|Type of Work||General Animal Rights Industrial Agriculture General Animal Welfare|
|Website||Albert Schweitzer Foundation|
|Review Published||November, 2016|
|Archived Versions||December, 2014|
What does the Albert Schweitzer Foundation do?
The Albert Schweitzer Foundation (ASF) does not make grants like a typical foundation, but rather works as a non-profit. They conduct corporate outreach campaigns encouraging companies to adopt cage-free policies or to provide additional and improved vegan options. They run a variety of vegetarian outreach campaigns involving tours to different cities and actions by local groups of volunteers. Additionally, their scientific division researches topics related to animal welfare and ways to improve the quality of their work.
What are their strengths?
ASF understands the value of setting goals to ensure that they consistently achieve quality results. They measure the impact of their work and actively look for ways to improve their materials and strategy. Through their work with corporations, they help create changes in key influencers that can ultimately affect large numbers of animals. They have developed a system for evaluating the success of their corporate work by considering both the number and impact of their corporate victories. ASF collaborates with many other organizations and is willing to share information and partner to achieve greater goals.
What are their weaknesses?
Though ASF has expanded their corporate outreach internationally and is expanding some of their programs to Poland, they primarily work in Germany. Their reach is relatively limited because the majority of their work impacts a single, relatively small country. Implementing a corporate policy in Germany would have about one quarter the impact of implementing a similar policy with a company with the same market share in the U.S., but we doubt it takes only one quarter the effort.
Why didn’t the Albert Schweitzer Foundation receive our top recommendation?
We think ASF is extremely smart and strategic about their activities, and we admire their commitment to using up-to-date research in all aspects of their work. However, we have reservations about the current and potential size of their reach because they work primarily in Germany. We are encouraged that they plan to expand some of their programs to Poland, but we note that they do not yet have a substantial track record of success in their work outside of Germany.
Albert Schweitzer Foundation has been one of our standout charities since December 2014.
- Criterion #1: The Charity Has Concrete Room for More Funding and Plans for Growth
- Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Charity is Cost-Effective
- Consumer Outreach
- Corporate Outreach
- Scientific and Evaluative Work
- Lobbying and Networking
- International Expansion
- Social Media and Media
- Legal System
- Changes Since 2014
- All Activities Combined
- Criterion #3: The Charity is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
- Criterion #4: The Charity Possesses A Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
- Criterion #5: The Charity Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
- Criterion #6: The Charity Has Strong Leadership and Long-Term Strategy
- Criterion #7: The Charity Has a Healthy Culture and Sustainable Structure
- Why does a significant portion of ASF’s outreach focus on dietary change, e.g. reducing meat consumption, rather than directly shifting public attitudes?
- Does ASF worry that focusing on some of the most extreme confinement practices could lead to complacency with other forms of suffering farmed animals endure or with meat consumption?
- It seems VEBU is having substantial success promoting plant-based diets in Germany. Why does ASF also work in this area, instead of focusing on filling the gap in working for welfare reforms?
How the Albert Schweitzer Foundation Performs on Our Criteria
Criterion #1: The Charity Has Concrete Room for More Funding and Plans for Growth
In 2014, we said that the Albert Schweitzer Foundation was financially stable and had room to use more funding, including for media and communications and by hiring an assistant to the Executive Director. They have since increased their yearly budget by around $300,000 and made hires in the areas mentioned. They have also expanded several of their programs and have begun working in some new areas, such as providing legal support for animal protection organizations in some German states which have recently gained the right to sue on behalf of animals.
ASF hopes to continue expanding in the future. They see two main possibilities for expansion: further work outside of Germany, and expanding corporate outreach inside Germany to new populations of animals, such as farmed fish. ASF is currently working to extend their corporate outreach and Vegan Taste Week programs to Poland, which they’ve identified as the most promising country due to its cultural similarity to Germany, nearby location, and strong grassroots animal advocacy movement. If that goes well, they have identified several other Eastern European countries where they could expand next. We think this plan makes sense, but because ASF is still in the initial stages of working in Poland, we don’t have much information about how well they will handle the specific challenges of working internationally, such as maintaining staff cohesiveness despite cultural differences and geographic separation.
ASF has recently worked with German companies on farmed fish welfare, a new area for them and an underserved area for the animal advocacy movement in general due to the large amount of suffering involved. We think ASF is clearly well-positioned to undertake this work, both because of their strong engagement with the science on the subject and their experience with corporate outreach in both cage-free campaigns and campaigns to introduce more plant-based options. We find it likely that they can continue to expand their corporate outreach programs with German companies, largely because they are open to many possibilities for expansion, including expansion to international activities by German companies as well as to new types of policies such as those benefiting farmed fish.
From 2013 to 2015, ASF’s budget grew by roughly 18% each year. We think that they would probably be able to maintain that rate of growth while working about as efficiently as they have been, which this year means they could absorb an increase in funding of at least $150,000 to $200,000. We can’t predict exactly how any organization will respond upon receiving more funds than they have planned for, so this estimate is speculative, not definitive. We could imagine a group running out of room for funding more quickly than we expect, or coming up with good ways to use funding beyond what we have suggested. Our estimates are indicators of the point at which we would want to check in with a group to ensure that they have used the funds they’ve received and are still able to absorb additional funding.
Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Charity is Cost-Effective
The Albert Schweitzer Foundation runs several programs; we estimate cost-effectiveness separately for each program, then combine our estimates to give a composite estimate of their overall impact. Note that all estimates factor in associated supporting costs including administrative and fundraising costs. Where we give estimates as ranges, they represent our 90% subjective confidence intervals; that is, we expect the true value to be within the range given in 90% of cases.1 We think this quantitative perspective is a useful component of our overall evaluation, but the estimates of equivalent animals spared per dollar should not be taken as our overall opinion of the charity’s effectiveness, especially given that we choose not to account for some less easily quantified forms of impact in this section, leaving them for our qualitative evaluation.
We estimate that in 2016 ASF will spend 39% of their budget, or around $380,000 (€349,000), on in-person and online outreach to consumers. The in-person outreach will include the distribution of between 350,000 and 480,000 leaflets, as well as various activities done by over 30 local action groups, and ASF’s cooperation with other groups on community-building and consumer outreach projects including the Veganes Sommerfest Berlin. As a result of both in-person and online outreach, between 42,000 and 60,000 people will participate in ASF’s Vegan Taste Week program, which uses an email newsletter and supporting website to help people change to a more plant-based diet.
We estimate that in 2016 ASF will spend about 28% of their budget, or around $270,000 (€248,000), on corporate outreach. This results in some companies adopting new policies, and these policies probably result in reduced suffering for animals. We estimate that ASF’s corporate outreach will help cause between 30 and 40 policy changes affecting between 66 million and 100 million animals, most prominently laying hens, accounting for the risk that some companies might not follow through with their commitments. The policies include moving laying hens to cage-free systems, prohibiting debeaking of laying hens, and broader policies promoting animal welfare and the availability of vegan options.
Scientific and Evaluative Work
We estimate that in 2016 ASF will spend 16% of their budget, or around $160,000 (€143,000), on scientific and evaluative work. This includes writing between 24 and 40 articles summarizing existing research on topics like farmed animal welfare for ASF’s website, which are referred to by advocates and the media and will be cited in at least 6 books in 2016. It also includes working with students and universities, including work that helped establish a course of study in vegan food management at one university. Finally, it includes some evaluation of ASF’s consumer outreach programs.
Lobbying and Networking
We estimate that in 2016 ASF will spend about 6% of their budget, or $57,000 (€52,000), on lobbying and networking. Recently, this work has included correcting the German translation of an E.U. directive2 to be more favorable to the animals concerned and in line with its interpretation in other countries, as well as supporting a petition to the German government to end factory farming. It also includes work that ASF has done in collaboration with other organizations, such as meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture and organizing demonstrations and conferences.
We estimate that in 2016 ASF will spend about 6% of their budget, or $55,000 (€50,000), on expanding internationally. This includes time spent deciding where to expand as well as the initial expansion of some of ASF’s programs to Poland in late 2016.
Social Media and Media
We estimate that in 2016 ASF will spend about 4% of their budget, or $42,000 (€38,000), on social media outreach and other communications, including their blog and Facebook page. We estimate that this year the videos they share will get between 120,000 and 170,000 unique views to 95% of the video length. This gives us a cost of between $0.24 and $0.30 per video view to 95%. However, we note that users also engaged with ASF’s content in many other ways, such as watching parts of videos, reading text posts, and reading their newsletter, so the cost per engagement is lower. Throughout 2016, ASF has also had between 95,000 and 110,000 active subscribers to their newsletter. This metric doesn’t directly figure into our cost-effectiveness calculations because the subscribers are already accounted for in the figures of people reached by ASF’s outreach.
We estimate that in 2016 ASF will spend about 2% of their budget, or $21,000 (€19,000), on supporting court cases to help animals, including one case which they hope will end the use of gestation crates in Germany. Animal protection groups have recently gained the ability to sue under certain laws in several German states, and while ASF is not currently able to exercise this right directly, they have been working to support other groups that are.
Changes Since 2014
Since 2014 ASF has started to work more outside of Germany, both by extending their corporate outreach work to include activities of German companies in other countries and by moving towards extending their other work into Poland. They have also made some changes in the types of consumer outreach that they do, such as discontinuing a program that places advertisements on trucks and de-emphasizing their Pig Mobile Tour.
All Activities Combined
To combine these estimates into one overall cost-effectiveness estimate, we need to translate them into comparable units. This will introduce several sources for errors and imprecision, so the resulting estimate should not be taken literally. However, it will provide information about whether ASF’s efforts are comparable in efficiency to other charities’.
We use our impact calculator for leafleting and an estimate of the impact of the Vegan Taste Week program to find that ASF spares between 1 and 10 animals from life on a farm per dollar spent on consumer outreach, estimating that one Vegan Taste Week participant makes about 25% of the dietary change of someone who pledges to go vegan for the month of January through the Veganuary program, a similar program for which we have better data available on its impact. We use a separate impact calculator for social media to find that ASF spares between 0 and 0.2 animals per dollar spent on social media and media.
We consider the number of animals affected by ASF’s corporate policy victories, the extent to which ASF worked with other groups to achieve those victories, and the proportion of suffering alleviated by the policy changes to estimate that ASF spares an equivalent of between -250 and 550 animals per dollar spent on corporate outreach.3, 4
We won’t try to convert the results of ASF’s other programs into these units; it is too difficult in some cases to disentangle ASF’s efforts from those of other groups, and in other cases to confidently estimate any short-term impacts on animal suffering.
We weight our estimates by the proportion of funding ASF spends on each activity to estimate that in the short-term, ASF spares between -100 and 150 animals per dollar spent.5 We have also run parallel calculations to estimate that this means ASF spares animals between -60 and 100 years of suffering on farms per dollar spent.6 Because of extreme uncertainty even about the strongest parts of our calculations, there is currently limited value in further elaborating these estimates. Instead, we give weight to our other criteria. We also exclude more indirect or long-term impacts from this estimate, which could result in it being an underestimate of overall impact. Because charities have varying proportions of different types of impact, this makes our quantitative estimates particularly difficult to use to compare charities.
Criterion #3: The Charity is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
Inspiring individual consumers to make animal-friendly changes affects animals by reducing the demand for animal products. Increasing the number of vegans and vegetarians could also lead to greater support for new animal-friendly policies, such as the institutional adoption of plant-based products. We think that outreach targeted to individual consumers might even be a necessary precursor to more institutional change. ASF engages in leafleting, a mobile advertisement tour, and regular email communications.
A mobile advertisement tour can be an efficient way of promoting a message to large groups of people at low cost. However, because these tours are often continuously mobile, people cannot engage on a personal level unless the tour is stationary, in which case the reach is limited. Such tours can also provide a context for conversations about the treatment of farmed animals, and also serve as a hub for other types of related grassroots outreach like leafleting.
Using leaflets and other grassroots materials to inspire individual consumers to make animal-friendly changes affects animals by reducing the demand for animal products. Increasing the number of vegans and vegetarians could also lead to greater support for new animal-friendly policies, such as the institutional adoption of plant-based products. Still, the impact of grassroots outreach seems limited relative to the impact of other interventions. Even if viewers and readers make individual changes, they might not influence many others to do the same. By comparison, a change in corporate policy or the law can influence many people’s behavior and might have a greater indirect impact on social norms and the growth of the animal protection movement.
Corporate outreach seems to have high mission effectiveness because it involves convincing a few powerful people to make decisions that 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, the gains achieved through corporate outreach are often small welfare improvements. It’s not clear whether such improvements, even if easy to achieve, are highly effective in the long term. Small welfare reforms may improve conditions for animals, but they may also influence public opinion, either towards greater concern for farmed animals or towards complacency with regard to industrial agriculture. We expect the impact on public opinion to be favorable for animals, overall.7
ASF publishes scientifically informed articles about animals, vegan health, and the relationship between animal agriculture and the environment. This work does not impact animals directly, but it may help other organizations, animal advocates, and the media to supply the public with more accurate information.
ASF also researches effective advocacy, which can play a pivotal role in how successful an organization can be. For example, a group might expertly carry out a particular intervention, but if that intervention isn’t effective (or if it has negative effects), then the group is not as impactful as they could be. They may even unintentionally cause net harm. Evaluating and conducting research helps organizations maximize their impact. Since ASF shares their research publicly, they benefit the entire advocacy community.
Collaboration with Universities
ASF collaborated with a German university to create a bachelor’s degree in vegan food management. We have little evidence regarding the effects of such a program, largely because to our knowledge it’s the first of its kind. Training leaders in the vegan food industry seems to have potentially high mission effectiveness. If graduates of the program are able to successfully produce and market alternatives to animal products, that might magnify the impact of grassroots outreach by making it easier for individuals to avoid buying animal products.
Criterion #4: The Charity Possesses a Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
We think that ASF has a particularly strong understanding of success and failure.
To ensure that their impact grows consistently, ASF sets detailed performance goals each year and continually evaluates whether they are meeting those goals. They set achievable and measurable goals in almost every area, including finance, outreach, and media.
Because they realize the complexity of measuring the success of corporate outreach, ASF uses a system of “impact points” based on the level of change and the size of the company involved to assess their progress. ASF actively seeks to maximize the impact of their corporate outreach work by focusing on campaigns that can have a big impact relative to the amount of resources they require. For example, ASF has focused on cage-free and anti-beak-trimming campaigns. Given that chickens make up the vast majority of farmed animals, campaigns that affect chickens could be highly impactful. On the other hand, ASF no longer actively campaigns against foie gras, even though their foie gras campaigns were having some success. Foie gras campaigns likely affect a smaller number of animals than cage-free or anti-beak-trimming campaigns with similar investments in each.
ASF has a science department which looks at studies related to their work and evaluates current legal opportunities and restrictions. The work of this department, along with ASF’s organization-wide objectives, indicates that ASF is actively taking measures to maximize the impact of their work, as well as working to bolster the credibility of the animal movement.
Criterion #5: The Charity Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
Have programs been well executed?
ASF has a strong track record of success, particularly with corporate outreach. One strategy that ASF has found to be successful is benchmarking. ASF ranked German supermarket chains according to the availability and quality of their vegan options. This project led to conversations with those chains seeking to improve their rankings, and some chains improved their vegan selection.8
Between 2003 and 2010, ASF coordinated cage-free campaigns that successfully convinced all major German supermarket chains to stop selling eggs from caged hens. Their campaigns were well-timed to align with a recent ban on non-enriched battery cages by the European Union, meaning that producers could more easily switch their production method since they were already making some changes. ASF continues to run a Cage-Free Germany campaign to reach other branches of the German food industry.
Recently, a German retailer expressed interest in working with ASF to develop policies regarding the welfare of farmed fish. Fish welfare policies are relatively unusual, and ASF worked with a consultant and developed a plan for improving trout welfare. The consultant is currently developing an educational program for trout farmers, paid for by the German retailer. The retailer has expressed interest in developing similar plans to improve the welfare of other kinds of fish.
Since developing a successful corporate outreach program in Germany, ASF has expanded their corporate outreach internationally. With the cooperation of The Humane League, they successfully pressured Mondelez International, an American multinational food company, to make a global cage-free commitment.
ASF has also contributed to research. They survey participants of their Vegan Taste Week program to investigate ways to improve their outreach. They publish their methodology and results for the benefit of other groups. They’ve also published information about the treatment of farmed animals and standard practices in animal agriculture. Their research has been referenced by politicians, authors, and other organizations.9
Have programs led to change for animals?
ASF’s corporate outreach programs have led to demonstrable changes for animals. Most notably, they helped determine the way the German egg industry responded to the ban of non-enriched battery cages. ASF’s cage-free campaigns bear a large portion of the responsibility for the industry’s transition to a mainly cage-free model instead of to enriched battery cages. ASF reports that, since the year 2000, the market share of caged eggs in Germany has dropped from 87% to about 10%.
ASF has 37 local volunteer groups that conduct public outreach. They engage people in discussions about animal welfare and encourage people to sign up for Vegan Taste Week. The effects of grassroots outreach programs are very difficult to measure and track. The available evidence is enough to be suggestive that ASF has had a positive effect, but it is not enough to determine the magnitude of that effect with confidence.10 However, we think that individual outreach can help bring about more institutional change, and ASF is among the charities that most conscientiously test their own programs in this area.
Criterion #6: The Charity Has Strong Leadership and Long-Term Strategy
Mahi Klosterhalfen, CEO of ASF, takes a critical approach to his leadership at ASF. In our conversation with him, he noted that he had been too slow to realize that they should hire more support staff, although they have now hired a personal assistant for Klosterhalfen and a social media staff member so Klosterhalfen can work on more demanding tasks. He also serves on Compassion in World Farming’s board of trustees, indicating a cooperative approach and the potential for him to learn from another established animal welfare charity. He has worked as CEO of ASF since 2007, and our impression is that he also engages thoughtfully with the effective altruism community, working to understand how he and ASF can be more effective.
ASF only has three members on their board of directors. While this could be the right decision for ASF, and growing a German-speaking board with the right qualifications could be especially difficult, we generally find that having a larger board helps an organization by providing more diverse perspectives and connections, and helps to avoid stagnation or getting locked into suboptimal approaches. Their board includes a judge and a lawyer who was formerly a judge. Having qualified board members is important for strong organizational leadership. Klosterhalfen himself is the third board member. While it is common and reasonable to have the CEO of an organization also on the board, it can be concerning because we want to ensure the organization is flexible and incorporates diverse perspectives. Because we consider Klosterhalfen to be particularly open-minded and self-critical, this is less of a concern. Also, ASF seeks out feedback from several peer leaders such as Sebastian Joy at VEBU and Ria Rehberg at Animal Equality Germany, which could provide similar benefits to having a larger board.
ASF’s mission is to “relieve as much suffering as possible,” and our impression is that they evaluate their own programs based primarily on the amount of suffering they relieve. We support ASF’s choice to focus on improving farmed animal welfare and promoting plant-based diets because we consider farmed animal protection to be the most promising area for doing the most good for animals, other things being equal. ASF’s framework for making progress in these areas also makes sense to us. The framework has four “pillars” of change:
ASF’s work seems to be playing a key role in supporting the broader farmed animal advocacy movement. By pushing for better animal policies in Germany, they set an example for other countries. We are particularly excited about the potential for their work on farmed fish welfare to inspire other companies. Importantly, they are also directly leveraging these policies to push forward international progress, campaigning for German companies to adopt better policies internationally. Their expansion into Poland could help with this given the traction it could create in Eastern Europe. ASF is also working, both internationally and in Germany, to help the farmed animal movement use momentum from welfare reforms to push for plant-based eating and policies, which we see as a very important project for the animal movement over the next decade.
Criterion #7: The Charity Has a Healthy Culture and Sustainable Structure
Our impression is that the ASF team maintains healthy relationships and has a relatively high amount of structure in their work, such as a wiki with new staff training materials. They seem to make and stick to long-term plans, such as their multi-year campaign to end debeaking in Germany. ASF has maintained a consistent and growing income over the past several years without any fluctuations that might indicate financial instability.
Several of their campaigns involve working with other organizations, showing that they are open to collaboration. They work primarily in Germany, but conduct campaigns with other groups from around Europe and the United States. They regularly engage in discussion with other advocacy leaders and make many of their materials available to other groups.
ASF has a transparency section on their website and adheres to standards for NGOs by Transparency International Germany. They use the Social Reporting Standard to write annual reports, which shows that they are being thorough in their writings and conscious of making their materials useful and easy to navigate. The Social Reporting Initiative, which manages the Social Reporting Standard, recognized both their 2012 and 2013 reports as “outstanding” implementations of the standards, although ASF did not seek out this recognition in 2014 and the 2015 acknowledgements have yet to be given out. ASF cooperated fully with our questions during the evaluation process.
Why does a significant portion of ASF’s outreach focus on dietary change, e.g. reducing meat consumption, rather than directly shifting public attitudes?
Critics argue that a strong focus on dietary change isn’t supported by historical examples or other empirical evidence.11, 12, 13 Some argue that successful social movements have focused their rhetoric on the institution they opposed rather than on individual behavior supporting that institution.14 Critics also believe it is difficult to build a mass movement when the perceived criteria for acceptance in the movement is a lifestyle change, and that a consumer focus provokes less moral outrage than focusing on the institution, thus missing an important driver of activism and subsequent social change.
ASF feels that a focus on dietary change in some of their programs, such as leafleting, is more likely than other approaches to lead to immediate behavioral change that directly spares animals. If people simply change their attitudes with respect to farmed animals, that might not lead to actual impact for animals. After all, many people currently care about animals, but relatively few are vegetarian or vegan.15 It might actually be easier to change individuals’ attitudes after convincing them to change their diets, since they will no longer need to reconcile their compassion towards farmed animals with their practice of eating them.
In general, however, ASF’s approach seems more focused on incremental change than on building a mass movement, which may be the real underlying difference between the two sides.
Does ASF worry that focusing on some of the most extreme confinement practices could lead to complacency with other forms of suffering farmed animals endure or with meat consumption?
Critics argue that humane reforms (e.g. bans on battery cages) might lead people to think that farmed animals no longer suffer and that helping them is no longer a priority.16 Some cite as evidence that the animal agriculture industry markets itself as humane and ethical, which suggests this messaging actually benefits those companies.17 However, this may only reflect gains to individual companies from positioning themselves as the most humane option.18 There isn’t much evidence that this kind of marketing helps the industry as a whole, and there’s weak evidence of a negative correlation between media coverage of animal welfare and meat consumption.
Since humane reforms often involve working directly with food industry companies, this can give the public the impression that these companies treat their animals well when this is not the case, especially when animal advocates are incentivized to make the humane reforms seem like drastic improvements when animals still suffer substantially.19 Critics would also argue that, empirically, humane reforms such as banning battery cages reduce only a very small portion of the harm of animal agriculture, if any, so they are not the most cost-effective use of time.20, 21, 22
ASF has not seen evidence of increased complacency among corporations as a result of their achievements thus far, as companies have often been more willing to work with them after making progress on some issues. It’s not clear whether they would be aware of increased complacency among consumers as a result of their work.
As activists and potential activists notice ASF’s progress, their grassroots network (and the animal advocacy community in general) grows and can push for better animal welfare policies in the future. Also, making institutional progress for animals could increase the credibility of the animal advocacy movement, as it becomes clear that animal advocates are not just passionate about changing their personal diets; they are also capable of making significant institutional changes.23
The success of humane reforms also establishes moral discussions of animal agriculture as an important and tractable topic in the public domain, which seems important for further progress. It may even be important for facilitating the transition to vegan alternatives, like cultured meat. Consumers may support alternatives to animal agriculture more enthusiastically if they are aware of a history of other attempts to reform the system.
It seems VEBU is having substantial success promoting plant-based diets in Germany. Why does ASF also work in this area, instead of focusing on filling the gap in working for welfare reforms?
Critics could argue that another effective animal charity, VEBU, does more work within Germany to promote plant-based diets than ASF does. Since VEBU’s methods overlap heavily with ASF’s, including both outreach to consumers and to corporations, some of ASF’s work could be duplicating work VEBU already has done or will do, leading to wasted effort in creating multiple sets of consumer outreach materials or resources for corporations looking to improve their plant-based offerings.
ASF sees their work in promoting plant-based diets as part of a useful role they play in connecting the German movements for animal welfare reform and for veganism and vegetarianism.24 They want to remain part of the movement for plant-based diets as a way to distance themselves from the notion that there are no problems with more humane systems of animal agriculture.25 They also find that for corporate work the relationships they develop in working on welfare reforms can lead to success in promoting plant-based options, so in some cases it may be more efficient for them to continue working with a company than for another group to step in.26
While in general we are concerned about duplication of animal advocacy work, we’re not unusually concerned about it in the case of ASF and VEBU in particular. They work together on both consumer- and corporate-oriented projects, like Veganes Sommerfest Berlin and industry benchmarking, which suggests that they’re aware of the possibility of overlap and trying to resolve it cooperatively where appropriate. We do think there are some areas where they duplicate efforts, including the creation of educational outreach materials. However, this situation is not unusual; we’re also aware of several other cases of animal advocacy organizations independently developing materials intended to have very similar uses.
The method we use does calculations using Monte Carlo sampling. This means that results can vary slightly based on the sample drawn. Unless otherwise noted, we have run the calculations five times and rounded to the point needed to provide consistent results. For instance, if a value sometimes appears as 28 and sometimes it appears as 29, our review gives it as 30.
ASF tells us that the German translation used a word best translated to “adequate” where other translations required “comfortable” conditions. ASF and Compassion in World Farming noticed that they had different interpretations of what was required by the directive and found that they were due to the different meanings of the translations they were using.
Sometimes our estimated cost-effectiveness ranges include negative numbers if we are not certain that an intervention has a positive effect, and it could have a negative effect, even if we think that isn’t likely. This doesn’t mean we think those interventions are equally likely to harm animals as to help them, unless the range is equally large on either side of zero.
There have been at least two Mechanical Turk experiments investigating the short-term impact of viewing information about recent welfare reforms on attitudes towards animal consumption. Both studies (one by Mercy For Animals and another by Jacy Reese, who was a board member at ACE at the time of the study) showed statistically significant positive effects of viewing the welfare reform information.
It is always difficult to identify the cause of corporate victories with certainty. However, ASF provided us with examples of corporate victories that appear to be related to their benchmarking program, in a private email correspondence on November 6, 2017.
For instance, ASF’s research has been referenced by German Parliament member Dr. Anton Hofreiter in his 2016 book Fleischfabrik Deutschland, philosopher Hilal Sezgin in his 2016 e-book Wieso? Weshalb? Vegan!, and the director of a consumer group, Matthias Wolfschmidt, in his 2016 book Das Schweinesystem.
For instance, our own study on leafleting showed some effects, as did a study carried out by The Humane League and Farm Sanctuary. The Humane League and FARM have each found some effects of showing videos. However, we emphasize that this evidence is far from conclusive (for example, many of these studies effectively lacked control groups) and in fact there is some similarly weak evidence in the other direction. For instance, there was a study from The Humane League that was designed to compare the effectiveness of various leaflets; they found that, of the nine groups compared in their study, the group which received no leaflet experienced the most dietary change. MFA recently conducted a study of online ads and found that participants in the treatment group reported consuming 3% more servings of animal products than those in the control group. This difference lacked statistical significance.
“In any event, consumer action alone is unlikely to constitute the sole, or even the greatest, response to the animal welfare issue.”—Anderson, J. (January 1, 2011). “Protection for the Powerless: Political Economy History Lessons for the Animal Welfare Movement“.
“Moreover, the movement’s focus on mass consumer dietary change has little historical or empirical basis, despite being our movement’s main strategy.”—Burns, B. “Why Beyonce Going Vegan is Bad for Animals“.
“Most abolitionists did not see the free produce movement as being vital to the cause. A few dedicated proponents were able to stay completely away from slave goods but a number of other abolitionists endorsed the concept only when convenient. Many more ignored the issue altogether. The movement never grew large enough to gain the benefit of the economies of scale, and the cost of ‘free produce’ was always higher than competing goods. Though William Lloyd Garrison in Boston, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, initially proclaimed at a convention in 1840 that his wool suit was made without slave labor, he later examined the results of the movement and criticized it as an ineffective method to fight slavery, and as a distraction from more important work.”—Wikipedia entry on the free produce movement, a relatively well-studied historical example of a movement focused on individual changes in consumption.
Jacy Reese mentions the example of the anti-slavery movement that, from its beginnings, focused on its opposition of slavery as an institution. “From its inception, however, the [anti-slavery] activists focused on a radical call for complete abolition, rather than incremental reform for slaves or individually changing the behavior of slave-owners or consumers of slave-produced goods.”—Reese, J. (July 14, 2015). Confrontation, Consumer Action, and Triggering Events.
A Gallup poll conducted in the U.S. in 2015 found that 32% of respondents supported animals having the same rights as people, while an additional 62% said they should have some protection. But the best estimates for the percentage of Americans who are vegetarian are much lower, around 2%.
We ourselves have expressed this concern, such as in our report on corporate outreach, even though we believe overall that humane reform has a net benefit on the likelihood of further improvements for animals.
“Is it not just a little ironic that a representative of the Meat and Livestock Commission understands perfectly what is going on here? “Happy” meat makes “the whole thing look more acceptable.” “Happy” meat means more meat eaters and more slaughtered animals.”—Francione, G. (February 7, 2007). “Happy” Meat/Animal Products: A Step in the Right Direction or “An Easier Access Point Back” to Eating Animals? Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.
“There is a clear trend that suggests Chipotle and McDonald’s are playing something close to a zero-sum game for customers. U.S. bar and restaurant sales grew just 2.9% in 2014, according to Technomic. After inflation, restaurants are fighting for a larger slice of a fixed pie.”—Cooper, T. (March 4, 2015). Why Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Will Eat McDonald’s Corporation’s Lunch. The Motley Fool.
“Animal advocates give awards to slaughterhouse designers and publicly praise supermarket chains that sell supposed “humanely” raised and slaughtered corpses and other “happy” animal products. This approach does not lead people incrementally in the right direction. Rather, it gives them a reason to justify going backwards. It focuses on animal treatment rather than animal use and deludes people into thinking that welfare regulations are actually resulting in significant protection for animals.”—Francione, G. (February 7, 2007). “Happy” Meat/Animal Products: A Step in the Right Direction or “An Easier Access Point Back” to Eating Animals? Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.
“While cage free eggs may be more humane than battery cage eggs, they are still far from ideal…Offering minor improvements for the way we treat farmed animals is a small step, however, it should not be misinterpreted as a win.”—Buff, E. (January 12, 2015). Why California’s New Animal Welfare Law is a HUGE Lesson for Animal Activists. One Green Planet.
Although most advocates agree that it is less bad for an animal to be raised for food with less suffering, some believe that the act of farming animals is intrinsically harmful and even if we reduced or eliminated suffering in animal agriculture, it would still be very bad. Gary Francione has made claims that seem to suggest this view, such as: “They are angry that I am what they call an “absolutist” who maintains that we cannot justify *any* animal use. They are right. I am an absolutist in this regard—just as I am an “absolutist” with respect to rape, child molestation, and other violations of fundamental human rights. Indeed, I would not have it any other way. Absolutism is the only morally acceptable response to the violation of fundamental rights whether of humans or nonhumans.”—Francione, G. (November 4, 2015). A Lot of People Are Angry with Me—and They are Right. The Abolitionist Approach.
Cage-free systems might also cause or increase some welfare issues. For instance, in cage-free systems, “hens stir up dust while walking on the floor, which contains some of the birds’ manure, elevating ammonia levels.”—Kesmodel, D. (March 18, 2015). Cage-Free Hens Study Finds Little Difference in Egg Quality. Wall Street Journal.
“For example, thanks to Josh Balk’s [of Hampton Creek Foods] relationship with Compass Group, Compass Group has switched to Just Mayo for all their mayonnaise, which has removed an unbelievable number of eggs from the supply chain. Similarly, THL is campaigning for Shake Shack to sell veggie burgers at the moment. This kind of work would be very valuable: directly, for the animals involved, and indirectly, for the news coverage produced.”—Conversation with David Coman-Hidy (October 1, 2015).
“One particularly important bridge that ASF has been able to build spans the gap between animal welfare reform campaigning and plant-based living advocacy. There are lots of organizations in Germany that work on animal welfare reforms only and, previously, a large gap existed between this reform work and plant-based diet outreach. ASF has positioned themselves between the two supposed poles, and as a consequence some conservative reform-based organizations have even started publicizing vegan messages.”—Conversation with Mahi Klosterhalfen (September 12, 2016).
“There is also a worry that a focus on reforms can lead to complacency with regards to other forms of suffering—that animal welfare reforms mean that people don’t need to be vegetarian or vegan. ASF wants to distance themselves from this notion. Whenever ASF communicates about these issues, they include the caveat that reduced suffering doesn’t mean suffering-free, and the animals are still far from being able to express their natural behaviour.”—Conversation with Mahi Klosterhalfen (September 12, 2016).
“It would be a shame for them to focus only on welfare reforms, as some critics might suggest, since they’ve built so many great relationships with companies. These companies often want to know what else they can do to help more, and this is a great opportunity to encourage plant-based diets.”—Conversation with Mahi Klosterhalfen (September 12, 2016).
The following materials are supplementary research documents associated with our charity review process and are referenced in the Comprehensive Review.