This is the third post in our Foundational Questions series.
Animals are suffering around the world and advocates are also working globally to help them. There are several considerations that could affect the relative effectiveness of animal advocacy in different countries, similar to the considerations we would use to make other prioritization decisions.
- Importance/scale: How much animal suffering is there in a country? Are there an exceptionally large number of farmed animals? Are these animals suffering exceptionally more than those elsewhere? Is there potential for the amount of suffering in this country to greatly increase, e.g. when increasing wealth leads to more meat consumption?
- Tractability: How easy is progress in the country? Are corporations, consumers, or the government particularly willing to make changes that help animals (including cultural factors)? Is it easier to slow the growth of industries that harm animals than to shrink them? Are specific interventions possible only in certain countries? Are specific interventions more likely to work well in some countries than others?
- Neglectedness: Are there few individuals and organizations working to help animals currently? Are there a large number of potential supporters that just need more or larger organizations to rally around?
- Influence: How much does progress in this country affect progress elsewhere? Does this country have more influence over the global landscape, such that they could become an inspiration for other countries to make similar changes?
We have not investigated this question very thoroughly and are not comfortable making even tentative conclusions at this time. Although it seems quite challenging, we do think this is a tractable research question and would like to make more progress in the future.
Things That Could Change Our Mind and Areas of Future Research
The importance/scale and neglectedness questions seem easiest to answer. There is data, such as that provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, on the number of farmed animals raised in each country. We expect that we could find similar data on the conditions faced by farmed animals and any regulations that exist, at least for most developed countries. We do have some understanding of this data already. For example, battery cages that confine egg-laying hens were banned by the European Union in 2012 by a law finalized in 1999, while progress is ongoing in the United States.
We also expect that we could get a pretty good understanding of the animal advocacy organizations present in most countries. Understanding the public attitudes and number of potential supporters in many countries might be more difficult, but we could make some progress by speaking with animal advocates there or other methods. Of course, this becomes more difficult in countries that primarily speak non-English languages.
The tractability and influence questions seem more difficult. We can probably gain some evidence by looking at different political issues with more existing research. We could see how social change on issues similar to animal agriculture has occurred in the past, and ask, “Which countries have been the leaders in moral progress?”
The usefulness of different forms of activism might, for example, depend on the age of the movement, with some tactics being more useful for a young movement and some being more useful when there’s an existing track record of progress and the movement is well-established.
Research on tractability and influence becomes more difficult if we account for the level of activism in each country, and it’s unclear how the level of activism should factor into the broader question of which countries are more tractable. Level of activism could be an indication of tractability if it’s due to more willingness of the public to work for social change. But it could also be due to noise and individual decisions that don’t reflect differences that tell us which countries we should prioritize.
Understanding which countries have been forerunners in moral progress could also provide evidence for which countries have more influence on moral issues, although this is conflated with evidence for tractability because a shift in global discourse could affect some countries before others without the first-affected countries actually having more influence.
We could also look into the spread of other social practices and beliefs like the adoption of new commercial products (e.g. Coca-Cola), even though this evidence is weakened by the fact that different countries might have different levels of influence in different domains. For example, the United States could have a strong commercial influence but not as much of a moral influence.
It seems like a quantitative analysis could be useful here, such as scoring each country on the four factors described above and combining them into an overall score. We might then favor funding organizations that work in high-scoring countries. But we have only begun to explore this research question and could easily decide a different form of analysis would be more helpful.