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Animal welfare report

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At least 75 billion farmed land animals and more than a trillion fish are slaughtered for food each year. Most of these animals live in highly uncomfortable environments or are killed using methods that seem very painful. Even if one thinks that the life of an average farm animal is much less important or morally relevant than the life of a human, the number of animals involved and the degree of hardship they seem to experience make intensive animal farming a major source of suffering in the world.

Although this situation seems bleak, there are reasons to be hopeful. Recent years have seen rapid progress in the animal welfare movement. Many large companies have pledged to phase out or drastically reduce some of their industry’s most harmful practices. Governments have banned some of these practices outright. And companies working to commercialize alternative proteins, such as plant-based meats, have raised billions of dollars from investors. Yet farm animal welfare remains highly neglected, with just 0.03% of US philanthropic funding going to this cause in 2017. Issues related to chickens, fish, and animal welfare in Asia are particularly important and underfunded.

To make recommendations in this area, we have partnered with staff and some members from Farmed Animal Funders, a leading donor learning community and philanthropic advisory organisation for animal advocacy whose values closely align with our own. Many organizations are doing excellent work to advance farm animal welfare. Our non-exhaustive top recommendations, presented alphabetically, are:

  • The Albert Schweitzer Foundation, an animal advocacy charity based in Germany that brings legal cases against agricultural companies to improve corporate practices, with a particular emphasis on neglected causes within the animal welfare movement.
  • Compassion in World Farming USA, which campaigns for bans on especially cruel farming practices, works collaboratively with companies to improve welfare standards for farmed animals, and leads industry efforts to diversify protein sources and reduce global production and consumption of meat.
  • Global Food Partners, a Singapore-based consulting company that works with food businesses and farmers in Asia to implement improved animal welfare policies and practices.
  • The Good Food Institute, which works with governments, corporations, and scientists around the world to accelerate the development of plant-based and cultivated meat products that can replace industrial animal meat by meeting consumer expectations and avoiding the adverse impacts of intensive animal farming.
  • The Humane League, a charity which works to improve conditions for animals in factory farms around the world by pressuring companies to implement higher welfare standards through their international branches and Open Wing Alliance coalition members in every major market across the globe.

Advisory Committee

The following staff and members of Farmed Animal Funders contributed to these recommendations. Please note that other members of FAF have not reviewed this write-up, and that all staff and members contributed in their individual capacities.

Kieran Greig is the sole Analyst consulting with Farmed Animal Funders since September 2018. Previously he worked as a researcher at Animal Charity Evaluators, and at Charity Science, where he systematically analyzed global poverty interventions. He has a B. Sc. from Monash University and a Masters from La Trobe University.

Mikaela Saccoccio is the Executive Director of Farmed Animal Funders, a donor learning community whose members give USD $250k+ annually to charitable initiatives fighting factory farming. Previously, she worked at The Humane League and West End House Boys & Girls Club and concentrated in Women’s Studies at the College of William & Mary.

What is the problem?

In this report, we show how Founders Pledge members can best support efforts to reduce farm animal suffering. We first describe the scale of the modern intensive animal farming industry and how it harms farm animals. We then discuss how organisations are working to alleviate this suffering and which approaches seem most promising. Finally, we present five high-impact funding opportunities which were recommended to us by our advisory committee members at Farmed Animal Funders (FAF), a leading donor learning community and philanthropic advisor in this space.

The scale of industrial animal agriculture

At least 75 billion farmed land animals and more than a trillion fish are slaughtered each year. Such large numbers are difficult to comprehend. It means that more than 2000 land animals and 25,000 fish are killed every second of every day each year. 75 billion is ten times larger than the current global human population and almost as large as the total number of people who have ever been born.

The farming industry has been able to grow to this enormous size due to intensification driven by technological advancements and industry concentration. New tools and practices have allowed farmers to automate many processes and expand confinement systems that keep animals indoors. Farms have become fewer in number but much larger in size. These trends have driven down production costs and allowed farms to raise many more animals. Meanwhile, demand for meat has grown thanks to rising global incomes. As a result, global meat production has increased 400 percent since 1961.

Breakdown by species

Some species have felt the impacts of intensification more than others. Most of the animals killed by humans for food are fish: more than a trillion fish are killed each year, about 100 billion of which are raised in fish farms. Of the farmed land animals killed each year, 90% are chickens raised for meat or eggs. There are 23.7 billion chickens alive at any time, including around 7.5 billion egg-laying hens and 14 billion meat chickens. Other farm animals slaughtered in great numbers each year include cows (300 million), pigs (1.5 billion), and sheep and goats (1.05 billion).

We summarize the estimated number of farm animals killed each year for selected species in the graph below. The next section discusses the conditions in which these billions live and die.

Figure 1: Number of farm animals slaughtered annually (selected species) Number of farm animals slaughtered annually (selected species)Source: Author’s calculations using data from FAOSTAT

Living conditions for farm animals

Over 90% of farm animals globally and over 99% in the US are housed in intensive systems. These systems seem particularly bad for the welfare of animals. In this section, we discuss what is known about how animals are treated in intensive farms. Species are discussed independently because intensification has affected different animals in different ways. In general, meat chickens, pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens have felt the worst impacts, while predominantly forage-fed animals like cows have been less affected.

Conditions for fish

While there is lots of uncertainty about living conditions for fish, concerns have been raised about their health and welfare. High stocking densities and polluted water in fish farms may lead to oxygen deprivation and negative health effects. High mortality rates in fish farms are very concerning considering that 110 billion farmed fish are killed each year.

Figure 2: Overcrowding in a fish farm Tilapia farm Source: Marian Swain, "Plenty of Fish on the Farm," The Breakthrough Institute, April 13, 2017, https://thebreakthrough.org/articles/plenty-of-fish-on-the-farm

There are also major concerns about how fish are slaughtered. Unlike most other animals, fish are usually not protected by regulations requiring that they be killed using humane slaughter methods. It’s likely that most of the fish farmed or caught by humans suffocate, suffering a prolonged and probably painful death. Considering that hundreds of billions or trillions of fish are caught each year, this is highly concerning.

Conditions for chickens

Of the 24 billion chickens currently alive, more than 70% are in intensive farm systems where they live in crowded, uncomfortable and unhealthy conditions.

To increase economic efficiency, meat chickens have been genetically modified through selective breeding to grow as quickly as possible. This causes a variety of problems, including:

  • Organ failure due to accelerated growth. Compassion in World Farming estimates that between 0.1 percent and 3 percent of meat chickens in Europe die of a heart condition called Sudden Death Syndrome before they reach slaughter weight.
  • Abnormal skeletal development also leaves some chickens lame. About 1% of meat chickens die from leg deformities, either directly from injuries or by starving to death because they are unable to reach food and water.
  • A study of more than 7500 meat chickens from 16 different sub-species found that faster-growing birds were more inactive. This is a concern as it may reflect an inability to move or cause health issues such as skin conditions and foot lesions. The same study found that more than 75% of “conventional” breed birds, the species most commonly raised in North American farms, had foot lesions.

Meat chickens are also kept in large and dense flocks. They sometimes hurt and even cannibalize each other. To prevent this, it is common to remove part of a meat chicken’s beak early in its life.

Figure 3: Chicks raised in an intensive farm Chicks being raised in an intensive farmSource: Wikimedia Commons

The other common kind of chicken is hens raised for eggs. Egg-laying hens are usually kept in individual enclosures called battery cages for almost their entire lives. These cages are made of steel wire and measure about 500 cm2: smaller than a piece of A4 paper. They are plausibly very bad for the welfare of hens, who are unable to move around and engage in natural behaviors such as rooting, preening, and socializing.

Figure 4: Egg-laying hens in battery cages

Egg-laying hens in battery cagesSource: Wikimedia Commons

Conditions for other farm animals

Several other land-based farm animals have felt negative impacts from agricultural intensification. Because intensive pork farms, for example, are so crowded, pigs commonly bite and injure each other. To prevent these injuries, piglets usually have their teeth ground down or cut and their tails cut off. Males are often castrated to reduce their aggression. The largest population of pigs in the world is in China, where the agriculture industry is rapidly industrializing. However, not all species have been affected to the same degree. Many beef cows in North America spend most of their lives grazing in pastures and are only moved to concentrated feedlots in the weeks leading up to their slaughter. While the pasture-raised cattle industry drives deforestation and climate change, our impression is that these animals are much better off than intensively-farmed chickens.

Figure 5: Drone footage of a cattle feedlot Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the overall picture painted by these facts seems grim, we remain quite uncertain about the global prevalence of these practices. Systematic, reliable data are lacking, especially outside of Europe and North America. It is also difficult to infer how these practices affect the wellbeing of the animals.

How should we weigh this suffering?

It’s clear that many farm animals around the world live in poor conditions and are subjected to painful practices. However, it is far from clear how we should compare the plights of animals from across species, including humans. It’s reasonable to think that the consciousness, or capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively, of animals in factory farms is an important consideration here. Our overall impression of the literature is that farm animals are probably conscious, but that the question of how much the experiences of other creatures matter relative to a human remains open. We are not aware of any systematic attempts to resolve it, though some ethicists consider it wrong to place any extra weight on the experiences of humans.

We have done some preliminary work on directly comparing a high-impact global health charity to a high-impact animal welfare charity using a range of what we think are reasonable estimates for various important parameters. Our results, presented here, suggest that neither charity dominates across common moral views. There is simply too much uncertainty regarding the welfare of animals and how it should be weighed in our decision-making. This means that a range of answers to the question of how to weigh animal suffering are plausible. Individuals must decide for themselves in order to make informed choices in line with their own values.

Other effects of intensive farming

In addition to animal welfare concerns, researchers and activists have raised concerns about other effects of intensive farming. Chief among these are greenhouse gas emissions and heightened risk of pandemics caused by germs that spread between animals and people, or “zoonotic” diseases. Livestock supply chains produce about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, a recent report from the UN Environmental Program identified “increasing human demand for animal protein” and “unsustainable agricultural intensification” as two of seven key drivers of zoonotic diseases. However, for this report we focus solely on the effects of intensive farming on animal welfare. This is mainly because the effects on animals seem so large that they are worthy of consideration on their own. We have other funding opportunity recommendations which specifically address climate change and risks from global pandemics. Interested donors should refer to those specialized reports.

How neglected is this cause area?

Historically, farmed animal welfare has been very neglected relative to the size of the problem, with only 0.03% of total US philanthropic funding going towards farm animal causes in 2017. Within the broad animal welfare sector, farm animals are particularly neglected: animal shelters received 66 percent of funding in the sector even though 3000 farm animals die for every one shelter animal death. In recent years there has been a substantial increase in philanthropic funding for this cause. The latest estimates suggest that funding for farm animal welfare advocacy exceeds $150 million per year. Importantly, some species, regions,, and specific problems remain more neglected than others. Moreover, $150 million is still quite small: just 0.2¢ for each land-based farm animal killed each year. It’s also much, much less than the $60 billion given annually by foundations and individuals to support education and the $8 billion spent each year by private philanthropists on development initiatives.

Within the animal advocacy system the global funding distribution poorly reflects the distribution of farm animal populations around the world. For example, up to 140 times more advocacy dollars are spent per animal in North America and Europe than are spent in Southeast Asia and China. Funders can probably increase their impact by supporting work in relatively neglected regions.

Figure 6: Animal advocacy is especially neglected in Asia Animal advocacy is especially neglected in Asia Source: Author’s calculations using various sources

Funding for alternative protein development

In addition to directly advocating for improved welfare standards for farm animals, some funders may seek to combat intensive farming by investing in research and development of alternative protein sources. Because these products can be commercialized, companies working to develop plant-based meat, dairy, and egg products have raised billions of dollars from investors. Beyond Meat has IPOed and as of November 2020 has a market cap of $10 billion while Impossible Foods and Eat Just have respectively raised $1.4 billion and $220 million. Companies seeking to develop cultivated meat products, which are animal tissue products grown in laboratory conditions, have also raised at least $500 million from investors.

Again, within this pool of funding, certain issues seem relatively neglected. For example, there has been little investment in alternative fish products. It is worth noting that the feasibility of developing alternative proteins, especially through cellular agriculture, that can sufficiently displace animal products to greatly reduce the prevalence of intensive animal farming is also contested. This debate is highly technical and fraught with uncertainty, and we are currently unsure about when and if it is reasonable to expect various alternative proteins to be widely commercialized.

What are the best solutions?

Recent years have seen encouraging signs of progress on animal welfare issues. We are currently most optimistic about the potential of corporate and legislative campaigns to change company practices and improve the lives of billions of animals. Such campaigns are typically run by coalitions of animal welfare groups and can seek to influence the behavior of companies by applying pressure, engaging consumers, lobbying politicians and working with companies to implement improved practices.

Such campaigns have been remarkably successful in recent years. As of November 2020, more than 2000 companies have committed to implementing cage-free systems. If fulfilled, these pledges will affect about 1.1 billion chickens. In the EU, the number of cage-free hens grew by almost 50 percent between 2011 and 2019. Advocates have also had success lobbying for legislative changes. Coalitions of animal welfare groups in Europe, for example, have successfully lobbied for bans on veal crates, battery cages for egg-laying hens, and sow stalls.

Figure 7: Cage-free hens in EuropeCage-free hens in Europe (millions)Source: Lewis Bollard, “Political Opportunities for Farm Animals in Europe,” Open Philanthropy Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter, September 25, 2020, https://mailchi.mp/257cf436777e/political-opportunities-in-europe

Evidence reviewed in Founders Pledge’s report on corporate campaigns suggested that campaigns by animal welfare organisations played an important causal role in winning these pledges from companies. Because these pledges affect the lives of hundreds of millions of chickens, such campaigns can be highly cost-effective. Cost-effectiveness analyses have found that for every dollar donated, the lives of between 10 and 160 birds are affected.

Overall judgement

We think that donors are most likely to find cost-effective opportunities to improve the welfare of farm animals by:

  • Focusing on interventions that target meat chickens, egg-laying hens, and fish. These species both have huge global populations and seem to experience the worst abuses.
  • Supporting groups working in countries which are relatively neglected by other funders, especially in Asia
  • Funding alternative protein product research that is neglected by private sector actors

While the above considerations are among the top priorities for animal welfare, this does not mean there are not additional high-impact funding opportunities in this space that tackle other issues.

Which funding opportunities do we recommend?

In contrast to our usual approach, for farm animal welfare we have not conducted an independent, top-down evaluation of the different proposed solutions to identify the most impactful funding opportunities. Instead, we have partnered with staff and a few members from Farmed Animal Funders (FAF), a leading philanthropic advisory organisation specifically focused on animal advocacy issues, to recommend the most cost-effective funding opportunities in this space. We are excited to work with our advisory committee for this research, as we believe their approach to impact is closely aligned with Founders Pledge’s.

Many organizations are doing excellent work to advance farmed animal welfare. Our non-exhaustive top recommendations, presented alphabetically, are:

  • The Albert Schweitzer Foundation, an animal advocacy charity based in Germany that brings legal cases against agricultural companies to improve corporate practices, with a particular emphasis on neglected causes within the animal welfare movement.
  • Compassion in World Farming USA, which campaigns for bans on especially cruel farming practices, works collaboratively with companies to improve welfare standards for farmed animals, and leads industry efforts to diversify protein sources and reduce global production and consumption of meat.
  • Global Food Partners, a Singapore-based consulting company that works with food businesses and farmers in Asia to implement improved animal welfare policies and practices.
  • The Good Food Institute, which works with governments, corporations, and scientists around the world to accelerate the development of plant-based and cultivated meat products that can replace industrial animal meat by meeting consumer expectations and avoiding the adverse impacts of intensive animal farming.
  • The Humane League, a charity which works to improve conditions for animals in factory farms around the world by pressuring companies to implement higher welfare standards through their international branches and Open Wing Alliance coalition members in every major market across the globe.


Our 2018 animal welfare report, which focused specifically on corporate campaigns, can be found here.

The research for this report was conducted by Aidan Goth and Stephen Clare.

We are grateful to those who provided advice and feedback on this report:

  • Kieran Grieg, Analyst, Farmed Animal Funders
  • Saulius Simcikas, Senior Staff Researcher, Rethink Priorities

We are particularly grateful to our advisory committee of staff and some members from Farmed Animal Funders, who provided the funding opportunity recommendations for this report.


  1. In this report, we use the term “farmed land animals” to refer to the common, land-based species most typically associated with farming: chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. We also discuss fish farmed or caught for human consumption in this report. We do not consider other animal species, such as other wild animals or farmed invertebrates like bees.

  2. Throughout this report we will use the estimates of farm animal population numbers reported in Saulius Simcikas, “Estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers” (EA Forum post, 18 February 2020, https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/pT7AYJdaRp6ZdYfny/estimates-of-global-captive-vertebrate-numbers).

  3. Author's calculations

  4. The total historical population of humans is typically estimated to be around 100 billion. (Kaneda, Toshiko and Carl Haub. “How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?”, Population Reference Bureau, 23 January 2020, https://www.prb.org/howmanypeoplehaveeverlivedonearth/)

  5. “The intensification of animal production during the past half century has consisted of two key elements. One is a change in production methods [...] After the Second World War, there emerged a new generation of "confinement" systems that generally kept animals in specialized indoor environments and used hardware and automation instead of labour for many routine tasks [...] While this change was occurring, production was becoming concentrated on fewer and fewer farms” (Fraser, David. Animal welfare and the intensification of animal production: An alternative interpretation Rome: FAO, 2005, http://www.fao.org/3/a0158e/a0158e02.htm#TopOfPage, p. 2)

  6. Hannah Ritchie, “Meat and Dairy Production”, Our World in Data, November 2019, https://ourworldindata.org/meat-production

  7. Data from “Numbers of fish caught from the wild each year,” fishcount.org.uk, 2019, http://fishcount.org.uk/fish-count-estimates-2/numbers-of-fish-caught-from-the-wild-each-year and Simcikas, “Estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers”

  8. FAOSTAT (database), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#home cited in Simcikas, “Estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers”

  9. Since the average age at slaughter for a meat chicken is around six weeks, more chickens are killed each year than are alive at any given time.

  10. “We estimate that over 90% of farmed animals globally are living in factory farms at present. This includes an estimated 74% of farmed land animals (vertebrates only) and virtually all farmed fish” (Anthis, Kelly. “Global Farmed & Factory Farmed Animals Estimates”, Sentience Institute, 21 February 2019, https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/global-animal-farming-estimates).

  11. “We estimate that 99% of US farmed animals are living in factory farms at present. By species, we estimate that 70.4% of cows, 98.3% of pigs, 99.8% of turkeys, 98.2% of chickens raised for eggs, and over 99.9% of chickens raised for meat are living in factory farms” (Reese Anthis, Jacy. “US Factory Farming Estimates”, Sentience Institute, 11 April 2019, https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/us-factory-farming-estimates).

  12. “Confinement methods came to predominate in industrialized countries for those species that are largely fed on grain and other concentrated feed, notably in the production of poultry, pigs, veal calves and eggs. The shift towards confinement was much less pronounced for predominantly forage-fed animals” (Fraser, Animal welfare, p. 2)

  13. “A number of key differences between fish and birds and mammals have important implications for their welfare. Fish do not need to fuel a high body temperature, so the effects of food deprivation on welfare are not so marked. For species that live naturally in large shoals, low rather than high densities may be harmful. On the other hand, fish are in intimate contact with their environment through the huge surface area of their gills, so they are vulnerable to poor water quality and water borne pollutants.” (Huntingford, Felicity A., C. Adams, V. A. Braithwaite, S. Kadri, T. G. Pottinger, Peter Sandøe, and J. F. Turnbull. "Current issues in fish welfare." Journal of fish biology 68, no. 2 (2006): 332-372, p. 333)

  14. “mortality rates above 50% in common carp farms suggest that many fish are in poor health, and likely experience poor welfare” (Lewis Bollard, “Fish: The Forgotten Farm Animal”, Open Philanthropy, January 18, 2018, https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/fish-forgotten-farm-animal)

  15. “There is no humane slaughter requirement for wild fish caught and killed at sea, nor, in most places, for farmed fish” (Singer, Peter. “Fish: the forgotten victims on our plate”, The Guardian, 14 Sept 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/sep/14/fish-forgotten-victims)

  16. “Most commercially-caught wild fish that are alive when landed are not slaughtered but die either from being left to suffocate in air or by a combination of suffocation and live gutting. Sometimes fish are put onto ice as they suffocate, or into iced water, which may both increase and prolong their suffering” (Mood, “Worse things happen at sea: the welfare of wild-caught fish”, cited by Simcikas, “Vertebrate numbers”). See also Bollard, “The Forgotten Farm Animal”

  17. “Selection for fast early growth rate and feeding and management procedures which support growth have lead [sic] to various welfare problems in modern broiler strains” (Werner Bessei, "Welfare of broilers: a review." World's Poultry Science Journal 62, no. 3 (2006): 455-466, p. 455)

  18. “As a result of selective breeding, broiler chickens’ hearts and lungs often cannot keep up with their bodies’ fast growth rate. They frequently suffer from heart failure when they are only a few weeks old. Acute heart failure known as Sudden Death Syndrome kills 0.1% to 3% of broilers in European countries. A second form of heart failure known as ascites affects nearly 5% of broilers worldwide. Using UK industry figures, nearly 130 million broilers may die in the EU from heart failure annually” (Jacky Turner, Leah Garcés and Wendy Smith, “The Welfare of Broiler Chickens in the European Union”, Compassion in World Farming Trust Report, Compassion in World Farming Trust, 2005, https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3818904/welfare-of-broilers-in-the-eu.pdf, p. 2)

  19. “Because they grow too fast, millions and possibly tens of millions of EU broiler chickens a year suffer from painful lameness due to abnormal skeletal development or bone disease, so that many have difficulty in walking or even standing. Lame broilers spend up to 86% of their time lying down. They may be unable to reach up to their drinking water containers and can go without water for several days” (Turner, Garcés, and Smith, “The Welfare of Broiler Chickens”, p. 2)

  20. “among the most frequently quoted studies on leg deformities in broiler chickens is a national survey which found that broiler flocks experience 1.1% mortality due to leg abnormalities” (Harish Sethu, “Is Vegan Outreach right about how many animals suffer to death?” Counting Animals (blog), October 24, 2011, http://www.countinganimals.com/is-vegan-outreach-right-about-how-many-animals-suffer-to-death/

  21. “In general, growth rate reduced activity levels,mobility and interactions with environmental enrichments, and was related to increased footpad lesions and hock burns, which are known to be painful” (Torrey et al., “Final Research Results Report Prepared for Global Animal Partnership”, Global Animal Partnership, 23 July 2020, https://globalanimalpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Better_Chicken_Project_Summary_Report_Global_Animal_Partnership.pdf, p. 7)

  22. Ibid.

  23. “In the UK it is common practice to trim just the tip of the beak, whereas elsewhere in Europe it is more commonplace to see severe beak trimming occur, often leaving birds exposed to pain when feeding [...] Beak trimming is carried out ultimately to protect birds from hurting each other in what is an unnatural commercial environment [...] when a flock size increases to a commercial scale, which can be anything up to 16,000 birds, no pecking order can successfully work and birds are at risk of developing unnatural behaviours. One of these behaviours is feather pecking which may start as a grooming action, but can easily lead to injurious feather pecking, which in turn can lead to cannibalism breaking out” (British Hen Welfare Trust, “Beak Trimming – Mutilation or a Necessity?”, n.d.,https://www.bhwt.org.uk/beak-trimming/)

  24. “In the US, standard industry practice is to provide egg-laying hens living in battery cages with 430 to 560 cm2 of space. For context, A4 paper and US letter paper are roughly 600 cm2” (Marinella Capriati. “Corporate Campaigns for Animal Welfare Executive Summary,” Founders Pledge, November 5, 2018, https://founderspledge.com/stories/corporate-campaigns-for-animal-welfare-executive-summary)

  25. Marinella Capriati. “Cause Area Report: Corporate Campaigns for Animal Welfare”, Founders Pledge, November 2018, p. 21

  26. “In addition to tooth cutting, most piglets have their tails docked to discourage tail biting. Both of these procedures are painful and performed without pain relief” (Compassion in World Farming, “Pig welfare”, https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/pigs/pig-welfare/)

  27. “Most male piglets in Europe (but not in the UK and Ireland) are castrated” ibid.

  28. “Analysts disagree about how best to define the current structure of pig raising in China, primarily because the range of annual production is enormous: at the household end of the spectrum, smallholders raise fewer than 10 pigs, while at the large-scale industrial end, it is not uncommon for massive agribusiness firms to raise and process 100,000 hogs annually. Exacerbating this spread are plans to further integrate and consolidate the pork chain. For instance, some firms have plans to produce as many as one million pigs per year on mega-farm operations” (IATP, 18). Furthermore, “Large-scale commercial farms (daxing shangye yangzhichang) are also aggressively supported by the government, and are intended to work in concert with specialized household farms [...] The annual scale of production on these farms typically ranges from 500 to 50,000 pigs, but is rapidly growing. Increasingly, a single farm can produce hundreds of thousands of hogs in one year, either through contracts or in a single production facility.” (Sharma and Schneider, 2014, 18)

  29. “For example, many beef cattle in North America, although concentrated in large outdoor feedlots where they are finished on grain-based diets for their last few months, are raised for much of their lives in traditional grazing systems” (Fraser, Animal Welfare)

  30. “We see that the majority of emissions result from land use change, or emissions at the farm level – either methane emissions from cattle; management of manure; or use of fertilizer [...] Land use change can play a large role in the final emissions; this means beef from South America often has a high footprint due to deforestation” (Hannah Ritchie, "Environmental impacts of food production,” Our World in Data, 2020, 'https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food)

  31. Some may object to the very idea of trying to answer such a fraught, value-laden question. But these questions are important because the sheer number of animals affected by intensive farming systems worldwide means that, from any given viewpoint, it is unlikely that the total suffering of animals and the suffering of people will be roughly equal. If one thinks, for example, that most animals have a relatively high moral weight, then the annual killing of hundreds of billions or trillions of them per year is an ongoing catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. On the other hand, if one thinks animals matter very little, or possibly not at all, then important human-focused causes like reducing poverty, preventing deaths, and increasing access to education may be much higher priorities.

  32. A detailed report on consciousness and “moral patienthood” (whether or not a species “counts” morally) from the Open Philanthropy Project concluded that it was difficult to rule out (that is, assign a probability of less than 5 percent to) the consciousness of any creature much more complex than a one millimeter long worm (Luke Muehlhauser, “2017 Report on Consciousness and Moral Patienthood,” Open Philanthropy, January 2018, https://www.openphilanthropy.org/2017-report-consciousness-and-moral-patienthood). (Disclaimer: The Open Philanthropy Project also funds Founders Pledge.) Similarly, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, an important collection of “unequivocal” statements made by a group of prominent neuroscientists in 2012, noted that “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness” (“The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness,” July 7, 2012, http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf)

  33. “The view that only humans are morally considered is sometimes referred to as “speciesism”. In the 1970s, Richard Ryder coined this term while campaigning in Oxford to denote a ubiquitous type of human centered prejudice, which he thought was similar to racism. He objected to favoring one’s own species, while exploiting or harming members of other species. Peter Singer popularized the term and focused on the way speciesism, without moral justification, favors the interests of humans” (“The Moral Status of Animals”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, August 23, 2017, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/)

  34. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ahr8k42ZMTvTmTdwm/how-good-is-the-humane-league-compared-to-the-against

  35. “All told, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with livestock supply chains add up to 7.1 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) per year – or 14.5 percent of all human-caused GHG releases” (“Major cuts of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock within reach,” FAO, September 26, 2013, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197608/icode). Because methane emissions from cows make up 39% of this total and methane is shorter-lived in the atmosphere than CO2, weighing the contribution of these emissions to climate change is complicated.

  36. “Seven human-mediated factors are most likely driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases: 1) increasing human demand for animal protein; 2) unsustainable agricultural intensification; 3) increased use and exploitation of wildlife; [etc.]” (UNEP, “Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission”, p. 7, https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32316/ZP.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y)

  37. Capriati, M. (2018), pg. 2.

  38. “Of domesticated land animals used and killed by humans in the United States, over 99.6% are farmed land animals, about 0.2% are animals used in laboratories, 0.07% are used for clothing, and 0.03% are killed in companion animal shelters. However, about 66% of donations to animal charities in the United States go to companion animal shelters, 32% go to groups with mixed or other activities, and just 0.8% of donations go specifically to farmed animal organizations, while 0.7% go to laboratory animal organizations” (“Why Farmed Animals?”, Animal Charity Evaluators, November 2016, https://animalcharityevaluators.org/donation-advice/why-farmed-animals/)

  39. “These numbers might seem big; this is a fairly liberal interpretation of farm animal advocacy. I'm including the budgets of groups like PETA — at least insofar as they're directed funding toward farm animal advocacy or veganism — and other large organizations that you might not think of as part of the effective altruism (EA) animal movement, but that are nonetheless working on [improving the lives of] farm animals” (Lewis Bollard, “Lessons Learned in Farm Animal Welfare,” EA Global talk, February 12, 2020, https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/lewis-bollard-lessons-learned-in-farm-animal-welfare/)

  40. “there’s been real dearth of funding around fish, chickens, and other animals that people don’t think about or relate to as easily.” (Lewis Bollard, Interview with Robert Wiblin, 80,000 Hours, September 27, 2017, https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/lewis-bollard-end-factory-farming/)

  41. “There has been huge growth in the amount of money [in the movement, relative to what was available] just a few years ago. At that time, it would have been perhaps one-third this amount. But that money is still overwhelmingly being directed toward the United States and Western Europe.” (Bollard, “Lessons Learned”)

  42. “Foundations spend around $4 billion each year within education in the US alone [and] giving by individuals made up 70% of the US’ $410 billion in charitable giving. 14% of this total, or $57billion, went to education” (Callum Calvert, “Cause Area Report: Education”, Founders Pledge, October 2019, https://founderspledge.com/research/fp-education, pp. 36-7)

  43. “According to a 2018 OECD report, private philanthropy spends about $8 billion per year on development” (Sam Carter and Stephen Clare, “Searching for Impact: How our Global Health & Development Fund fits into the development landscape,” Founders Pledge (blog), October 20, 2020, https://founderspledge.com/stories/searching-for-impact-how-our-global-health-and-development-fund-fits-into)

  44. Author’s calculation using data from FAOSTAT and Bollard, “Lessons Learned”

  45. Farmed animal population numbers from FAOSTAT database. Advocacy spending data from Lewis Bollard, “Ending Factory Farming”, EA Global Talk, October 9, 2018, https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/ea-global-2018-ending-factory-farming/

  46. “Beyond Meat, Inc. Common Stock (BYND)”, nasdaq.com, https://www.nasdaq.com/symbol/bynd

  47. “Impossible Foods”, Crunchbase, https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/impossible-foods#section-overview

  48. “Eat Just”, Crunchbase, https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/just-inc

  49. Funding for these companies more than doubled in 2020 alone, led by Memphis Meats. See: Eliot Swartz, “Money Raised,” A Bit of Science (blog), October 2020, http://elliotswartz.com/cellbasedmeat/2019/6/1/money-raised

  50. “Plant-based seafood products comprise a very small fraction of the global seafood market, leaving almost unlimited growth potential in all segments. To date, only a handful of brands carry any plantbased seafood product lines, and these lines cover fewer than a dozen of the hundreds of species of marine animals that are regularly consumed around the globe” (“Sustainable Seafood Initiative”, Good Food Institute, 2019, https://www.gfi.org/seafood, p. 17)

  51. Some advocates suggest that we can expect “whole tissue” meat to be developed by 2070 (e.g. see Claire Yip, “When can I eat meat again?” EA Forum (forum post), 30 April 2020, https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/4uYebcr5G2jqxuXG3/when-can-i-eat-meat-again). In contrast, an analysis from the Open Philanthropy Project concluded that the technological barriers are sufficiently high that it is difficult to find “any concrete paths forward that seem likely to achieve that goal” (“Animal Product Alternatives”, Open Philanthropy, December 2015, https://www.openphilanthropy.org/research/cause-reports/animal-product-alternatives)

  52. “Progress Tracker,” Chicken Watch, https://chickenwatch.org/progress-tracker

  53. Saulius Simcikas, “Corporate campaigns affect 9 to 120 years of chicken life per dollar spent”, EA Forum (forum post), July 8, 2019, “https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/L5EZjjXKdNgcm253H/corporate-campaigns-affect-9-to-120-years-of-chicken-life

  54. “The EU has 70M more cage-free hens today than it did in 2011” (Bollard, “Political opportunities in Europe”, https://mailchi.mp/257cf436777e/political-opportunities-in-europe)

  55. “Our Impact”, Compassion in World Farming, https://www.ciwf.org.uk/our-impact/

  56. The report suggests that the evidence gives “a reliable indication that cage-free corporate campaigns have been responsible for shifts in US corporate policies” (Capriati, Cause Area Report, p. 19).

  57. These figures include estimates from Founders Pledge (Capriati, Cause Area Report, p. 5), Rethink Priorities (Saulius Simcikas, “Corporate campaigns affect 9 to 120 years of chicken life per dollar spent”, Rethink Priorities, August 9, 2019, https://www.rethinkpriorities.org/blog/2019/8/7/corporate-campaigns-affect-9-to-120-years-of-chicken-life-per-dollar-spent), and the Open Philanthropy Project (Lewis Bollard, “Initial Grants to Support Corporate Cage-free Reforms,” Open Philanthropy, March 31, 2016, https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/initial-grants-support-corporate-cage-free-reforms#Corporate_cage-free_campaigns_are_extremely_cost-effective).

  1. Advisory Committee
  2. What is the problem?
    1. The scale of industrial animal agriculture
    2. Living conditions for farm animals
    3. How should we weigh this suffering?
    4. Other effects of intensive farming
    5. How neglected is this cause area?
  3. What are the best solutions?
    1. Overall judgement
  4. Which funding opportunities do we recommend?
    1. Acknowledgements
      1. Notes

        About the authors


        Stephen Clare

        Former Researcher

        Stephen is a former Researcher at Founders Pledge. Previously, he was a Program Analyst for the United Nations Development Programme in Rwanda. He has also worked on climate change projects with the UN in Panama and the Youth Climate Lab in Canada. Stephen has an M.Sc. from McGill University and a B.Arts.Sci. from McMaster University.

        Aidan Goth

        Aidan Goth

        Former Researcher

        Aidan is a former Researcher at Founders Pledge. Previously, he studied at the University of Oxford. He graduated with a First Class MMathPhil in Mathematics and Philosophy, specialising in formal epistemology, decision theory and ethics.