AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy

post by LewisBollard · 2021-02-24T18:02:56.231Z · EA · GW · 121 comments

Hi everyone,

I'll be running an Ask Me Anything session on Friday, 26 February. I'll start around 9am PST and will finish up by 6pm PST, so try to get your questions in on Wednesday or Thursday.

About me: I lead Open Philanthropy's work on farm animal welfare, and am a fund manager for the EA Animal Welfare Fund. 80,000 Hours released a podcast with me a few weeks ago, and I write a research newsletter on farm animal welfare.

Some topics I’m excited to discuss:

But feel free to ask me anything!

121 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-24T22:56:03.099Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What are your main takeaways and ways forward from the pretty pessimistic report on cultivated meat Open Phil commissioned?

Replies from: LewisBollard, Ula
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T17:06:03.666Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the question Michael. A few thoughts:

  1. I think cultivated meat could be a game-changer. It seems to have a clear route to competing with the most expensive animal products (think foie gras or bluefin tuna) and to improving plant-based meats as an additive at a low percentage. But the biggest prize would be if cultivated meat could compete with cheap animal products at scale. We commissioned this report because we’re uncertain about whether cultivated meat can reach that price point.
  2. The report outlines a number of major technical challenges to lowering the cost of cultivated meat. I encourage people to read the whole report. But the tl;dr is that growing animal cells in bulk is really hard, and in particular constraints on bioreactor size and sterility make this really challenging. As a result, you should probably be skeptical of claims that cultivated meat will be price-competitive at scale within the next decade. 
  3. I think how much the report should update you beyond that depends on your priors, and what they’re based on. For someone who thinks, based on media articles or some general intuition like Moore’s Law, that it’s inevitable that cultivated meat will become price-competitive, this might be a pretty large negative update. But for a scientist at a cultivated meat startup this probably isn’t much of an update at all.
  4. My biggest takeaway is that we need more publicly available work on the science of cultivated meat. Because most of the research is being done by startups who need to protect their IP, not much gets published. So I’d love to see this paper serving as one input in an ongoing scientific discussion, rather than being the final word. In that vein, I recommend this Techno-economic assessment of animal cell-based meat, published last year by UC Davis scientists. And I’m looking forward to a similar assessment that GFI commissioned, which should be released any day now.
  5. Otherwise I feel pretty unsure on the right takeaways / way forward. This does make me more pessimistic that startups can reach cost-competitiveness within a time frame that investors will accept — though it’s possible they’ll find a business model in competing with pricier animal products or blending with plant-based. And I think it suggests the need to diversify approaches, e.g. in also pursuing plant-based and fermentation approaches, and moral advocacy, given there’s no one sure silver bullet here. But it also makes me think there’s greater importance to more patient academic research on cultivated meat, since it suggests a longer timeline and the potential payoff remains huge.
Replies from: jackmalde
comment by jackmalde · 2021-02-26T18:14:08.235Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

For someone who thinks, based on media articles or some general intuition like Moore’s Law, that it’s inevitable that cultivated meat will become price-competitive, this might be a pretty large negative update. But for a scientist at a cultivated meat startup this probably isn’t much of an update at all.

I should probably read the report, but it isn't clear from your comment or the report abstract if the difficulties are such that cultivated meat will likely never be price-competitive with cheap animal products at scale, or if it is still inevitable that this will happen but that it will likely be much later than most people thought. Which is more accurate? I'd imagine it will still happen eventually (even if this takes decades/centuries)?

I think this is an important distinction. Someone with longtermist leanings might argue that  it seems more important that price-competitiveness at scale ever happens, than that it happens at some point in the nearish future.

Replies from: LewisBollard, Ula
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T19:45:17.811Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I agree that's a critical question. I don't think it's inevitable that cultivated meat will be price-competitive with cheap animal products at scale one day, but I also don't think it's impossible. So it's a question of what probability to attach to that outcome and on what timeline. I feel very unsure on that.

I'd love to see more people making predictions on this and debating the likely solvability of specific challenges identified in the report. One place for making predictions is this Metaculus series which we commissioned (though note most predictions were placed before the report above was published and I don't know how much technical knowledge they're based on). 

comment by Ula · 2021-02-26T18:48:25.263Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Would love to see an answer to this. The report is pessimistic, but it's unclear if it's never or 50 years. I hope Lewis will get back to this question!

comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T10:09:28.470Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a super important question, I'd love this to be addressed since it also seems to me this is very pessimistic and extremely important. This is not only a huge part of GFI's or ProVeg Incubator's work that probably absorbs a lot of money but it also was this kind of "hope" for animal activists like myself. Would it be reasonable to shift more resources towards alt proteins?

comment by Daniela R. Waldhorn · 2021-02-25T10:01:36.079Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Lewis!

  1. What kind of work would you like to see done for invertebrates?
  2. What kind of work would you like to see done for animals living in the wild?
  3. Are there key research questions that you think would contribute to advance these two areas' tractability?

Thanks!

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T17:08:15.383Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Daniela! 

  1. Invertebrates: I’d love to see more research on invertebrate sentience and welfare, of the kind that I know you and Rethink Priorities are doing. We’re also excited to see more advocacy on the welfare of aquatic invertebrates, which seems like it may be more politically feasible than work on other invertebrates’ welfare. For instance, we recently funded Crustacean Compassion to push for the inclusion of crustaceans in UK animal welfare laws. I’d love to see more researchers and advocates working on invertebrates, since the numbers are obviously huge and my sense is that a lot of low-hanging fruit remains. For instance, I was very pleasantly surprised to see CP Foods, the world’s largest shrimp producer, last year announcing an end to eyestalk ablation — it would be great to see more work on reforms like this.
  2. Wild animals: I’m excited about the work that Wild Animal Initiative is doing to build an academic field of research in welfare biology. I think we need a lot more research on questions like the relative welfare of different species in different ecosystems and the prevalence and severity of various welfare harms like disease and starvation. I’d also like to see more study of the total welfare implications of things that humans are already doing to actively manage wildlife, for instance existing government wildlife vaccination and predator control programs. I think one potentially promising aim would be to have animal welfare become a goal of government land management policies, alongside existing goals like preserving game species, maximizing biodiversity, etc. 
  3. Research Qs: in addition to the questions above, two questions I’m always interested in for advancing tractability are (a) what are the low-hanging fruit for reforms, and (b) what are the key obstacles to progress? For instance, on aquatic invertebrates, I’d love to see a survey of shrimp and prawn producers on how hard various welfare reforms seem, and what’s stopping them from implementing them. I’m guessing the most common obstacle will be cost. But I’d be especially interested in reforms where the obstacle is more like “we’d need to see a pilot project to show that’s commercially feasible.” For instance, given CP Foods is ending eyestalk ablation after minimal pressure, I’m guessing this is a low-hanging fruit, and I’d be interested in researching how we could get other shrimp producers to follow suit. 
comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-24T23:01:55.263Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What's your current thinking on potential tradeoffs from the Better Chicken Commitment between number of life-years per amount of meat and average welfare per life-year, and other considerations?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T17:36:15.815Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a tough one. I recently surveyed a dozen of the most informed  and aligned people on their estimate of the  average welfare gain per life-year -- a mix of aligned animal welfare scientists and EA researchers -- and got a very wide range of answers. There's lots of reasons for that uncertainty but the biggest is that the underlying broiler welfare science isn't all that helpful. That's in turn mainly due to a combo of (1) it's really hard to measure the subjective experience of animals (preference tests are the best evidence we have, but they're not that helpful for cases with many interacting variables), and (2) most welfare science hasn't traditionally focused on the subjective experience of animals, but instead on weakly related factors like mortality and health.

But there's a broad consensus amongst the informed / aligned researchers that the welfare gain of the Better Chicken Commitment outweighs the potential increase in life-years. This is mainly because the higher welfare breeds most likely to be adopted are only slightly slower than conventional breeds -- we're most likely talking about a 10-20% increase in days, not a >30% increase or anything. (Some approved breeds are much slower, but no big producer is going to adopt them.) And a little bit of that increase in days will be offset by decreased demand at a higher price point. By contrast, the welfare reforms -- especially on breed and stocking density -- seem likely to make a pretty substantial difference to outcomes like chronic pain and stress.

FWIW, my very rough estimate is that, accounting for the life span increase, the BCC will alleviate ~40% of the suffering of US broilers and ~25% of the suffering of EU broilers. (The EU number is lower because EU broilers start in better conditions than US broilers.) But those are very rough numbers -- my 80% confidence interval would span something like 5-75% of suffering reduced. And I think others reasonably have very different estimates here. 

comment by Linch · 2021-02-26T03:51:52.066Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you have a sense of what the appropriate pricing for what "OpenPhil's last pro-animal dollar" is or should be? Either grounded concretely in terms of specific interventions that you'd fund, or in terms of how much animal welfare can be "bought" per dollar. 

Also, how much does relatively abstract reasoning on benchmarks and metrics like the above factor into your decisions on whether to fund specific interventions?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T18:50:17.287Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a major question for us, and one we continue to research. Our current very rough estimate is that our average $ spent on corporate campaigns and all supporting work (which is ~40% of our total animal grant-making) achieves the equivalent of ~7 animals spared a year of complete suffering. We use this a rough benchmark for BOTECs on  new grants, and my best guess is this reflects roughly the range we should hope for the last pro-animal dollar. 

Of course there are many caveats!  They take two forms. First we have lots caveats on the number above. There's lot of empirical uncertainty: about the # of animals impacted by each corporate campaign, the likelihood of implementation of each corporate pledge,  how much the campaign sped up the reform relative to the counterfactual, the welfare of animals before the corporate reform, how much the reform improves that welfare, etc. And there's a lot of moral uncertainty: about how to compare acute and chronic suffering, how to compare welfare improvements with sparing an animal from living in a factory farm at all, how to compare across species etc. 

Second, we have caveats on how to apply the benchmark and how much to expect it to reflect the last pro-animal dollar. The biggest uncertainty is the future pace / tractability of reforms. As noted above, our space has proven hard-to-predict on a five year timeline -- some campaigns have gone far faster than we expected, some much slower. So it's of course much harder to predict progress on a 50+ year timeline for a last pro-animal dollar.  That said, I think the best we can do is make lots of predictions and continue to score how they go -- we've been doing that for five years now, and seem well-calibrated even as we remain unsure on lots of specifics. And while I think there are plenty of good reasons why things might get less cost-effective over time, I think there are also plenty of good reasons why things might get more cost-effective. 

I'd love to see more EA researchers (a) trying to independently assess the cost-effectiveness of various animal interventions, (b) trying to estimate the cost-effectiveness of the last pro-animal dollar, and (c) making and scoring predictions on key milestones. 

comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T12:24:43.166Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Question: In the past 2-3 years, we have heard troubling news about how employees in the animal movement are treated. Are there any plans of creating a safe, global space for employees, where they could:

  1. Safely complain about their situation.
  2. Seek psychological and legal support.
  3. Could safely share their stories.

Problem: I have two examples in mind:

  1. On 17th April 2020 Anima International shared a post on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AnimaInter/photos/2521160348151381 where they explain their reasoning for firing their CEO: "However, no matter how much we value her merits, there are issues in regards to everyday behaviour towards employees that we as an organization cannot accept." Do we know what happened to the employees? Did they get support, help, where they apologized to, compensated?
  2. In 2018/2019 ProVeg International was taken out of ACE standout charities list because of (among others) "concerns about their workplace culture". What was mentioned is that ACE "received multiple testimonials from former employees with detailed reports of culture and HR problems". The question is - what kind of support have these employees received? Has the organization apologized to them, compensated them? There was maybe no public reaction from ProVeg, as far as I can recall. Where ACE is mentioning "Much of ProVeg’s staff seems concerned about internal discrimination and the unequal treatment of employees, particularly along gender lines." Source: https://animalcharityevaluators.org/charity-review/proveg/#comprehensive-review

These are only two examples. I have no knowledge if these kinds of problems are wide and common. My question is: How can the global animal movement protect employees from this kind of hostile work conditions? How can we support them?

Replies from: LewisBollard, Daniela R. Waldhorn, Marbe, Charles He
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T17:10:34.714Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for drawing attention to this important issue Ula. I’m very sorry to read of the experiences you and others have shared, which I’ll address here and in separate replies to Daniela and Eze’s posts below. 

I completely agree the animal movement needs to do better to ensure it’s a safe place for all its employees and volunteers. We’re supporting a number of groups and individuals working to create a more inclusive and supportive global movement. For instance, we’re major funders of Encompass, ACE, and Animal Advocacy Careers, as well as a number of regional efforts (like a new China EAA fellows program). And in response to complaints last year about the FAST listserv not being a safe place, we funded Amanda Cramer to work full-time on fixing it. But there’s a lot more work to do, and we’re always looking for new initiatives we could fund to help.

More broadly I think our movement needs to continue to professionalize its approach to management, HR, and employee development. I’ll address more specific issues around sexual harassment and mismanagement in my answers to Daniela and Eze below. But I’ll say for now that we’ve encouraged grantees to raise salaries and invest more in management training, and have provided funding to support both aims. And we’re very supportive of Neysa Colizzi’s work to improve leadership and governance at a number of our major grantees, for instance by coaching executive directors and assembling new independent boards.

On the specific examples you gave: we’re supportive of the action that Anima International took in the case you describe, and my understanding is that the employees affected are still with Anima and supportive of how the situation was resolved. (I don’t think I can say any more without violating their confidentiality.) I don’t know the answers on the ProVeg case — they’re not a grantee and we’re limited in our ability to inquire into issues at non-grantees.

Replies from: Ula
comment by Ula · 2021-02-26T18:45:44.789Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Dear Lewis, thank you very much for your answer. If I may add one small thing: I think we should not only focus on diversity and sexual harassment, because mobbing can lead to PTSD, anxiety, depression, or struggling with self-worth. These can further affect people's lives on many levels (from work to relationships). I think that unfortunately, we don't put enough attention to the work environment and high rotations in the charities. There is room for improvement there for sure. I dearly appreciate Open Phils attitude towards this though! You are giving a great example by treating employees seriously and investigating! Thank you!

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T19:44:38.873Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Ula. Yes that's an important point that these issues go beyond diversity and sexual harassment. I completely agree on the need to emphasize good management and treating employees well across the board -- both because it's the right way to treat everyone and because employees / talent are our movement's most valuable resource and one we risk squandering.

comment by Daniela R. Waldhorn · 2021-02-25T16:51:08.178Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for pointing this out, Ula. I'm aware that several activists in other organizations have also suffered similar situations, along with derogatory comments because of their origin and gender.

Replies from: Ula
comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T17:13:07.274Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Daniela, I've been an animal activist for 20 years now and I had seen so many people suffer mobbing or hostile work environment. People suffering severe burnout, mostly due to poor leadership. The sad thing is, they are too afraid to say anything because some of the leaders and organizations are big and well respected. I don't really know how to help them, but I believe they don't deserve the anxiety, self-doubt, low self-esteem, depression, and all the other repercussions. Just don't really know what to do about it, but what worries me is that there is no follow-up. Like ACE is pointing out things and you can see no official response from the orgs. So is anything changing, or is it swept under the rug? What can we do?

Replies from: Daniela R. Waldhorn
comment by Daniela R. Waldhorn · 2021-02-25T19:14:40.891Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ula! I agree with you. I myself stopped working directly as an animal advocate after being mobbed, harassed, and listening to regular discriminatory comments for being a woman, an immigrant, and because of my origin. I've seen so many activists going through the same.

In my case, the continued support of other advocates, especially of the Encompass community (www.encompassmovement.org), has been invaluable. I highly recommend it.

Second, I also believe that it's time to stop normalizing activists' mistreatment and discriminatory practices, especially in organizations where there is evidence that these issues are structural. In this regard, it's very disappointing that organizations with ongoing and severe management and leadership problems continue to receive large grants or support from the EA community.

Third, I think organizations should develop active policies to prevent these situations from happening in the very first place. We should not have more advocates burning out or leaving the movement to take this issue seriously.

I'm glad that you're also concerned about this problem, and I'd be happy to talk about this further with you :). I'm also open to discussing it with Lewis– if he considers it appropriate.

Replies from: LewisBollard, mativazquez
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T17:14:45.867Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing this Daniela. I’m very sorry to read of what you experienced. I completely agree we should stop normalizing activists' mistreatment and discriminatory practices, and that organizations need to develop active policies to prevent these situations. (I’ll address your point about continued grants as part of my reply to Eze below.)

On the policy point, over the last three years we’ve strengthened our requirements for grantees around sexual harassment policies and procedures. We now require all of our farm animal welfare grantees to implement a list of best practices prepared by our law firm. Most recently, in response to specific concerns raised, we added two more requirements: (1) forbidding grantees from asking for NDAs in harassment cases, and (2) requiring grantees to commission outside investigations of all harassment cases involving leadership. We also provide special grants to cover grantees’ costs to develop stronger policies, implement them, and train staff to abide by them. 

And yes, it’d be great to discuss this with you further — I’ve just emailed you to find a time.

comment by mativazquez · 2021-02-25T23:50:29.930Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I know testimonies of people in the animal rights movement who have suffered the same thing you are talking about here, this is worrying and obviously it is not an isolated case.

comment by Marbe · 2021-02-25T14:30:22.050Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In my experience this problem is unfortunately wide and common in so many organizations :(

comment by Charles He · 2021-02-25T18:14:16.730Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ula,

Can you describe the problems more specifically and consider the thoughts below?

I think abuse or exploiting someone’s gender, race, or outright sexual misconduct is an abomination.

But what about the perspective that “bad work environments” are a separate, distinct issue from this kind of abuse?

Work environments in any organization can become terrible and this comes from mismanagement or predatory management.

Unfortunately, these issues might be systemic at all nonprofit organizations because management ability and resources are low, and the “business model” is very performative and this can reduce intellectual honesty. Also a key resource is a stream of both passionate and pliable volunteers, who are both difficult to manage and less able to resist abuse.

If this perspective is correct, it could be difficult to solve because these are root causes. For example, even if you could richly fund and staff a few organizations with great difficulty, you cannot police all organizations that would pop up.

I think my thought in my comment is basic and I may lack knowledge of the specific events.

What do you think about what I said?

Replies from: Ula
comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T19:27:55.396Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Charles, I don't think this is a good place to turn this into a larger discussion. Unless the AMA author would like this to be the case.

Replies from: Charles He
comment by Charles He · 2021-02-26T16:04:35.070Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Since my comment yesterday at 10:14 AM PST, there have been changes to your top level comment.

For example, your question, asking about a safe, global space with three specific goals, did not exist, and you have added a caveat saying that you do not know if these issues are widespread or common.

Other comments have appeared, such as from Daniela Waldhorn, who has described appalling abuse and who has designated current management for illegal and discriminatory practices.

I think my comment was reasonable because it was hard to understand what if any changes could be effected in response to your comment, or frankly, what the underlying situation was/is.

Despite your caveat, based on the comments, this abuse seems appalling and widespread. This appears to be a public issue that affects everyone in this space.

I think, based on some of the things you said about a lack of discussion or engagement related to respected or powerful people, engaging with certain comments here might support the objectives that you may be aiming for.

Also, unfamiliarity with your or Daniela's experiences does not mean personal unfamiliarity with similar experiences outside the space of animal welfare.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-02-25T05:18:11.739Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you could travel back to 2015 and talk to your past self about developments in animal advocacy, do you think anything would really surprise him?

If so, is there anything Lewis circa 2015 could have been tracking/paying attention to that would have made those developments less of a surprise? Would that have helped Open Philanthropy to make any additional good grants?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T18:06:32.496Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting Q! I think there's a lot that would surprise 2015-me. A few highlights:

  1. Plant-based meat: I didn't expect Impossible to get into Burger King so quickly, the popularity of the Beyond Meat IPO,  the  surge in sales of plant-based meat in US retail over the last few years, or the resulting investing boom in the space in the last few years. I think following the industry more closely would have given me a bit more foresight here, but I'm not sure it would have resulted in a lot more good grants, since there are limited grant opportunities (and the top investment opportunities all got taken without us). 
  2. Corporate campaigns: I didn't expect advocates to so quickly get most large North American food and European food businesses to commit to go cage-free, or to succeed in extending these campaigns globally. But I also didn't expect US broiler welfare campaigns to get as slowed down as they have. I think the main update here is the significance of momentum. I think one wrong lesson would be that we should ask for more -- this was a lesson that we took from rapid US cage-free progress which I think led us to ask for too much on the US broiler ask. 
  3. Mismanagement and sexual harassment at some groups. I think the movement had more internal problems than we realized, see e.g. the above comments. As a funder it's hard to learn about these issues -- you're mostly talking to group leadership and it's hard to have informal conversations with regular employees. But I think these issues have updated us on a number of things, including the importance of (a) trying to have more informal conversations with non-leaders, (b) requiring strong sexual harassment policies and procedures from grantees, (c) encouraging orgs to invest in org-development, e.g. higher salaries, and better governance, e.g. independent boards.

I could go on. There are many more things that have surprised me, though I think most have been positive and due to the fact that we're still a young fast-growing movement where there's less of a stable baseline to predict forward. 

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-24T23:06:19.800Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Which interventions seem most promising to you but have had little support from the EA community so far?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T18:26:52.123Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This one's tricky because I think the limiting factor on promising new interventions is more often a lack of talent wanting to pursue them -- and established groups not wanting to do too many things at once -- rather than a lack of support or good ideas. (To be clear: I think the movement as a whole is funding constrained; this only applies to new speculative interventions.)

Here's a non-exhaustive list of new interventions I'd like to see tried which I think some EAs would be well-positioned to do: 

  • Working with large aquatic invertebrate companies to assess and improve welfare.
  • Working with insect farming companies and investors to implement welfare standards.
  • Piloting new fundraising approaches, e.g. optimizing  online small-donor response to fundraise for EAA groups.
  • Piloting new corporate campaign approaches to strengthen existing campaigns, e.g. new online campaign tools etc.
  • Running EA-aligned fellowships to build the pipeline of diverse talent for our movement.
  • Solving very specific alt-protein scientific challenges, e.g. replicating the texture of a particular species like shrimp.
  • Engaging with international institutions (e.g. OIE, FAO, IFC, EBRD) and banks (e.g. Rabobank, BNP Paribas) that already have farm animal welfare standards to strengthen and implement them.

A few caveats on what this list isn't: (1) my "top priorities" -- I've excluded lots of great ideas that people are already pursuing or which I think would be hard for people to pursue without significant capital or specific expertise, (2) all the new interventions I'd like to see -- I only spent 10 mins on this and would likely change the list with more reflection, (3)  a guarantee we'd fund a new initiative on one of these topic -- this would also depend on whether the people who wanted to launch the initiative had the necessary expertise / experience, and how good their plan was. That said, if you think you're well-positioned to launch a new initiative on one of those topics, please do reach out to me. 

comment by Eze Paez · 2021-02-25T16:38:49.161Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

First I'd like to thank Ula for raising the important issue of how employees in the animal movement are treated. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence that these are not isolated cases. Former employees of other organizations like Animal Equality have reported similar disturbing practices, for example:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10161295462184852&set=pb.799184851.-2207520000..&type=3

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10161238998724852&set=pb.799184851.-2207520000..&type=3

Given all this, I'd like to ask:

  1. What is Open Phil's position on these issues?
  2. What is Open Phil doing to actively address such situations? 
  3. What has OpenPhil done or intends to do about the harm this has caused to animal advocates?
  4. Does Open Phil intend to continue funding these organizations?

Thanks in advance for your answer.

Replies from: LewisBollard, Jose, Ula, Sh@, mativazquez, mativazquez
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T17:20:26.020Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the questions Eze. I encourage readers to also check out my answers to Ula and Daniela above, since they apply here too. I’ll focus here on your specific questions about how Open Phil addresses problems at grantees.

In general, when we learn of problems at grantees — like mistreatment of employees — we first try to learn more about the specifics of the situation. We then have a range of proportional responses we consider and adjust depending on how they go. This ranges from extensive discussions with grantee leadership to specific demands of them (e.g. that they adopt an independent board or investigate a particular case) to ultimately cutting off funding.

We have cut off funding to grantees that have proven unwilling to address major problems. But we do treat this as a last resort after all attempts at internal leverage and change have failed. We take this approach because we’re such a large portion of most grantees’ funding that us cutting off funding will typically result in them having to lay off employees, in some cases many. For this reason we often find that employees raising concerns with us don’t want us to cut funding to their employer (to be clear, this is not dispositive — it’s one consideration). In that case we also lose our leverage to insist on improvements.

I can’t get deeply into the specifics of any individual or organization. But I’ll say broadly that we have engaged extensively with Animal Equality leadership about the issues you’ve identified, and used our leverage to push for a number of changes there — and we’ll continue to do so. I would like to hear more about your experience and other cases you’re aware of — I've just emailed you about this.

Replies from: Oat, Charlie
comment by Oat · 2021-02-26T21:05:42.602Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am also a former employee of Animal Equality. I just registered here anonymously because speaking out publicly will get me in trouble with the current AE-leadership that I can not afford to deal with financially or emotionally anymore.


 

With all respect – just from what I know, OPP has so much information about what is going on at Animal Equality – reading „I would like to hear more about your experience and other cases you’re aware of“ is very, very frustrating.


 

„We take this approach because we’re such a large portion of most grantees’ funding that us cutting off funding will typically result in them having to lay off employees, in some cases many.“

The number of people who where fired or have left AE because of the behavior of the current leadership is so high, that I do not think a complete cut of funding could have resulted in more lay-offs.


 

It seems at Animal Equality Germany alone enough people left just last year to justify drastic measures? https://www.kununu.com/de/animal-equality-germany-ev/kommentare


 

Can you explain what exactly has changed at AE since you have become aware of the issues?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T23:54:24.084Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Charlie and Oat for sharing your experiences with Animal Equality. I understand your skepticism and I’m sorry to hear about how things have gone for you and too many others.

You’re right that we spoke with a lot of former and current AE employees in 2019. We heard concern about practices but also concern about the potential fallout of us just cutting funding. It was a tough decision, but we chose to use our leverage to push for changes rather than to cut funding.

I wish I could get into more specifics of the conversations with AE leadership, but think it would violate both their trust and that of a number of employees we spoke with. So all I can really say is that we've had ongoing candid conversations with AE leadership about our concerns and think they're taking a number of significant actions based on our conversations, for example adding new independent directors to their board, making key personnel changes, and working closely with a consultant on management changes. But we're continuing to monitor and engage on this -- including continuing to welcome new information.

Replies from: xyz21, Oat, Charlie, Sh@, Oat, Charlie, wyz, Sh@
comment by xyz21 · 2021-02-27T01:16:48.600Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Lewis, I am another former Animal Equality worker who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons already mentioned in the forum. I want to give more information and make a reflection on this issue:

- 85% of the team in Germany quitted the organization in the last months when the international board took over the control of the German organization. Most of the team opposed the management style and HR values of the international board. See here how ratings on the German  anonymous employer review platform Kununu collapse over time, reporting the situation, when the international board took over management.

- Power continues to be held by the founders and their trusted people, some of them taking on other roles to make it appear as a more balanced management structure that does not exist. The systemic and structural problem will persist as long as large donors and the effective altruism philanthropists continue to allow this situation to persist.

- Predatory management, far from being isolated cases, the leadership model is based on coercion of employees. Hence, employees are afraid to speak up, as we have already seen here. A dissenting opinion means dismissal. It is common practice to motivate dismissals with professional law firms that advise on the best ways to fire "uncomfortable" people, without having anything to do with their performance.

- Fostering the culture of toxic competitiveness among organizations, as is known in some countries. Far from following the values and principles of effective altruism, the leadership model uses it to obtain funding, without sharing its values.

- Dismissals during medical leaves motivated by the predatory and toxic leadership model. Even victims of the predatory management taking medication for work-related anxiety episodes.

- It is common practice to sign non-disclosure clauses at the time of contract termination to prevent issues such as those described here from being known.

Far from being improved by the measures taken by Open Philanthropy Project (and other philanthropic organizations), the predatory management model imposed by the founders extends throughout Animal Equality's international offices. As many prominent activists comment, "it's an open secret." If Open Philanthropy Project or other philanthropic organizations or major donors are not aware of this, it must be because they do not make the effort to know about it, not because of lack of resources. Something that is internationally known (a predatory and toxic model from top to bottom) is impossible that it cannot be managed by people with so many contacts in the environment.

As an example: after an employee satisfaction interview conducted in AE Spain in 2017, the results were so alarming that we know that the founders located in US expressed "you have to buy tickets for Spain". Once they arrived there, they promised workers that they were coming to listen and solve problems created by the management in Spain (an AE founder). This made the workers express themselves freely, trusting the word of the founders located in the US. This was followed by the sudden dismissal of two key workers in Spain who had expressed the untenable incompetence of the Spanish management, something so well known internationally, that the former director of Spain was forced to retire from the management, although he still has full control of the decisions (same situation as with the current executive vice-president, who was just as well forced to retire from his previous position).

Everything mentioned here to improve the predatory model that the founders impose on AE does not do much to repair the harm done to dozens? hundreds? of victims of workplace harassment. Is this the best we can hope for? 

comment by Oat · 2021-02-27T01:58:34.167Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Lewis, I would like to comment on your points in detail but I can not do that without jeopardizing my anonymity which I think it pretty clear. And I know that anything I could say OP already has been made aware of by several people. People have been treated and are being treated horribly and forced out of the organization after the changes you mentioned had been implemented. These are ongoing issues. Asking for more information at this point feels like people have been speaking out in vain so far. Reading things like this over and over again is really not helping the mental health of people who have been treated horribly but dared to speak out despite the risk.

 

Should people in positions of power who seem to have a track record of mismanagement be granted the same level of trust – and by extension protection – as the many, many people who are treated badly and people who want to hold people in power accountable? I can not imagine what more information could be necessary. How much worse do things need to become to justify more drastic action in your eyes? Animal rights advocacy is hard enough as we all know. But even without that baseline of stress – no one should be treated like a disposable human resource and be forced to witness unbelievably incompetent leadership being protected like this.

comment by Charlie · 2021-02-27T01:38:18.537Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Quite honestly Lewis, what violates our trust in OP is seeing that after all the risk many of us took nothing has substantially changed. While you continue having "candid conversations with AE leadership", AE leadership has not extended the same grace to its staff and has been anything but candid to its employees. As you confirmed yourself, OP has been aware of and addressing the problems with AE since 2019. You claim that significant actions were taken since, however, in 2020 what we actually saw was the issues escalating and not improving, culture becoming much worse to the point of affecting mental health of employees, leadership becoming much more authoritarian and despotic. To speak only about what is already public knowledge, in 2020 AE lost almost the entire Germany office and fired more than one employee on medical leave as retaliation. How then do you affirm that they are making significant changes? The said changes are clearly only on paper, and the discourse does not reflect the reality of the culture. People who are still working at AE continue telling us about the same problems, but they are afraid of speaking up since they know many of us already did and nothing has been done either by OP and others who we trusted would take action to hold the organisation accountable. As far as we know, independent directors joining the board aren't actually that "independent", but personal friends and very aligned with leadership. It is crystal clear to just about everyone who ever worked at AE that leadership is simply not qualified to manage the organisation. Unfortunately, OP's continuous failure to act despite the piling amount of evidence received from multiple whistleblowers is part of the reason why so many of the most passionate and effective animal rights advocates are choosing to leave the movement and losing faith in effective altruism. We simply can't in good faith believe that the most effective way to do the most good for animals entails continuing supporting organisations with such toxic culture. 
Still, donors like you keep pouring funds under the guise of effectiveness when we all know AE is anything but cost-effective unless you take their fraudulent metrics at face value, which you really shouldn't.

comment by Sh@ · 2021-02-27T20:09:17.751Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Lewis, with all the respect but I want to point out how frustrating it is to see that OPP continues to overlook all these serious issues. As people have said in this forum, due to the leadership of Animal Equality, people are depressed, leaving the animal advocacy movement, unemployed, and/or sick. "Candid conversations" didn't work and are not going to work with Animal Equality. What else needs to happen until OPP takes drastic measures?

comment by Oat · 2021-02-27T01:56:51.534Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Lewis, I would like to comment on your points in detail but I can not do that without jeopardizing my anonymity which I think is pretty clear. And I know that anything I could say, OP already has been made aware of by several people. People have been treated and are being treated horribly and forced out of the organization after the changes you mentioned had been implemented. These are ongoing issues. Asking for more information at this point feels like people have been speaking out in vain so far. Reading things like this over and over again is really not helping the mental health of people who have been treated horribly but dared to speak out despite the risk.

Should people in positions of power who seem to have a track record of mismanagement be granted the same level of trust – and by extension protection – as the many, many people who are treated badly and people who want to hold people in power accountable? I can not imagine what more information could be necessary. How much worse do things need to become to justify more drastic action in your eyes? Animal rights advocacy is hard enough as we all know. But even without that baseline of stress – no one should be treated like a disposable human resource and be forced to witness unbelievably incompetent leadership being protected like this.

comment by Charlie · 2021-02-27T01:37:01.010Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Quite honestly Lewis, what violates our trust in OP is seeing that after all the risk many of us took nothing has substantially changed. While you continue having "candid conversations with AE leadership", AE leadership has not extended the same grace to its staff and has been anything but candid to its employees. As you confirmed yourself, OP has been aware of and addressing the problems with AE since 2019. You claim that significant actions were taken since, however, in 2020 what we actually saw was the issues escalating and not improving, culture becoming much worse to the point of affecting mental health of employees, leadership becoming much more authoritarian and despotic. To speak only about what is already public knowledge, in 2020 AE lost almost the entire Germany office and fired more than one employee on medical leave as retaliation. How then do you affirm that they are making significant changes? The said changes are clearly only on paper, and the discourse does not reflect the reality of the culture. People who are still working at AE continue telling us about the same problems, but they are afraid of speaking up since they know many of us already did and nothing has been done either by OP and others who we trusted would take action to hold the organisation accountable. As far as we know, independent directors joining the board aren't actually that "independent", but personal friends and very aligned with leadership. It is crystal clear to just about everyone who ever worked at AE that leadership is simply not qualified to manage the organisation. Unfortunately, OP's continuous failure to act despite the piling amount of evidence received from multiple whistleblowers is part of the reason why so many of the most passionate and effective animal rights advocates are choosing to leave the movement and losing faith in effective altruism. We simply can't in good faith believe that the most effective way to do the most good for animals entails continuing supporting organisations with such toxic culture. 
Still, donors like you keep pouring funds under the guise of effectiveness when we all know AE is anything but cost-effective unless you take their fraudulent metrics at face value, which you really shouldn't.

comment by wyz · 2021-02-27T00:51:33.956Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Lewis, I am another former employee of Animal Equality who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons already mentioned in the forum. I want to give more information and make a reflection in case it helps:

- 85% of the team in Germany quitted the organization in the last months when the international board took over the control of the German organization. Most of the team opposed the management style and HR values of the international board. See here how ratings on the German  anonymous employer review platform Kununu collapse over time, reporting the situation, when the international board took over management.

- Power continues to be held by the founders and their trusted people, some of them taking on other roles to make it appear as a more balanced management structure that does not exist. The systemic and structural problem will persist as long as large donors and the effective altruism philanthropists continue to allow this situation to persist.

- Predatory management, far from being isolated cases, the leadership model is based on coercion of employees. Hence, employees are afraid to speak up, as we have already seen here. A dissenting opinion means dismissal. It is common practice to motivate dismissals with professional law firms that advise on the best ways to fire "uncomfortable" people, without having anything to do with their performance.

- Fostering the culture of toxic competitiveness among organizations, as is known in some countries. Far from following the values and principles of effective altruism, the leadership model uses it to obtain funding, without sharing its values.

- Dismissals during medical leaves motivated by the predatory and toxic leadership model. Even victims of the predatory management taking medication for work-related anxiety episodes.

- It is common practice to sign non-disclosure clauses at the time of contract termination to prevent issues such as those described here from being known.

Far from being improved by the measures taken by Open Philanthropy Project (and other philanthropic organizations), the predatory management model imposed by the founders extends throughout Animal Equality's international offices. As many prominent activists comment, "it's an open secret." If Open Philanthrophy Project or other philanthropic organizations or major donors are not aware of this, it must be because they do not make the effort to know about it, not because of lack of resources. Something that is internationally known (a predatory and toxic model from top to bottom) is impossible that it cannot be managed by people with so many contacts in the environment.

As an example: after an employee satisfaction interview conducted in AE Spain in 2017, the results were so alarming that we know that the founders located in US expressed " we must buy tickets for Spain". Once they arrived there, they promised workers that they were coming to listen and solve problems created by the management in Spain (an AE founder). This made the workers express themselves freely, trusting the word of the founders located in the US. This was followed by the sudden dismissal of two key workers in Spain who had expressed the untenable incompetence of the Spanish management, something so well known internationally, that the ex-director of Spain was forced to retire from the management, although he still has full control of the decisions (same situation as with the current AE management). decisions (same situation as with the current executive vice-president, who was just as well forced to retire from his previous position).

Everything mentioned here to improve the predatory model that the founders impose on AE does not do much to redress the harm done to dozens? hundreds? of victims of workplace bullying. Is this the best we can hope for?

comment by Sh@ · 2021-02-27T15:45:25.949Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Lewis, I am really sorry but I just want to point out that your message seems disrespectful to us. It is outrageous to see that OPP continues to overlook all these serious issues. As people have said in this forum, due to the leadership of Animal Equality, people are depressed, leaving the animal advocacy movement, unemployed, and/or sick. "Candid conversations" didn't work and are not going to work with Animal Equality. What else needs to happen until OPP takes drastic measures?
 

comment by Charlie · 2021-02-26T20:35:08.653Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your response, Lewis, but you understand if many of us are very skeptical. Writing anonymously on behalf of a number of former Animal Equality employees from at least three different countries who were all forced out of the organisation or resigned due to our attempts to hold leadership to account for their horrible treatment of staff, lies, nepotism, and complete lack of transparency. OP reached out to some of us in 2019, following the departure of a number of Directors (both country EDs and international department Directors) and staff, to discuss the situation. Many of us risked our careers, reputations, and likelihood of retaliation by AE leadership to speak with OP in the hope that we could help protect employees still working at the organization. Some of us spoke with OP about this more than once, and many of us provided specific examples of extremely problematic behavior by leadership. OP assured us it would protect us as well as those still working at AE but failed to take any concrete action to hold AE accountable, thus putting at risk the whistleblowers who took the risk to protect others. But instead, OP continues funding the organisation and this financing and enabling the abusive behavior reported by dozens of employees from multiple countries. Meanwhile AE leadership continues to fire all of those who dare to raise their voices, badmouth former employees framing them as problematic and difficult (when not worse), promote to leadership positions those problematic individuals who are personally close to leadership, and refuse to have a truly independent board. There is a plethora of evidence showing how toxic culture has direct impact on performance and effectiveness, and how mismanagement wastes resources. For example, if you only consider the amount of money paid directly to employees being fired, it already sums up to hundreds of thousand dollars, not considering adjacent costs of hiring, training, loss of effectiveness due to high turnover, etc. it means that a lot of donations are literally wasted by mismanagement. It is hard to understand what’s the reasoning behind OP’s decision to continue supporting AE. We would love for you to explain that and collectively we would like to say that we expect funders to take more responsibility for the culture they are enabling through their donations.

comment by Jose · 2021-02-25T23:20:40.322Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

First of all, I would like to explain that I have just registered on the forum to maintain anonymity and not to harm anyone.

Unfortunately, the case you give as an example of Animal Equality is not the only one of bad practices towards their employees. As a former employee of Animal Equality, I have witnessed on numerous occasions harassment at work, abuse of authority, lack of transparency, lack of democracy, falsification of statistical data and fraudulent campaigns by the international direction.

It is very sad, it would be good if finally the appropriate actions were taken so that these bad practices do not continue.

comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T17:22:21.630Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is such a sad thing to learn :(

comment by Sh@ · 2021-02-26T18:56:35.024Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I was an employee of Animal Equality for years and I have witnessed several cases of harassment from the leadership. Retaliation and harassment are common practices in the organization. Unfortunately, Animal Equality is a dictatorship. If you are an employee and you disagree to some degree with the leadership you might be fired without any prior notice. Even people that exceed the goals and expectations for the role are fired without any previous bad feedback. 

In order to avoid more retaliation for the current staff, I suggest that OPP requires a strict policy and process in which Animal Equality's directors must follow in case they want to lay off someone. 

PS: I am also writing with an anonymous name since I don't feel safe showing my name. 

Replies from: loveallanimals
comment by loveallanimals · 2021-02-26T19:15:46.238Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm so sorry you went through this. I have also met a few people in AE that went through the same thing :( 

comment by mativazquez · 2021-02-25T23:55:06.657Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

this is really serious

comment by mativazquez · 2021-02-25T23:54:40.041Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

this is really serious

comment by Mappy (Mario) · 2021-02-25T21:50:49.068Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How do you see Open. Phil's focus on farm animal welfare evolving in the coming years vs other focus areas?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T17:45:38.829Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I guess there are two pieces here. The first is the cause prioritization question of how we'll prioritize expanding farm animal welfare vs other focus areas. That's mostly above my pay grade -- it's a decision leadership will make informed by Open Phil's cause prioritization research. But I'm confident that Open Phil is committed to remaining a major funder in this space, and optimistic about our future trajectory.

The  second piece is how our focus within farm animal welfare work will evolve. We're revisiting our strategy now, so I hope I'll have more to share in a few months. But I can tell you that two broad challenges are (1) weighing proven tractable interventions (e.g. corporate cage-free and broiler welfare campaigns) against more speculative and potentially larger scale work (e.g. fish welfare, expanding the movement in East Asia), and (2) weighing scaling up existing effective organizations against funding more new promising initiatives. We'll continue to do a mix of all the above -- the key Q is how we prioritize our time and funding between each of them. 

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-24T23:57:19.766Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What do you expect to be next for chicken welfare reforms after cage-free eggs and the Better Chicken Commitment, if anything?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T20:29:15.468Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I haven't given this much thought. I expect the combination of securing and implementing cage-free and broiler welfare commitments to remain the chicken-welfare focus for at least the next decade (maybe a bit less in Northern Europe, more in Asia etc). Fish welfare is the obvious candidate for the next major welfare issue, though there's no shortage of other welfare issues to address (gestation crates, aquatic invertebrates, etc). I wouldn't want to speculate on what will come next, since I expect it will depend on how things go in the next few years and which issues appear most tractable when we're ready to move on. 

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-24T23:48:53.409Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What are your thoughts on pledge programs like Challenge 22 and Veganuary? They seem promising to me, but I think current research hasn't adequately addressed the counterfactual of whether these people would have gone vegan anyway.

Some of the research:

https://faunalytics.org/challenge-22-pilot-impact-study/

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/bxqMGCLNaz8Cbq7Yr/cost-effectiveness-analysis-of-a-program-promoting-a-vegan [EA · GW]

https://veganuary.com/what-impact-does-veganuary-have/

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T19:07:04.707Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd like to see more independent research on these programs, especially research that  goes beyond self-reports. The area where we have the best data on diet change -- dining hall studies on lectures and leaflets -- suggests a huge gap between self-reported consumptions / intention, and actual consumption, especially when the self-reports are being collected by the group doing the advocacy. I think the key Qs are:

  • How many people who sign pledges counterfactually wouldn't have gone veg anyway?
  • How much do pledge signers actually reduce animal product consumption?
  • How long do those reduction effects endure?

In favor of such programs, I would add there are some promising  signs that Veganuary may be fueling broader positive changes in the UK, where it's most established:

  • Google Trends data shows UK interest in veganism increasing, with searches peaking each January. (The UK govt's Food and You surveys are less clear on whether rates of veg*ns are increasing in the UK -- there's a slight trend of vegans increasing and vegetarians decreasing, but the %s are so small I'd take this with a grain of salt.)
  • A lot of UK food chains have started launching new vegan products in January, often citing Veganuary. E.g. Tesco, Pizza Hut, Gregg's. Of course they might have just introduced these at another time instead, but it does weakly suggest Veganuary is building corporate interest.
  • The recent Faunalytics Twitter Trend survey found that Veganuary attracts lots of tweets, most of them positive. (Though it did also find that all diet-related tweets surge in January, suggesting Veganuary doesn’t deserve all credit for  the increase in interest in veganism that month.)
Replies from: MichaelStJules
comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-26T20:48:19.765Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks!

On the broader positive changes, how likely do you think it is that Veganuary the event and not the charity is already established enough (in the UK) that (UK) media/outreach for it is less neglected and useful? Even if Veganuary the charity stopped existing, the events would still happen each year.

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T23:32:41.723Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't have a good sense of this I'm afraid. My general sense is that Veganuary the charity is still the majority of the force behind the event, e.g. they're the ones getting media, getting food companies to launch new products in January, etc. But I'm not that confident in that.

comment by BrianTan · 2021-02-25T13:32:00.243Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Lewis, 3 of us in EA Philippines are doing some research/scoping work on how Filipinos can make an impact on local farm animal welfare and/or alternative proteins, so these questions are going to be oddly specific: 

1. If you could advise 3 generalists who could spend ~5 hours per week each on one or two of the following issues by doing research/direct work/advocacy on them, how would you rank the 5 issues below, and why?

  1. Local fish welfare
  2. Local layer chicken welfare
  3. Local pig welfare (which is heavily affected by the current outbreak of African Swine Fever)
  4. Local broiler chicken welfare
  5. Local alternative proteins (probably through focusing on growing the number of startups or companies making plant-based food)

The ranking above is currently how I think we should prioritize between the different issues, but they're still very tentative. We've done ~30 hours of desk research to draft an initial problem profile on local land animal welfare, and had 7 expert interviews already with players working on these problems locally, including Animal Kingdom Foundation for layer chickens / cage-free, Humane Society International for plant-based advocacy, Worth the Health Foods (a plant-based startup), Fish Welfare Initiative, the Bureau of Animal Industry (on chicken welfare and the animal welfare act), and PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society). We haven't done as much research on pig welfare or alternative proteins, which is partly why I'm ranking them lower. (The 2 other people I work with in EA PH may disagree with my ranking above).

2. Also, is your answer above the same as how would you rank the 5 local issues above on which ones you (whether through OpenPhil or the EA Animal Welfare Fund) would be more excited to fund?

We can discuss more about the research we've done so far with you via email. We were planning to email you about this and ask even more questions within the next 1-2 weeks, but I thought of trying to ask this question ahead on your AMA, in case you wanted to share rough thoughts on this publicly!

Replies from: LewisBollard, Animal Ask
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T19:21:02.882Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the questions Brian, and for the work you're doing in the Philippines. We estimate the Philippines has the 10th highest number of vertebrate farmed animals alive at any time -- mostly farmed fish -- but we currently only have one Filipino farm animal grantee.  So I'd love to hear from you and  other Filipinos interested in doing EA animal advocacy. (Anyone reading this can email info@openphilanthropy.org or message me.) On your questions:

  1. Your ranking of issues looks good to me. My main advice in your situation would be to look primarily at  tractability in making this ranking. Our general experience in nations with lots of animals but less existing advocacy (e.g. China, Indonesia, Vietnam) is that tractability trumps scale (and neglect is largely irrelevant, since most approaches are neglected). Of course there are limits to this -- don't start a farm sanctuary. But within the large-scale issues you're considering, I'd focus on which is most tractable, both because we've seen huge differences in this between issues and because I think the most important thing is to get some initial progress, which will then make it easier to advance all issues. 
  2. On the Open Phil side I'm excited to fund any promising new farm animal or alt-protein work in the Philippines (and in other large Southeast Asian nations). That's true for how I think about the EA Fund too, though I'm only one of four managers there. 
comment by Animal Ask · 2021-03-01T08:48:58.595Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Brian, 

 

We would also love to have a conversation with you regarding your ask considerations. Our recently formed organisation works with animal advocacy groups to prioritise and optimise asks. 

You can check out our work at animalask.org

Let me know if you would like to chat about this further. 

Amy

Replies from: BrianTan
comment by BrianTan · 2021-03-02T07:44:51.805Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Awesome, I've messaged you on the forum!

comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T12:58:06.296Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What criteria do you use while deciding which charities are gonna be given funding from EA AWF?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T20:14:26.280Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm only one of four fund managers, and I'm only describing my personal approach. For me scale and neglect typically operate as an initial threshold -- I'm not excited about something that could never affect >1M animals or that is already fully-funded or likely to be. But most submissions for the Fund pass this threshold, so estimates of potential tractability / cost-effectiveness become most important. To assess this, I especially consider:

  • The track record of this intervention: has it been tried before; if so how did it go; are there reasons to think this group will do better/worse than previous efforts?
  • The track record of the applicant: have they already achieved wins; if yes, how scaleable do those wins seem; if no, are there reasons to think they could in future?
  • The plans: how plausible do the plans seem;  will we know if they succeed or fail; how big a win would it be if the plans succeed?
comment by Ben_West · 2021-02-25T20:13:11.839Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You are quoted in the 80,000 hours article about management consulting as saying:

I think that if you are looking to work in management with a non-profit, you can learn some really useful skills. Analytical skills are certainly brought to bear... 

I don’t really believe that in that time I gained a lot of useful skills. I think I mainly gained a lot of information about very particular business sectors, which would be useful if I wanted to go and work in those business sectors. Otherwise, I’m not sure it is completely generalisable.

In your most recent podcast interview you stated:

I think we have seen greater need for managers, makes sense. As groups are growing, are professionalising, there is more of a need for people who have management expertise and who are learning management and thinking hard about it.

Your quote in the 80 K article seems pretty lukewarm on management consulting, and I'm wondering if this talent gap in animal advocacy has made you more positive?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T19:28:44.188Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Two thoughts here:

  1. I wouldn't over-update based on my experience in management consulting. I only worked in it for one year and at one firm. Of my friends currently or formerly in management consulting  my rough sense is only ~half agree with my  take. E.g. my brother has been in management consulting for 7+ years and disagrees with me, and he's smarter than me :)
  2. I think the confusion is partly caused by the term "management consulting"; I think "business consulting" is more accurate. My experience has been that the big consulting firms mostly solve specific business problems (e.g. how to cut costs by 10% without hurting sales) not management ones. So I wouldn't necessarily expect someone who does a few years at a big consulting firm to be a great manager.
  3. That said, seeing mismanagement problems in our movement has updated me on the value of bringing in people from outside our movement with greater management experience. That could come from consulting, but I think could just as easily come from experience managing at other big firms or nonprofits that value good management. 
comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T13:21:01.541Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If we focus on cost-effectiveness, what would be the most effective top 3 interventions for animals at the moment?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T20:07:25.237Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a tough one. I'm most confident in the cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns, especially on cage-free and broiler welfare, because there's a tight feedback loop and easily measurable results. But I think a number of more speculative longer-term interventions could plausibly turn out to be more cost-effective -- they're just  higher variance. Some candidates for plausibly most cost-effective longer-term interventions:

  • Any scaleable intervention for improving fish welfare, especially of the most numerous farmed species (e.g. common carp) and wild-caught fish (at capture and slaughter).
  • Any tractable work in the countries with the largest number of farmed animals (the top 3 are China, India Indonesia, and the rest are here)
  • Any work that enables a breakthrough on the taste and price of alternative proteins that directly compete with fish, crustaceans, chicken, or eggs. 
comment by JamesOz · 2021-02-24T23:58:12.743Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  1. What are some unusual/low probability but potentially high-impact interventions that you would like new organisations (or existing ones) to attempt?
  2. What's your thoughts on the impact of protest groups (Direct Action Everywhere, Animal Rebellion, etc.) on the farmed animal movement and any thing you would like to see them do?
  3. Do you think the farmed animal movement aligning with the environmental movement will be good for animals long-term and how much of an impact do you think this would have?
Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T20:39:27.413Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting Q's:

  1. New interventions I'd like to see: I think my answers to Michael and Ula above cover my immediate thoughts here.
  2. The impact of protest groups: I feel pretty unsure on this -- it's obviously hard to measure. My prior is that there's a lot of value to building a bigger grassroots movement demanding action on factory farming, but that there's always a risk that provocative tactics will alienate more people than they bring in. So it's about striking that balance, and I'm uncertain on the right place to strike it. I'm not inclined to suggest anything I'd like to see them do since I don't follow their work that closely and I don't think they're seeking my advice. 
  3. Aligning with the environmental movement: I also feel unsure on this. There are number of places where animal and environmental objectives don't perfectly align, e.g. see efforts to substitute from beef to chicken and fish, which has worse welfare impacts. But I also think there's a lot of overlap and scope for animal and environmental advocates to align on mutual interests, like advocating for government funding to advance alternative protein research. 
comment by JoseRamonMallen · 2021-02-26T08:48:17.502Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Lewis, thank you for doing this!

  1. Is the intercontinentally expansive model of consolidated and well funded EAA organizations still the most effective?
  2. What mistakes already made would you like to see young and promising  Western EAA organizations avoid in their growth?
  3.  What kind of intervention do you see as viable in China?
Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T20:48:37.663Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the questions Jose. 

  1. Intercontinental consolidated  & well-funded EAA orgs: I'm not sure this is the dominant model. E.g. the five biggest groups you're probably thinking of (THL, MFA, GFI, CIWF, Animal Equality) had combined 2019 budgets of ~$50M, out of a global movement total of ~$180M. I think that's less consolidation than most movements. That said I don't have a strong prior on whether international consolidated orgs or smaller local ones are most effective. We've since similar success levels and challenges amongst both types of groups, and tend instead to focus on the track record, plans, etc of each opportunity discretely, rather than based on the type of group it belongs to. 
  2. Mistakes young Western EAA orgs can avoid in growth. A few thoughts: (a) treat employees well and taking management seriously -- see e.g. the comments above, (b) focus on just the 1-3 most promising issues / interventions -- we see a lot of orgs overstretched trying to do too many things, (c) set and track clear metrics for program success, and drop programs if they consistently fail to meet them -- we see a lot of status quo bias to keep doing things that are no longer working. 
  3. Viable interventions in China. Mainly I see limited scope for Western orgs to do new work in China -- we're most excited about new Chinese initiatives and international orgs with well-established programs. The things we've been most excited about: (a) promoting alt-protein, especially the business opportunity, (b) positive corporate outreach on animal welfare, (c) building the number of EA-aligned Chinese animal advocates. 
comment by Maxtandy · 2021-02-25T19:08:44.156Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Lewis,

I'm an aspiring food scientist half way through my degree. Do you think there is more potential for for impact if I focus more on plant based or clean meats? Plant based seems easier from a scientific point of view, but more low-hanging fruit seems to be taken there already. Thanks!

Replies from: MichaelStJules, LewisBollard
comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-26T21:05:15.938Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you haven't already, you should reach out to the Good Food Institute!

comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T20:50:27.831Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Maxtandy, that's cool that you're becoming a food scientist! We definitely need more of them. I don't have a strong view on this question, and suspect it may depend more on the specifics of your situation -- which scientific skills you're strongest in and which research + job opportunities you see. I broadly see the need for a lot more research on both plant-based and clean meat -- and the related field of fermentation. 

comment by Monica · 2021-02-25T16:28:46.705Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for doing this AMA! I have three questions:

1) The FDA has approved at least one alternative to pig castration (the brand name is Improvest) that involves two injections behind the ears rather than surgery. Similar technology has been shown to work in cattle but I don't believe that has FDA approval. I've heard that this product works well and is cost-effective for farmers but that it has not been widely adopted because processing plants tend to reject in-tact pigs more or less out of inertia. Do you have thoughts on whether working to address this problem (at least for pigs) is tractable and cost-effective? 

2) What kind economic research do you think that plant-based food companies would find most useful? Do these companies typically have their own data analysts to privately answer common economic questions? If not, would they be likely to read relevant literature or change their strategy based studies in econ journals? Examples of the sort of research I had in mind might include: 

  • Prices: What is the price elasticity of demand for plant-based products? How much do temporary sales induce consumers to switch from animal products to plant-based analogues in the short-term? What is the cross-price elasticity of demand for these products? Do consumers who respond to sales subsequently purchase the analogues?
  • Packaging: Are consumers more likely to try a plant-based product if it is in a smaller, cheaper package? Do smaller packages causally induce a sustained customer shift towards the analogue?.
  • Partnerships: Industry groups representing input commodities (e.g. the National Rice Company) assist large purchasers to anticipate price and supply and to acquire supply contracts. Do similar opportunities exist to assist plant-based companies in their mission?

3) There has been significant recent progress in wild-animal fertility control, some of which is already being implemented (target species are often otherwise killed inhumanely). Do you think that this is an approach worth directly pursuing now or do you feel we need more information or research to see if this is a good idea? If you think we need more information, what kind of research would you like to see? 

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T21:05:55.316Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the interesting questions Monica! 

  1. Alternatives to pig castration: major producers in a number of countries have already implemented Improvest or similar approaches, e.g. JBS Brasil, producers in a number of Northern European countries. It's crazy to me that US pig producers haven't, despite, as you note, the FDA approval. Your explanation about the processing plants is interesting. I've heard other reasons from industry insiders: (1) the industry is afraid that consumers will view Improvest as a chemical additive, producing a yuk response like hormones, (2) Improvest costs more money and  producers don't care enough to pay that, and (3) farmers are afraid of injecting themselves and rendering themselves insterile (this sounds absurd, but came from a veterinarian who had spent years working in pig factory farms). I would like to see more advocates working on this issue. The challenge is how to prioritize it -- I think existing groups have reasonably chosen to focus their scarce resources elsewhere -- but there could be scope for a new group or individual advocates to work on it. 
  2. Economic research on plant-based products: there's actually been quite a few economic papers on this lately. For example I recommend this new paper from Jayson Lusk and colleagues attempting to estimate the cross-price elasticity of demand for plant-based meats. That said, I think there's scope for a lot more, including on questions like the ones you outlined. My sense is that most plant-based companies don't have data analysts and aren't reviewing much data beyond their own sales. They also probably aren't reading econ journals, but I think it's possible to get the most important results in front of them, e.g. via GFI, PBFA, and other groups that support the sector. 
  3. Wild animal fertility control: I'm happy to see researchers working on this. My sense is it's mostly being trialed in situations where the alternative is for humans to kill the animals, often inhumanely, e.g. instead of killing elephants in South Africa, wild horses in the US midwest, rats in NYC subways, etc. In all those cases it seems worth pursuing. For many broader uses I think we need more research on the likely second-order effects. E.g.  will reducing the population of X species just increase Y species lower in the food chain?
comment by monica.list · 2021-02-25T14:50:25.758Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What are your thoughts regarding potential welfare and environmental concerns of using insects/insect meal for animal feed and human consumption?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T21:27:17.436Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm worried about the growth of industrial-scale insect farming. We don't know if insects are sentient, or if they are how to weigh their experiences against different species. But based on what we do know I think we should consider a significant possibility that they are sentient. And if so, I think there are reasons to think industrial-scale insect farming could be particularly problematic on animal welfare grounds, especially given its huge scale. I recommend this EA Forum post [EA · GW] for more details on specific welfare concerns.

comment by lukasj10 · 2021-02-25T11:20:39.051Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It seems that at least some European countries are seriously considering a meat/climate impact tax. What impact, do you expect, this could have? Do any unexpected potential flow-through effects come to mind?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T21:21:36.595Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it depends on how the tax is structured. A tax based solely on climate impacts is likely to fall primary on beef, which could increase consumption of chicken by increasing the price gap between them (an increasing beef-chicken price gap seems to have contributed to rising US chicken consumption over the last few decades). But a tax that also considers other environmental and animal welfare impacts could reduce all animal product consumption.

I was especially interested by this new Nature Communications study, which suggested a German meat climate tax might have a similar impact on beef and chicken prices. But it was based on data assuming a much lower beef climate impact, and higher chicken climate impact, than this Science 2018 meta-analysis, which I think has the most reliable data. 

comment by alt_protein_vc · 2021-02-26T07:26:07.642Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In a recent newsletter, you suggested getting plant-based meat cheaper would revolve around cheaper ingredients and production efficiency. 

Couple of questions around that since it felt like there was some abstraction for brevity in that newsletter

First, some data to work off. According to Beyond's latest filings for nine months up to Sep 2020, their per pound price is probably more like $3.97 per pound vs your $3.5 per pound estimate (I'm including outbound shipping and logistics as well which is probably more accurately a cost of goods sold item but an SG&A item for Beyond). Meanwhile, they seem to be selling at around $5.6 per pound (revenue / volume in pounds) giving them a 31.8% gross margin.

Being generous, I think this gross margin is probably a Covid related impact (overspent on fixed costs) because their gross margins have been higher before so I think there's probably room for another 600 basis points of gross margin improvement (look at Sep 2019 quarter filings). In that particular quarter with higher gross margins, the cost per pound (same method as above) was $3.9 per pound, and the selling price was roughly $5.74 per pound. 

Again being generous, without covid and therefore better fixed cost leverage within the cost of goods sold, let's say they could've done the same margins with $5.6 cost per pound. That means a production cost of $3.6 per pound (again emphasizing that I include outbound logistics whereas Beyond don't) 

$3.6 per pound is still 33% more than farm prices for beef in the US in Jan-21. So that's where (in my opinion) where we're currently at. 

---
Questions: 

1) Production efficiency: Practically, this means increasing the amount of product you can produce per unit cost. As I see it, in plant-based meat, this means being more efficient with your direct labour, equipment costs even ingredients (ie reducing wastage). These are all relatively small cost items. My own estimate would be less than 25% of total cost. For a more outside view, depreciation and amortization expenses (largely fixed costs) as a % of  Beyond's cost of goods sold is only 4.5% of cost of goods sold (9 months upto Sep 2020) and direct labour is ultimately going to be dependent on where you're producing. 

So how much of that 33% gap do you think can really be closed with production efficiency (more automation, higher throughput equipment, less wastage etc.)? Because to me, it really looks quite small. 

2) Cheaper ingredients: As per my estimate, this is likely a much bigger piece of the pie and ~40% of the cost base. Unfortunately, I can't find any good external data on this (just based on my estimate seeing several plant-based meat startups over the past couple of years in venture capital). Typically the two biggest fractions of cost there are the protein fraction (concentrate, isolate etc) and the flavours (as well as other functional ingredients). To me, it seems relatively low impact to innovate and bring down the prices of major and already cheap proteins like soy because in most cases that's likely to positively correlate with feed costs (and therefore bring those costs down as well). 

So with respect to flavours, what do you think is the scope to bring down flavour (and other key functional ingredients) costs over the next couple of years/decades and how much can that contribute to closing that 33% gap to beef prices in the US? (I have no view on this)

Note: I don't like being anonymous but I think it makes it easier for me to be honest and candid. 

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:52:51.849Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the fascinating comments! As an initial matter, it seems like you know more than I do about plant-based meat production costs, so I hope you'll write something publicly on this. (Or let me know where it is if you already have.) On your questions:

  1. Production efficiency: you make a good point about this being a limited share of the pie. I guess my thinking is ~25% of $3.6 is still 90c/lb., and if we're ever going to compete with commodity chicken at <$1/lb, we'll need to make progress on this piece. But I agree there's no silver bullet here and other factors may be more important. 
  2. Cheaper ingredients: I don't have a good sense on the scope to bring down flavor costs. Given many of the flavors are already being supplied by big mature companies, like Givaudan, I would expect there's not huge scope. But maybe they're viewing this as a niche premium product and achieving scale would bring in more competition on the flavor side and drive down prices? My guess is the biggest thing we could do here is ditch novel proteins in favor of soy and wheat, and see if there are ways to use a greater portion of cheaper less concentrated versions (e.g. some wheat gluten, instead of just protein concentrates). 
  3. Other: I'm curious what you think the other most important innovations are, and what the remaining ~35% of the cost pie is? I've heard distribution and retail inefficiencies are a major challenge on the retail price. But hear less on other factors that could reduce COGS.

Let me know if you'd be up for a chat some time -- I'm interested to learn from your experience on this. 

Replies from: alt_protein_vc
comment by alt_protein_vc · 2021-03-08T16:15:20.905Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Lewis,

Sorry for the delayed and long-ish reply here. 

Distribution and retail inefficiencies: 
I would concur that those are issues. For example, retailers and distributors typically take higher margins on plant-based products vs animal-based ones. I can't really give a good benchmark number here because it changes a fair bit based on country, how the retailer is positioned etc. 
That being said, I think the question worth asking is whether this is a tractable issue at all. My own take is that it isn't particularly tractable (at least in the next decade or two). In my opinion, there are largely two broad scenarios (neither near term) in which a retailer/distributor/foodservice player would have downward margin pressure on plant based meat products: 

i) The product's price, in particular, is literally bringing people into the store that otherwise wouldn't be there (so essentially operating somewhat like a "loss leader" product). Realistically, I think it's unlikely that the average American/European (not the vegans and vegetarians) is going to be picking their retail store based on plant-based meat's price any time soon. 

ii) The production prices come down to a point where it enters the consideration of consumers with higher price elasticities of demand. In other words, today's plant-based consumers are relatively price-insensitive so there's little incentive to drop margins as an intermediary because you're not really losing significant sales from keeping margins high. If one can get the base product prices to a point where the people considering purchase are more price-sensitive, then intermediary margins start to come under more pressure (but more on getting the base product price down below). In the case of beef in the US, I suspect that the key price point where it realistically enters this price elastic consumer's mind is probably a little under the price of retail store beef. I'm fairly uncertain about whether that price point is attainable though I would lean towards the proposition that it is (with just beef though) 

Important innovations: 
I'll preface by saying that while I think it's possible that plant-based meat can undercut beef on price in the next decade, I also think it's fairly unlikely that plant-based in the rough form of Beyond/Impossible will ever be price competitive with something like chicken in the US (even at scale). That's largely because of what I informally call "sidestream inefficiencies". Here's a quick sketch of how I see the larger system working. (simplified so please forgive any minor omissions though please let me know if you think I've majorly missed something) 

Plant based industry

Even in my conception of the most "efficient" system, the price of your plant-based meat (let's ignore non ingredient costs for the moment) is actually fairly dependent on how your ingredient provider is monetizing the sidestreams of your ingredients [This issue has already been highlighted by both McKinsey and Breakthrough with the case of pea starch].

So to price compete with chicken in the US, ultimately you need one of two scenarios to play out (I can't think of other ways but anyone else who looks at this area, please feel free to add): 

i) Find a plant that with minimal side stream creation and additives can be processed straight into a good chicken analogoue (maybe this plant exists but I'd deem this fairly unlikely naively). I'm skeptical that a simple soy/wheat flour product can do a good enough job here in terms of product performance but I could be wrong. 

ii) Find a strain of fungi/algae/bacteria that happens to taste like chicken with minimal processing and side streams, is high yielding, isn't a very "picky eater" when it comes to feed AND/OR chance upon a high quality feed which is currently a sidestream that is produced in large quantities, and maybe hated by the producer of the sidestream (for regulatory or other reasons) to the point where they may even pay you to take it off their hands (or at least give it away for close to free). This is a really high bar to reach but more likely than i) in my opinion.   

Summary:
In summary, I think it's worth having more explicit conversations about waste sidestreams/cheap feed pathways and associated organisms that might work well with them. Often people working on these kinds of pathways can be hard to fund from a venture capital perspective because with a totally new organism that the consumer is eating as a whole (in other words NOT Perfect Day's whey or Impossible's heme) the regulatory pathway can be quite challenging/long/uncertain in many jurisdications because there's just no safe history of consumption of the organism. 

TLDR
Humans are really picky eaters and tend to create inefficiencies/waste or low value streams when they eat plants posing as alternatives (making it expensive). So we need to find another relatively not so picky eater (like chicken but not sentient) that can turn low-value things into delicious protein with little waste to compete with animals on price.     

comment by IrenaK · 2021-02-25T22:16:10.445Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Lewis, since this is AMA, this one is not EA related.

I've spend most of my teenage and college years as a competitive international debater. How do you look back at your debate experience? The good and the bad. Would you recommend that EAs (and more people in general) take up debate? Or would you rather see it be replaced with some other form of structured discussion?

Also, the WUDC finals are one of my favorite competitive debates of all time, I would often use it when coaching my teams. I'd love to hear your take on it. What was it like for you to prop a topic which was already quite broadly opposed in society (making abortion illegal)? And what was going through your mind when you heard James present their definition and approach (that a fetus may very well be alive since conception but the mother has a right to kill it regardless)?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T23:46:19.201Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Irena and nice to meet a fellow debater! I'm pleasantly surprised that anyone still watches that WUDC final :) 

I had a great time debating, and think it  taught me a lot about common reasoning fallacies and problematic arguments. But I think you're alluding to debate's biggest flaw -- that it's not truth-seeking. It rewards you for finding evidence to support your pre-existing position, not to fairly assess the evidence and reach the best answer. 

About that WUDC final: it's funny, but it's so long ago now that it's mostly a blur. I mostly remember us wasting our prep time  debating some minor issues that turned out not to be relevant :) 

comment by Ben_West · 2021-02-25T20:31:57.411Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You recently said:

Israel has a really strong animal advocacy movement, has a strong vegan movement, but also a really strong animal welfare reform movement. And I actually think it’s a great example of how these two don’t need to be diametrically opposed. Israel has very high rates of veganism, but also some of the most progressive animal welfare laws.

Do you have a sense for why the animal advocacy movement is so strong in Israel? You mentioned that they have limited amounts of land for farming, but this seems more like an explanation for why the government is supporting alternative proteins than why there is a vegan/animal welfare movement.

I've heard claims that it was driven by this YouTube video, but I'm not sure how accurate those claims are.

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-26T21:26:34.436Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Nah, I don't really know. I'm always skeptical of claims that one event or activist ignited a huge change. And I'd note that Israel still has some of the highest rates of meat consumption in the world, despite having a vibrant animal welfare and alternative protein movement. But I'll leave to others with more knowledge of Israel's movement to speculate more here. 

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-24T23:26:05.638Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  1. What are your current views on egg-laying hen welfare in caged vs cage-free systems? It looks like mortality rates are higher in cage-free to start, but decrease over time and then match after around 10 years based on this meta-analysis.
  2. Are there worthwhile ways to try to speed up the decrease in mortality? Maybe there's enough industry incentive already?
  3. How likely do you think it is that the increased mortality rates (and any other issues) still outweigh the welfare benefits to egg-laying hens? Or, how long do you think it takes for the welfare benefits to outweigh the harms?
  4. Do you think it would have been better to go for a more demanding ask that avoids the increase in mortality in the short term? Is it too late to switch to one now, because we're aiming for similar standards everywhere?
Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:31:02.172Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  1. My current view is that cage-free systems on average relieve ~40% of the suffering of caged systems. As with the above estimate on broiler welfare, there's substantial uncertainty on that -- my 80% confidence interval is probably more like 20-80%. I really liked the new mortality meta-analysis, but I'd emphasize that mortality is just one proxy for welfare, and I think usually not a particularly good one (depending on the cause of mortality, total level, etc)
  2. We've funded work to address keel bone fractures, which are a leading mortality cause in cage-free hens. Some of our grantees, like CIWF, also work with food companies to advise them on higher welfare cage-free systems that can limit mortality. But I think there is already a big strong industry incentive, given mortality affects productivity, and do expect you'll see morality decline over time as the industry gains more experience running cage-free systems.
  3. I think it's very unlikely (<5%) that potentially increased mortality rates accompanying the adoption of cage-free systems outweigh the benefits. The mortality differences we're talking about are small (a few percentage points over the course of a year vs. e.g. 5% mortality for broiler chickens over 48 days), and the welfare benefits are big (in particular preference tests show hens have a strong desire to nest, perch, and dust bath -- all behaviors they can only perform in cage-free systems).
  4. No, I don't think it would have been better to go for a more demanding ask. Per the point above re broilers, I think we've learned that a more demanding ask risks jeopardizing all momentum on the issue. FWIW I'm also not sure a more demanding ask would have reduced mortality. E.g. the most common more demanding ask is for hens to be free-range, which results in higher mortality than indoor cage-free (though I think most free-range hens have better overall welfare due to more behavioral opportunities). 
Replies from: MichaelStJules
comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-27T01:02:41.381Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks!

It seems like there's a value judgement to be made on more instances of possibly very intense suffering and drawn out slowly suffering to death, and the chronic frustration and other suffering that comes from living in a cage. As someone who gives substantially more weight to more intense suffering than the average, I'm not convinced that this is a good tradeoff, and I don't know if preference tests could tell us much while getting ethics approval. I remember you mentioning that hens would hurt themselves to get out of cages in an EA Global talk, but I wonder if the pain is anywhere near that of suffering to death.

That being said, I don't have a good feel for how exactly they are dying, but I assume dying conscious and without painkillers is usually very bad.

With respect to 4 and a more demanding ask, I had in mind additional marginal improvements (possibly costly for the industry) that would guarantee mortality rates would not increase. Actually, it's total on-farm deaths that matter more to me than the rates, so just increasing the prices enough could reduce demand enough to reduce those deaths. I don't know what specifically, though.

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T02:00:53.719Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I find that even equally aligned and informed EAs have a very wide range of priors on how to compare acute vs. chronic suffering in animals. I agree that slowly dying probably almost always causes a lot of suffering, and dying of something like cannibalism seems particularly horrific. That's the main reason why I don't want advocates  to ban debeaking, at least until producers have worked out how to achieve much lower mortality rates. And I totally agree on the need for continued work to ensure producers install the highest welfare cage-free systems.

comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T13:05:28.005Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What is the most effective intervention for fish? Is anyone working on it? How many organizations are working on change for fish right now? What do we expect to achieve for fish in the next 2-3 years?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:00:39.449Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what the most effective intervention for fish is -- I think it's mostly too early to say. But here's a non-exhaustive list of some promising approaches, with an example of one group working on each:

  • UK corporate and policy reforms: Compassion in World Farming
  • European corporate reform: Albert Schweitzer Foundation
  • European legislative reform: Eurogroup for Animals
  • Undercover investigations: Essere Animali
  • Working with producers: Fish Welfare Initiative
  • Engaging certifiers: Aquatic Animal Alliance
  • Researching higher welfare methods: Humane Slaughter Association

I'm optimistic that in the next 2-3 years we can see some more corporate fish welfare policies and a number of new fish welfare standards from fish farming sustainability certifiers. I'm also hopeful that we'll see the first steps toward EU policy reform, though binding regulations will likely take longer.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-02-25T05:15:53.268Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What did you learn in your legal schooling/career that has been useful to your other work?

Do you have any recommendations for people who want to learn more about said useful thing(s) without going to law school?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:20:50.142Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah don't go to law school :) I think my legal schooling was most useful for understanding US litigation, legislation, and regulation, which is relevant to farm animal stuff and a few other EA causes like bio and AI policy.  I think you could learn as much through listening to some combo of  online courses, books, and podcasts on litigation, legislation, and regulation. E.g. I think books like America's Bitter Pill (on the passage of Obamacare) do a good job addressing a lot of the legislative and regulatory process pieces.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-24T23:36:27.490Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is Open Phil ever going to move Farm Animal Welfare out of U.S. Policy? :P

And given support for work on wild animals, it's not just farmed animals anymore, anyway.

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:22:00.981Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Haha, yes Farm Animal Welfare is only left in US Policy on our website (not internally) and that may soon change too. Watch this space :)

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-27T00:24:19.594Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What kind of specialized research expertise is missing most from the movement? It seems that Open Phil has been commissioning research from experts who aren't affiliated (or necessarily even value-aligned). In what areas do you think this is a good enough substitute, and in what areas should we get more value-aligned full-time researchers with specialized expertise?

Could you comment on economics, welfare science (farmed and wild), psychology, cognitive science/neuroscience, philosophy (e.g. philosophy of mind), statistics, and fields related to alt protein? Any others?

I've been personally leaning towards economics/statistics, but have been wondering if more generalist research is fine, although I feel it is much less neglected, given the competition I've faced in applying for positions and the impressive credentials of new hires in the space.

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T01:24:28.576Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah we've been commissioning a bunch of research from outside experts. In general we do prefer value-aligned researchers, though the expertise is typically more important. I'm most excited when the two align, as I think it has for instance on Cynthia Schuck and Wladimir Alonso, who are producing a series of welfare assessments for us.

In general I think our greatest needs are for expertise in welfare science / biology, economics / stats, and animal cognition / philosophy of mind. But I think the field as a whole has greater needs for alt protein specific scientific fields.

comment by mgc1234 · 2021-02-25T19:34:06.575Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What strategies do you view as most impactful in terms of moving producers who seem to have drawn a line in the sand against higher welfare initiatives, particularly pork and chicken producers?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:57:06.982Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You're right that pork and chicken producers are major obstacles to higher welfare initiatives, especially in the US. I think this will mainly come down to the biggest food companies (especially retailers and fast food chains) telling the producers that they have to change. And that in turn will mainly depend on the work of advocates in mobilizing consumers and the public to demand change.

comment by Ula · 2021-02-25T13:01:46.721Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What are the key challenges in alternative proteins production that we need to overcome to meet the meat :) price point?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:58:08.038Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I recommend the comments of alt_protein_vc above and my newsletter here

comment by lukasj10 · 2021-02-25T11:04:46.426Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Which issues/cause areas, do you think, could benefit the most from undercover investigation footage?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T00:59:54.582Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

General attention to new species and issues (e.g. the treatment fo farmed and wild-caught fish) and focused attention on companies and governments' failure to achieve reforms for other large groups of animals (e.g. caged hens).

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-02-25T01:06:31.786Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Given the industry funding and incentives in the alt protein space, where do charities and advocates have the biggest role to play?

How much do labelling laws actually matter?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T01:03:46.117Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A few places I think charities / advocates can play a major role: (a) lobbying for govt funding for alt protein R&D, (b) lobbying for a clear regulatory pathway for cultivated meat and novel plant-based meat ingredients (e.g. Impossible's heme),  (c)  educating investors and food companies on the business opportunity, especially around higher impact opportunities (e.g. plant-based fish) and unusual investment setups (e.g. long-term patient funding for deeper R&D).

I'm not sure how much labeling laws matter, and think it probably depends on the specific (e.g. laws merely requiring the product note it is plant-based are less insidious than ones requiring a big "imitation" label). On the pro labeling matters side I'd point to the history of margarine. On the con side I'd point to plant-based milks, which mostly don't use "milk" on their labels.

comment by Mappy (Mario) · 2021-02-26T20:56:15.944Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Apart from funding, are there other leverage points you see to move the animal welfare movement as a whole towards higher impact? As an example scenario: early hits causing other organisations to alter their strategy?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T01:06:46.147Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Potential other leverage points: (1) go to work at an existing animal group and help it better focus on high impact approaches, (2) start a new group focused on a high impact approach and encourage imitators, (3) write pieces about higher impact approaches that could be taken, e.g. on the EA Forum.

comment by Mathilde da Rui · 2021-02-26T03:21:10.097Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Lewis, I'd love to know if there are any particular aspects of research on existing, emerging or desirable strategies to promote the transition of agricultural subsidies away from animal (especially factory) farming and towards plant-based agriculture that you would like to see more of. Context - I'm beginning to design a MSc dissertation (in animal welfare science, ethics and law, UK-based) and think this would be a good area to generate a bit more work on, but it's obviously moving fast so I'd love your thoughts on any especially worthwhile approaches to this.

On another note, do you think social media advocacy for animals is at risk of reaching a banalisation/fatigue/desensitisation/maximum impact plateau or even decrease anytime soon, or do you see as being something worth continuing investing in fairly aggressively, as many organisations seem to be doing?

Thanks for your good work!

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T01:11:39.775Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Cool that you're designing a MSc dissertation on this! Please share it with me when you're done :)

I'm pretty skeptical of efforts to remove agricultural subsidies from factory farming, both because I think it's really hard and because I'm skeptical that subsidies have a large price effect on meat. (I think people sometimes confuse the fact that farmers really like subsidies with an assumption they must be lowering prices a lot -- I think they're often structured instead to prop up prices.) I'm more optimistic about seeking subsidies for plant-based meat research, and potentially for plant-based agriculture (though I'd note this is a huge field and many  protein crops are already heavily subsidized).

I'm unsure how many resources organizations should devote to social media. We generally don't fund much of this kind of work, so haven't looked deeply into it. I'm not too worried re fatigue, given my sense is our total penetration is still pretty low, but I think it's an open question of how much impact existing social media content has or whether it's mostly just preaching to the converted.

comment by Mappy (Mario) · 2021-02-25T21:47:28.373Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Are there any specific cases / guidelines where you think it might be better for individual donors to donate to specific animal welfare organisations directly rather than the EA animal welfare fund? (apart from perhaps tax reasons)

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T01:14:40.408Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think the EA Animal Welfare Fund is a good default option, but here are a few reasons people might prefer to give elsewhere:

  • You have a strong view that one approach is much more promising or relatively neglected, e.g. research on effective interventions or wild animal welfare.
  • You have a relationship with an effective group and enjoy the greater connection and insight into their work of supporting it directly.
  • You're aware of or able to fund unique opportunities that the EA Fund isn't,  e.g. political contributions or your friend's project.
comment by Mappy (Mario) · 2021-02-25T21:45:26.106Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What are some meaningful ways in which local groups can contribute to the animal movement?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T01:16:49.334Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A few ideas:

  1. Push for a policy that's political feasible at the local level, e.g. a foie gras ban or requirement that the city's public procurement buy less meat or only welfare certified meat.
  2. Coordinate with national groups to support larger campaigns, e.g. corporate campaigns.
  3. Focus on building talent and political power for the movement, e.g. lots of events etc.
comment by Sorin · 2021-02-25T20:25:32.174Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What possibilities exist to support and fund structured organizing around social theory and movement building based initiatives towards plant-based transitioning? In particular I am interested in the Canadian context, as I have not observed many efforts of collaboration towards building collective power and unity or a movement that revolves around structured organizing within the Canadian context. There are many organizations that seem to function within their own theory of change. However knowledge around movement ecology that combines the different theories into a healthy ecosystem does not seem to currently exist, or I did not stumble on it yet, so I am wondering if there are already any initiative towards this in the Canadian, or  if not, North American system, and the willingness and possibility to support them and fund them.

comment by Sive Gaudy · 2021-02-25T17:03:49.773Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How might we avoid making effective philanthropy seem paternalistic, or condescending?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T02:02:20.336Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is beyond my expertise, but I'd be interested to read a post on the topic :)

comment by akleinman · 2021-02-28T17:18:29.305Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Lewis! Where are we with in ovo sex determination technology at scale? Among the start ups and solutions so far (eggxyt, FFAR egg tech winners, seleggt) which are the most promising? Where are there still challenges?

More broadly, are there other neglected opportunities for scientific research to improve animal welfare ? Could genetic engineering play a role in improving animal welfare?

comment by Mappy (Mario) · 2021-02-25T21:49:09.235Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Can you please summarise/suggest top funding opportunities for individual donors by region?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T02:03:07.936Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a good idea for a future newsletter. In the meantime, I recommend ACE's standout charity list and our grants database.

comment by Warren · 2021-02-25T17:19:23.250Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What's your take on diversifying approaches to address the human element of diet change? The species that suffer the most also seem to have the most resistance to cultural diet change. As a movement, we seem to have gone all-in on chicken welfare commitments. What are some alternative interventions that you're excited about?

Replies from: LewisBollard
comment by LewisBollard · 2021-02-27T02:06:04.079Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think we should try lots of approaches to diet change, since I don't think we've yet found approaches that we have a lot of evidence that they robustly work. I'm not sure if we evidence that the species that suffer the most are the ones people are most resistant to stopping eating. E.g. there's some evidence people are most resistant to giving up dairy, but less resistant to dropping fish. I agree chicken welfare is a major movement focus, but I'm also very excited about any intervention with demonstrated potential to affect the largest numbers of animals.