Archived Version: December, 2014
|Primary Work Area||Industrial Agriculture|
|Website||Compassion in World Farming USA|
|Review Published||December, 2014|
|Current Version||December, 2019|
Compassion in World Farming is an international specialist organization for farmed animal welfare. Their mission is to end factory farming and advance the wellbeing of farmed animals globally. Founded in 1967 by a British dairy farmer against the practices of factory farming being introduced and the increasingly poor conditions in which animals were being kept, they have nearly 50 years of campaigning experience.
In 2011 they formed a branch specific to the United States. This review focuses on their newly opened US branch only. In the US, they are focused on changing corporate practices and policies through their food business program. This program seeks to influence retailers, food services and manufacturers to adopt animal welfare policies and practices that measurably improve the lives of farmed animals. In support of this, they run initiatives to harness public engagement to influence these companies. To a smaller extent they also support national legislative efforts as they pertain to banning close confinement systems and Ag-Gag bills.
What are their strengths?
Compassion USA shows a good understanding of the worst abuses that occur in animal farming, and have tailored their approach to focus on combating the areas with the highest levels of suffering: in the US, they focus on broiler chickens and laying hens. Through their efforts in corporate and public outreach, they have convinced key influencers which in turn impact larger numbers of people than would individual outreach. They actively seek to improve their work and conduct research into how to be more effective.
What are their weaknesses?
Many of Compassion USA’s programs focus on the problems with factory farms, but don’t highlight issues with raising animals for food in general. We have concerns that accepting the use of animals for food (even in better treatment conditions) will ultimately result in people pushing the boundaries of their treatment as cost-efficiently as possible. We also have concerns that encouraging more humane methods of production could increase the perceived need to use animals for food.
Why didn’t Compassion USA receive our top recommendation?
While we appreciate that Compassion USA acknowledges that factory farming is a particularly problematic area, and also that they further understand poultry to be an area of especially large amount of suffering, we have uncertainties about the likelihood that their specific type of campaigns will result in greater gains for animals than if they instead emphasized not using animals for food. Compassion USA’s efforts certainly help improve animals’ living conditions in the short-term, but we are uncertain as to long-term effects. We are open to the idea that their approach might produce significant long-term gains as well, but we don’t have enough evidence to support that theory at this time. Finally, the US office is a new entity in the USA, and hence does not have a strong track record at this time. Their positive impact may increase in the coming year with their continuing work. Incorporating their international mature parent organization into this review might result in increased impact.
This is a comprehensive review of the United States branch of Compassion in World Farming (Compassion USA). Read our comprehensive review of their international organization here.
Table of Contents
- How Compassion in World Farming USA Performs on Our Criteria
- Criterion #1: The Organization Has Concrete Room for More Funding and Plans for Growth
- Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Organization is Cost-Effective
- Criterion #3: The Organization is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
- Criterion #4: The Organization Possesses A Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
- Criterion #5: The Organization Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
- Criterion #6: The Organization Has Strong Organizational Leadership and Structure
- Criterion #7: The Organization is Transparent
- Supplementary Materials
How Compassion USA Performs on Our Criteria
Criterion #1: The Organization Has Concrete Room for More Funding and Plans for Growth
Compassion USA has a need for more funding. They currently receive supplemental income from their main office in the UK. They also don’t have enough staff to meet the demand of their projects, in particular assisting companies with writing corporate animal welfare policies. If they receive additional funding to the $300,000 annual budget for Compassion USA, they would expand their food business program as well as increase their digital advocacy work.
We are encouraged that the demand for new corporate policies is so great that Compassion USA is unable to assist all the companies that seek their help in developing them. Compassion USA’s input on these policies will likely result in stronger welfare improvements than if the companies were to write their own policies, so increasing their staff to meet that demand seems like a valuable use of resources. Although we are unsure of the amount of added value, we feel confident that animals being raised by these companies would benefit from Compassion USA’s assistance.
Given that advocates can reach large numbers of people with relatively little effort through digital means, expanding their reach in that manner also seems reasonable. Composing a video and promoting it strategically can easily reach hundreds of thousands of people, and Compassion USA has already demonstrated an ability to achieve this with a video they distributed in 2014.
We are unsure if Compassion USA will be able to raise enough money to meet the needs of their programs in future years, but they have recently hired a part-time fundraiser so it is likely that they will at least come closer to meeting their needs.
Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Organization is Cost-Effective
We were unable to estimate cost-effectiveness at the time of publication, but we may update this section in the near future.
Criterion #3: The Organization is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
Corporate outreach seems to have high mission effectiveness because it involves convincing a few powerful people to make decisions which influence the lives of millions of animals. This seems likely to be easier than reaching and persuading millions of consumers in order to accomplish the same goal. However, corporate outreach often deals with small welfare improvements. It’s not clear whether such improvements, even if relatively easier to achieve, are highly effective in the long term, since as well as changing conditions for animals, they may also influence public opinion, either towards concern for farmed animals or towards complacency with regard to industrial agriculture.
To encourage producers to adopt certain practices and policies, some organizations use an awards structure. This involves some sort of structure for evaluating a producer’s operation, both to see that changes are indeed taking place and to ensure that they continue to operate in that manner. These programs also involve publicly praising those organizations that comply with certain reforms, which thereby puts pressure on organizations not in compliance.
Public Support Campaigns
Change is often achieved through collaborative efforts of creating demand and influencing policy makers. Some organizations use forums like change.org or launch initiatives to garner public support to improve/change an issue. These efforts can be effective through the pressure they place on companies involved in that issue by showing that a significant number of people are against a certain practice or in favor of somehow amending the current methods being used, but other factors contribute significantly as well. Specifically, it is important that each campaign have a specific goal or “ask” of the company in question. We think these are likely also more successful when other companies have already complied with similar requests, and the campaign then targets the holdout company.
Compassion USA works to expose the suffering of animals in factory farms through investigations. These visual exposés are then made public, and they make an effort to get as much exposure from these as possible.
We believe that there is great value in these efforts. These investigations generate a large amount of public discussion about the treatment of animals in farms. It has been shown that meat consumption declines when these stories are in the media, and social media now provides a platform for free widespread sharing of the footage. This means that an extremely large number of individuals are exposed to their work. Additionally, the evidence of abuses provides materials for leaflets and videos, which can also be promoted publicly and result in a larger exposure. Lastly, these efforts provide the background information on farms that is necessary for legal and corporate reform.
Criterion #4: The Organization Possesses A Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
Compassion USA has a robust vision of success and failure at the global level, incorporating progress in several areas to create lasting improvements for farmed animals. They track the contributions of each of their programs to three broad goals addressing the immediate treatment of farmed animals through legislation and corporate policy, and their eventual treatment through spreading the belief that ending factory farming is essential for food policy. If they successfully achieve their goals, they will ultimately end factory farming. However, they make allowances for and in some cases actually promote more humane animal farming methods. This means that their vision of success, while robust in addressing many aspects of the systems that exploit farmed animals, is not, in our opinion, robust philosophically; it addresses primarily animal suffering while minimizing moral issues arising from the breeding, use, and death of animals for human purposes. We also focus most of our attention on the reduction of animal suffering, so we sympathize with their vision; however, we think it’s important not to lose sight of other moral perspectives.
While the US office has goals relating to all three aspects of Compassion USA’s overall strategy, the majority of their focus is on affecting corporate policy. Compassion USA measures the success of corporate policy work largely by the number of animals being used by companies which have received their awards for better animal welfare policies. Companies are required to report the number of animals they use in order to receive an award, and Compassion USA sets goals for the number of each type of animal affected in specific time periods so they can tell whether they are performing as expected. It is not clear what proportion of companies who receive awards from Compassion USA would have similar policies without their operations, or whether it is possible for companies to receive awards for policies they are not carrying out in full. However, it is clear that the policies required to obtain an award from Compassion USA are better for animals than industry standard practice (differences from standard practice vary: Good Egg award recipients must use only cage-free eggs). Compassion USA is also in a position to recognize at least some cases in which corporations rescind or otherwise do not follow the policies that led to their obtaining an award, because they conduct annual check-ins in which companies affirm that they are following the policies they have worked with Compassion USA to implement. Therefore while the number of animals Compassion USA helps may be smaller than the number used by corporations who have won awards, the latter does make sense as a measure of success.
Not all Compassion USA’s activities are as tightly embedded in feedback loops as their corporate policy work. For example they have run a Pastured Poultry Week program for three years, encouraging restaurants in particular cities to use pastured poultry in their restaurant for that week. Their efforts to measure the impact of this event have been mostly unsuccessful; while they’ve known the number of restaurants participating in each year, they have struggled to find out how many meals or animals were involved. To their credit, they recognize this as a problem in determining the effectiveness of the program and have been trying new ways to measure impact with each iteration of the program.
As with other organizations, their public-facing outreach is relatively difficult to tie to a number of animals affected and they measure its success by other indicators such as the number of articles written or the number of people they reach online. These indicators are similar to those used by other groups. Compassion USA places a high value on research and has worked to understand what strategies will help them succeed in this and other areas. For instance, they recently worked with an agency that pitched one of their videos to Upworthy, which greatly extended their reach with that video. They also decided that their main focus in the US would be on corporate outreach, and developed their strategy for that outreach, after conducting extensive research on the US chicken industry.
Criterion #5: The Organization Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
Successfully carrying out planned programs
As a global organization, CIWF has a history of affecting corporate policy and European legislation. Their legislative work starting in the 1980s has contributed to strong animal welfare legislation in Europe and in particular the United Kingdom. Their corporate engagement work is a somewhat more recent project, with the Good Egg Awards established in 2007 and other awards later. CIWF has less history in the United States, as their office here opened in 2011 and spent some time considering what course of action would allow CIWF to have the greatest impact before beginning direct work.
Programs leading to change for animals
Compassion USA’s programs in Europe have led to changes in that have benefitted animals. For instance, CIWF was among the animal advocacy organizations applying pressure towards bans on veal crates, barren battery cages, and gestation crates, and all of these methods of confinement are now illegal or restricted in the European Union. While we do not think they are solely responsible for these legal changes and it is difficult to trace all the factors involved in any legislative decision, they have clearly played an important role, including releasing footage from undercover investigations documenting cases in which bans aren’t followed, gathering signatures, lobbying, and holding protests.
On a global level, CIWF has also clearly played a part in influencing corporate policies. There are 287 million animals per year raised or used by companies which have worked with CIWF to become eligible for their good animal welfare awards. While some companies would use animals raised in higher-welfare systems simply as a matter of conscience or for business reasons, CIWF’s awards are undoubtedly motivating for some corporations and provide a higher baseline for animal husbandry than do legal minimum guidelines.
We have less evidence that Compassion USA’s activities have had an impact upon animals in the US. The Compassion USA food business team has worked with 12 corporations and 96 individual restaurants, and some of this work has already resulted in policies which help animals. But
so far most of their work in the US is at too early a stage to determine how many animals will be helped by it.
Criterion #6: The Organization Has Strong Organizational Leadership and Structure
The main Directors and management team at Compassion USA has been in place for about 3.5 years, and the CEO has been part of CIWF for 9 years. They have low turnover; they did have a Director of Food Business leave recently, but that was after a long stay of eight years.
Compassion USA has training program for new volunteers and an induction program for new staff. These involve orientations to the organization’s strategy and a visit to a farm so they learn about differences in farming methods.
We think they have a strong leadership structure and a good plan for bringing in new staff and volunteers. They provide details on their Board of Directors as well as some of their staff on their website, and the board and staff members listed have diverse backgrounds, but all have strong credentials.
Criterion #7: The Organization is Transparent
Compassion USA openly shares information online, and partially complied with our requests for more information. They publish their strategic plan on their website, and thoroughly discuss their history and goals. They also feature annual reports that highlight their successes, and a section on the site discussing their impact. We would like to see more public information about their failures/challenges in addition to their successes, but overall they are a transparent organization.
The following materials are supplementary research documents associated with our charity review process and are referenced in the Comprehensive Review.