCH)
This intervention involves doing research and writing up profiles on carrying out animal advocacy in different countries. These country profiles will include information on promising interventions, approaches to use, logistical issues, existing organizations, and more. The research, which could be used by advocates and funders, is a moderate priority for further research. It could fill a gap in the animal movement, which is currently largely only working in the EU and the US, partly due to a lack of good information about advocacy in other countries. However, this intervention will require skilled researchers to engage with advocates and organizations abroad as much of the information will not be easy to obtain. Also, the impact of the intervention will depend on the extent to which the research is used, which is difficult to control.
A CHARITY THAT SPONSORS AND WORKS ON GETTING ANIMAL-FRIENDLY POLITICAL AIDES HIRED BY POLITICIANS
The charity created for this intervention would pair animal-friendly political aides with politicians. The aides could then use their political influence to improve animal welfare through legislative and policy changes. This intervention is one of our moderate priorities for more research as there is a lack of empirical evidence on whether political aides are influential—although anecdotal evidence suggests they do have an impact. The extent to which it is possible to influence the hiring decisions of politicians may also be a limitation. In addition, replaceability is a concern as there are only a couple of EA organizations (80,000 Hours, Animal Advocacy Careers) that could do this intervention. On the positive side, as many effective altruists are already working in the government, they may be able to transition into these types of roles, and there are also likely to be positive externalities associated with EA-minded people in political positions.
This intervention involves running campaigns at universities advocating more discussions of animal welfare issues in classrooms. It is one of our moderate priorities for more in-depth research because it would be relatively straightforward to run and potentially low cost—campaigners could be recruited from universities. In order to influence future social attitudes, university students are also a good target. The main negative of this intervention is that the evidence suggests the impact of this type of educational outreach is relatively small, meaning it may not be very cost-effective. There are no significant negative or positive externalities expected from this intervention.
MORAL CIRCLE EXPANSION IN NEGLECTED COUNTRIES
Expanding moral concern for non-human animals in China (and potentially other neglected countries) by introducing educational materials in schools and universities about common cultural practices that harm animals is the aim of this intervention. It is one of our moderate priorities for further research as the scale of harm caused to animals in China is huge, and the country has a large global influence, making this a potentially highly impactful intervention. However, the direct evidence of this type of intervention is weak, and the feedback loops are long, making it difficult to judge progress. Furthermore, China would be an extremely difficult country in which to advocate due to significant cultural differences between it and countries from which charity entrepreneurs are likely to originate. It is also a highly authoritarian regime. If successful, this intervention would likely create positive externalities by expanding the circle of moral concern.
IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS FOR TURKEYS
This intervention considers three ways to improve the environment of turkeys on factory farms: stocking density, light management, and air quality. There is relatively strong evidence that these factors affect turkey welfare through several channels. The strongest evidence base exists for stocking density. This intervention is a moderate priority for further research as the impact of this intervention may be limited because several organizations already work on these issues, unlike some other interventions being considered, such as food fortification. Also, the interventions will be costly to farmers, meaning they will likely be met with resistance.
BAN IMPORTS FROM LOWER-WELFARE COUNTRIES
For this intervention, the government would be lobbied to ban animal product imports from lower-welfare countries. This will result in only higher-welfare products being available. As a result, fewer low-welfare products will be bought. Demand for meat more generally would also fall as higher-welfare products are more expensive. This intervention is one of our lowest priorities for more research because although the fact that this intervention would involve an outright ban on lower-welfare products is a key strength, it would be very difficult to implement. Difficulties would arise due to the complexity of international trade rules, various political interests related to this issue, the likelihood of retaliation from countries facing the ban, and the high-risk nature of lobbying. In addition, countries facing the ban may be less affected by the intervention than intended if other countries are willing to buy their products.
ANALGESICS FOR FARMED ANIMALS
A number of painful procedures are carried out on farm animals without analgesics. Part of the reason for this is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved drugs for these procedures, so the risks of using the available drugs fall on farmers. Therefore, this intervention involves lobbying the FDA to approve these drugs and working with drug companies to increase their production. This intervention is one of our lowest priorities for more in-depth research. Although this intervention is neglected, a new charity might not be well placed to fill this gap because it would be best carried out by an organization with experience in corporate and government campaigning. Due to the acute nature of the suffering this intervention addresses, it may be considered less cost-effective than other interventions, depending on how one values acute compared to chronic forms of suffering. This will also be affected by whether analgesics are used to treat pain following or only during procedures.
IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS FOR CRUSTACEANS (STOCKING DENSITY AND LIGHTING)
This intervention entails working with farmers on stocking density and lighting to improve the welfare of crustaceans. It is one of our lowest priorities for further research as the idea itself is quite weak. There is no evidence that crustaceans are affected by stocking density; it is simply assumed because they are solitary animals. For lighting, the size of the problem will be limited as most crustaceans are raised outdoors where lighting is not a problem. Execution is expected to be difficult since farmers will be resistant to the high costs it would involve, and there is currently little public support for this kind of intervention. On the positive side, this intervention is expected to have some positive externalities in terms of the information value gained from doing advocacy in a new area.
IMPROVING WASTE UTILIZATION IN LOW-INCOME COUNTRIES AND/OR SUPPORTING GARBAGE INCINERATION
Waste management is the focus of this intervention. The first option is to improve waste utilization in low-income countries. This is expected to reduce wild animal populations as many animals feed on the organic food waste in landfills. The second intervention considered is incinerating garbage instead of other options (e.g., landfills) and is also expected to reduce wild animal populations. This intervention is one of our lowest priorities for more research as it is clear that these interventions will reduce wild animal populations and cause significant short-term suffering. For example, many animals will be burned during the incineration process. The externalities of this intervention for humans are positive; however, there are already organizations, including the World Bank, working on improving waste management in developing countries. There is, however, a significant negative externality risk for the EA movement, as reducing animal populations to increase their welfare is a highly controversial view.
UTILITY FARMS FOR SMALL ANIMALS
This intervention involves breeding lots of small animals (e.g., rats) and giving them (non-addictive) drugs they like to create significant wellbeing. This intervention is one of our lowest priorities for more thorough research. Although it would have reasonably clear feedback loops, be easy to run, and is not counterfactually replaceable, it is not robust under different moral views, and it would be likely to create negative reputational effects for the EA and animal movements. It is also unclear whether it is cost-effective and whether the fact that rats show a preference for a certain substance in experiments tells us it gives them the kind of wellbeing we care about.
A CHARITY THAT TARGETS FACTORY FARMERS AND HELPS THEM TRANSITION THEIR ASSETS TO EITHER HIGHER-WELFARE FARMING OR OTHER MORE LUCRATIVE FARMING ACTIVITIES NOT INVOLVING ANIMALS
For this intervention, farmers would be provided with help to transition from factory farming to higher-welfare or purely plant-based farming in a financially stable way. This intervention is one of our lowest priorities for more research because while there is existing evidence for this intervention, and it would also appeal to farmers’ interests, it will likely be quite resource-intensive to run effectively. Also, Mercy For Animals already runs a very similar intervention. A positive externality of this intervention is that it may improve relationships between animal advocates and farmers due to its collaborative approach.
A CHARITY THAT WORKS TO REDUCE THE EFFECTS OF AIR AND WATER POLLUTION ON WILD ANIMALS
This intervention looks at reducing air and water pollution, two issues impacting the welfare of wild animals. It is one of our lowest priorities for further research since the interventions considered, although they would have a significant impact, are generally difficult to implement as they would likely require legislative change. There are already many environmentalist organizations working on these issues, which creates replaceability problems, though it also provides a potential source of funding that does not come from within the EA movement. The interventions considered would have positive externalities for humans, as they would reduce climate change impacts, although their flow-through effects on wild animals are uncertain.