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Animal Charity Evaluators works to find and promote the most effective ways to help animals. Currently, we promote farmed animal advocacy as the highest impact cause area. I hope to use this blog as an opportunity to explain that decision, and address any concerns about our work taking away focus from the suffering endured by animals in all different cause areas.
In an ideal world, enough resources would be available to address all sources of suffering. In reality, we are faced with the decision of how to help animals as much as possible with the limited time and money that we have. We can make our resources go further towards helping animals by focusing on certain areas.
Animal advocates should focus more efforts on helping farmed animals.
ACE uses three criteria to determine where to focus our efforts in order to reduce as much suffering as possible:
- Scale: How many animals are suffering because of the problem?
- Neglect: How much attention is already given to the problem?
- Tractability: Do we know of viable solutions to the problem?
The following chart illustrates scale and neglect in animal advocacy. While farmed animals account for over 99% of all animals used and killed by humans in the U.S., only 1% of donations to animal charities go to those that specifically focus on helping farmed animals. Even more staggering is that only 3% of total donations to charity in the United States go to either animal or environmental causes; assuming that half of that goes to animals (since we don’t have a firm number available), that means a paltry 0.015% of donations in the U.S. go to charities that specifically focus on farmed animals.
It seems clear that farmed animals deserve more attention—and funding—than they currently receive.
Currently, farmed animal advocacy is not in danger of receiving too much support.
While ACE promotes farmed animal advocacy, we do so knowing that there may come a time where we need to change our approach. For example, if we found that, through a significant and rapid shift, 50% of resources in animal advocacy were being devoted to farmed animals instead of the current 1%, we would consider reframing our approach to ensure that other animals are not ignored.
Unfortunately, this shift has not yet occurred. In fact, we recently updated the numbers for the donation allocation chart pictured above, and in the three years since we originally composed the chart, very little has changed. Farmed animals comprised 99% of animals used and killed by humans in 2013, and they still comprise 99% in 2016. Charities that focus specifically on farmed animals only received 1% of total funding in 2013, and they still only receive 1% of funding in 2016.
This shows that there is still a great deal of work to be done in creating a shift where a proportionally appropriate amount of resources is spent on behalf of farmed animals. It also suggests that there is very little danger of devoting too many resources to farmed animals at this time, and that we can therefore be strong in our messaging about the need to shift efforts to such an underserved population.
Using numbers to inform strategy does not indicate indifference to animals’ individuality.
All animals have their own interests, desires, and personalities. It can be helpful to use stories about individual animals to communicate the importance of caring about animals, because it is easier for us to empathize with individuals than with large groups. However, it’s important to note that animals aren’t only individuals when they are in a small group or if we happen to know their personal stories. They don’t lose their individuality when we talk about a large number of them, just like people living in New York City don’t lose their individuality when we say that 8.4 million people live there. We don’t think that each one of those people lack a personality simply because we don’t know each individual story.
Similarly, a chicken doesn’t only develop a personality when she is rescued from a farm, named, and taken to a sanctuary. She has that same personality even when she is in a battery cage surrounded by thousands of other chickens. This is why we should focus our efforts on helping animals in ways that affect the biggest populations. This way, we can make a difference for as many individuals as possible.
Using numbers to inform advocacy does not indicate a lack of concern for all animals.
In order to reduce as much animal suffering as we can, we advocate a distribution of resources to the areas of greatest need. That being said, we recognize that there are efforts outside of farmed animal advocacy that have the potential to help large numbers of animals as well. For that reason, we have designated several charities that work on other types of advocacy as Standout Charities. These include charities seeking to change the legal standing of animals, conducting research to guide animal advocacy, and working to better understand the ways that we can help reduce wild animal suffering.
Each life is inherently valuable, and we want to spare as many lives as we possibly can from suffering. Numbers help us understand and describe situations that are too large and pervasive for us to understand, which enables us to maximize our impact. Just like an animal shelter might make a tough choice to accept 20 puppies instead of 5 adult dogs because puppies are more “adoptable,” we need to use numbers to inform our work so that we can help as many individual animals as possible.
For those interested in a more in-depth look at our thinking, we thoroughly explain our position on cause prioritization in order to be as transparent as possible.
Edit 8/29/2016: “farmed animals account for over 99% of all animals killed or used by humans in the U.S.” was changed to “used and killed” to reflect the fact that we are only considering animals intentionally used and killed by humans and are not including insects or wild animals that are killed through means such as pesticides, pet cats killing wild birds, etc.
Really great stuff. One question – what constitutes the “other” category in the “money donated” chart?
Jon Bockman says
Hi Mike, the other category mostly represents charities who work in a large variety of areas (e.g. PETA), but also encompasses veterinary, guide dog, and wildlife groups.
Dan Phillips says
So it seems that some of the other is properly attributable to farm animals?
I’ve seen the “Number of Animals Killed or Used” chart before (or one substantially equivalent). One thing that bothers me (someone who cares about animal suffering, not animal death) about it is that is not adjusted to take into account (i) the number of days each animal is alive or (ii) the amount of suffering in each day for each animal. For example, broiler chickens only live 6 weeks or so but their suffering is probably greater per day (on average) than cattle that might live for 18 months. Indeed cattle may live net positive lives until they are sent to feed lots.
Does the chart include farmed fish?
Jon Bockman says
Good questions Dan!
1) Yes, some of the “other” category is attributable to farmed animals. It’s very hard to measure how much is spent on each cause area in organizations that work in multiple areas, which is why we restricted our analysis to organizations that specifically focus on farmed animals. It doesn’t seem like adding the amount spent on farmed animals for most of the groups in the “other” category would create a significant change in the numbers.
2) Considering the amount of suffering for each animals is something we would ideally like to include; however that would be a difficult and complex task, so for simplicity’s sake we just used the overall numbers for this chart. Farmed animals suffer immensely, so we still feel confident that if anything, using numbers specifying the amount of suffering per animal would skew the results even further in support of farmed animals. We’d still like to examine the level of suffering per individual animal though as a way to determine the most effective approaches to reducing/eliminating the largest possible amount of suffering.
3) The chart does not include farmed fish.
Lewis Bollard says
Great post Jon, and an excellent rebuttal to the odd view that trying to help the most animals is heartless. My only thought is that ACE’s “scale” criteria should include not just “How many animals are suffering because of the problem,” but also how severely each of them is suffering. Of course, this likely only reinforces the conclusion that we should focus on farm animals, since their suffering is both widespread and severe.
Jon Bockman says
Great point, Lewis. I agree it would be ideal to incorporate that information, even though it would likely lead to a similar conclusion. The severity of suffering is difficult to measure, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, so we’re keeping this in mind for the future.
Great and vitally important stuff. I take it as a good sign that the message has become so powerful that there is now pushback.
Will Petio says
I don’t disagree with the basic point (farm animals suffer more and on a larger scale than other animals and deserve more attention), but I don’t think “number of animals killed or used” is a good way to measure the need to compare against resource allocation. Obviously more farm animals are killed or used because that is the whole reason 99.9 percent of them exist, unlike dogs, for example. I’m not saying that’s a good thing; just a fact that doesn’t necessary say, to me, that 99% of animal advocacy money should go there. Also, do the numbers include all pets and research animals (since they all are “used’ in some sense) or just the ones that are killed? If the latter, that seems wrong, because they are all subject to abuse, neglect, etc. (a measure of need). Also, what about the wildlife? You should count all wildlife, or at least the number “killed or used” by people (including wildlife killed as “pests” – rats, mice, moles, etc.) On the spending side, I think you should allocate the “other” money based on some measure of how groups such as PETA and HSUS allocate their time. Multi-animal organizations are in fact putting lots of money into farm-animal advocacy, directly and indirectly (teaching animal welfare generally, meat reduction campaigns, etc.). I also don’t see any discussion of tractability, even though it is raised at the top. Money going to shelters is almost certain to save animal lives. It’s a little harder to see/know/measure the effect of money spent to advocate veganism (perhaps to my point, the spell-checker for this doesn’t recognize that word) to save farm animals (just for example; and not saying it shouldn’t be done). There is also the nuanced issue of how raising awareness of animal welfare generally (maybe even with dogs and cats) spills over into farm animals, often by design. If you really want a defensible measure of “need,” I think you need to come up with some measure that takes into account the total number of animals, the extent to which they are suffering, and the extent to which a dollar spent can reasonably be expected to alleviate that suffering. On the spending side, I think you need to allow for the idea that spending on animal welfare anywhere may increase animal welfare everywhere. Analyzing the numbers seems like a good thing, but I think it’s a lot more complicated than this post makes it. Just trying to help the discussion. Thanks for getting it started (or continuing it).
Jon Bockman says
Lots of interesting points Will, thanks for your feedback.
1) The numbers do include animals used; this was correctly shown in the chart, but you are right that the text just stated “killed.” The text has been updated to include “or used” to match the chart.
2) It’s difficult to compute the amount of resources that are allocated to farmed animals – please see my reply to Dan below for some more of our thoughts on that.
3) You make a good point; there are certainly other factors to consider! We’ve done the best we can with our available knowledge. Adding other factors would lead to larger levels of uncertainty, and to avoid muddying the data, we created this chart to showcase the comparison between the allocation of donations and the number of animals killed or used. As we learn more information, we may construct different charts to address some of the considerations you mention. We still feel like the chart in its current form is informative to guiding our advocacy.
Can you imagine if someone suggested this with humans? Then black lives don’t matter and all humanitarian work would be only in China.
Jon Bockman says
Hi Winter, That analogy doesn’t seem appropriate. We never state that the lives of other animals don’t matter; we are simply trying to help as many animals as possible. You can read more about our mission and vision in our strategic plan.
I understand you don’t state some lives don’t matter, but by effectively criticizing, with poor evaluations, those groups that work on, for example, spay/neuter or laboratory issues, that is the message. ACE is saying, give to farmed animal charities because they help the most animals. Anyone is free to do that, but in fact all these issues matter, all these animals need help, and when we set up a hierarchy of caring and choose to ignore whole areas of suffering, and even condemn those (through ratings) who work to eliminate such suffering, we ignore the basic tenet of all animal rights work: we don’t have to choose. It all needs doing so let’s get busy and do it all. I don’t think people should have to choose between pigs and rats, or pigs and dogs, even as a first step. I don’t think we should narrow giving; we should enlarge it.
Jon Bockman says
We allow groups to veto publication of our reviews, so they have a choice on whether or not the review is listed on our site. Our purpose is not to be a watchdog group, or to “rate” charities, but rather to identify those that we feel are doing the most impactful work.
Unfortunately, while you are correct that animals need help in many different areas, we do have to make a choice. That doesn’t mean that we are “ignoring” certain animals. We care about all types of suffering, but it makes sense to focus on the areas of greatest suffering. There simply isn’t enough money and resources to spend as much time as we should in all cause areas, which is why we do the work that we do; we’re trying to prevent suffering on as large of a scale as possible with the resources that we do have available. The blog summarizes our position on that, and also notes that we would reconsider our approach if we felt that too many resources were being directed to farmed animal advocacy. Right now, we don’t have that concern.
Our efforts aren’t solely trying to shift money within animal advocacy. We are also working to attract more non-animal donors to animal causes by virtue of providing quality evaluations of high performing charities, thereby giving these prospective donors more confidence that an investment in animal advocacy is worthwhile.
And thus, back to my point: If we follow your reasoning, black lives don’t matter and all human aid work should be focused in China. We do sometimes have to make choices, but you make a huge assumption that the best way to help is based on numbers of animals. Here are some numbers: Two out of 3 vegans I know, including myself, became vegan because of experiences with non-farmed animals.
j vasic says
It would seem to me that vegan advocacy groups have a greater chance of reducing animal death and suffering since they are getting at the root of the problem, keeping people from eating animals, but that isn’t factored into your rating system. It’s very hard to caculate how many animals were saved by a young person going vegan or reducing animal consumption on their way to becoming vegan. Exposing poor conditions on a facotory farm is important but it’s putting a band-aid on the challenge of changing peoples mindset as to how they eat.
The idea you are going to evaluate other charities and rank them based on the above criteria seems flawed and a way to generate more income for your own biased belief system while discounting the work that other groups do.
Do your numbers take into account fish being pulled out of the ocean? This is happening by the billions and they are suffering.
Jon Bockman says
I’m not sure what you mean by saying that vegan advocacy groups have a greater chance of reducing animal suffering – many of our recommending charities could be considered vegan advocacy groups. Exposing conditions on a factory farm seems like a strong motivator for people to change their diet.
The three factors we mention above are simply a heuristic we use to prioritize cause areas. The criteria we use to evaluate animal charities can be found on our site in both a summary and detailed version. They are designed to help us identify strong organizations working in effective areas. Of course, there is subjectivity involved in these evaluations, which is why we are highly transparent about all of our beliefs and methods.
The above numbers don’t include farmed fish. If we did include farmed fish, and the wild caught fish that are used as food for farmed fish, it would only much more heavily skew the numbers in favor of the argument we’ve made in this blog. We have written extensively about fish on our page about fish number calculations.
Jon Bockman says
Note: The chart in this post does not include insects, or wild animals that are killed through means such as pesticides. While humans kill enormous numbers of these animals, our overall pattern of interaction with them is very different than with animals which are bred specifically for our use.
tobias leenaert says
Shouldn’t “intensity of suffering” be also a criterium? There can be suffering that’s abundant, tractable and neglected, but it could be much lower in intensity than other forms of suffering…
Allison Smith says
Good question! In our more formal writing and thinking about cause prioritization, we use importance as a criterion which encompasses both scale (as discussed here) and the amount that animals stand to benefit from efforts to address their suffering. We can actually think of that as composed of two concepts, the intensity of their existing suffering and the quality of life they’d have after we intervene, or just one, the amount of suffering we’d expect to reduce.
Currently there’s very little reliable information available about the intensity of suffering animals undergo in different circumstances, because science tends not to prioritize nonhuman animals’ experiences. So for this blog post we simplified to scale, about which there is much more reliable information.
One point that’s relevant here that I don’t see mentioned is that one of the reasons we see such an imbalance between farmed and companion animal cause donations is due to the sheer money and efforts funded by industries that profit from farming animals opposing organizations that are working on farm animal welfare, and subverting the argument.
The scurrilous attacks on the Humane Society of the US by HumaneWatch and Protect the Harvest, with the messaging that HSUS “only spends 1% on animal shelters,” is the best example of efforts to subvert funds going to farm animal welfare.
I think it’s important to recognize the underhanded strategies of the opposition that attempt to manipulate which animals and policies get attention.