In principle, ACE would consider evaluating and recommending any charity working to help nonhuman animals. However, for practical reasons, we focus on cause areas that we believe are especially promising: those that are large in scale, highly tractable, and relatively neglected. On this page, we describe some common animal advocacy cause areas. We begin with causes that we prioritize and close with some that we do not prioritize—usually because they are smaller in scope, less tractable, and/or less neglected.
High-Priority Cause Areas
We currently prioritize the following cause areas:
The number of animals farmed for food and clothing far exceeds the number of other animals used by humans, with an estimated 40.5 billion farmed land animals and 125 billion farmed fishes alive at any given time. The estimated number of farmed animals is more than 100 times higher than the estimated number of companion animals (∼1.45 billion dogs and cats) and around 900 times higher than the estimated number of animals used in labs (∼192.1 million). That means that over 99% of all domesticated animals are farmed animals.
Table 1: Domestic animal groups as a percentage of the world population
|Animal groups1||World population||%|
|Animals in labs||∼192.1 million2||0.1%|
|Companion Animals (Dogs + Cats)||∼1.45 billion||0.9%|
|Farmed Land Animals||∼40.5 billion5||24.2%|
|Farmed Fishes||∼125 billion6||74.8%|
|Farmed Animals (Land animals + fishes)||∼165.5 billion||99%|
The scale of the problem also includes the high-intensity suffering experienced by the vast majority of farmed animals, which has been documented by animal advocates7 and studied by animal welfare scientists.8
Farmed animal advocacy is also neglected. Relative to other cause areas involving domesticated animals, very few individuals and organizations are working to help farmed animals, and little funding is being directed to them. For more information, see “Why Farmed Animals?”
In addition to the large scale and high neglectedness of the problem, animal agriculture is a system of animal use that is relatively easy for individuals and institutions to address on their own. Although it is a complicated and pervasive system, it is largely supported by the purchasing decisions of individual consumers.9 Since animal agriculture is highly regulated by laws and policies, a single law or policy change can affect numerous animals.
Together, farmed animal advocacy’s scale, neglectedness, and tractability make it a powerful opportunity to improve animal welfare.
We evaluate as many organizations working to help farmed animals as possible because we believe that looking into different groups employing various strategies is the best way to find those that are doing exceptionally effective work on behalf of animals.
Wild animals matter, too. The number of wild animals far exceeds the combined number of humans, farmed animals, companion animals, and animals used in labs. Unfortunately, many wild animals—possibly the vast majority—live very short lives and experience painful deaths.10 Remarking on the suffering experienced by wild animals, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins said: “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease.”11
The numbers in the following table suggest that much of the pleasure and pain in the world is experienced by wild animals.
Table 2: Wild animal groups as a percentage of the world population
|Animal groups12||World population||%|
|Animals in labs||∼192.1 million13||0.00002%|
|Companion Animals (Dogs + Cats)||∼1.45 billion14||0.00012%|
|Farmed Animals (Land animals + fishes)||∼165.5 billion15||0.01%|
|Wild Animals||∼1015 16||99.9%|
We currently only recommend one charity that is working to help wild animals because there are not many charities working in this area yet. According to our comprehensive list of animal charities, most organizations that focus on wild animals are concerned with biodiversity conservation rather than wild animal welfare. We know of fewer than five charities that focus on improving wild animal welfare.
The lack of evidence for the effectiveness of interventions to improve wild animal welfare is partially due to the complexity of natural ecosystems and the difficulty of measuring the impacts of interventions in the wild. Due to these limitations, we believe research may be a promising way to help wild animals because it can inform decisions about which interventions to pursue.
Efforts to reduce wild animal suffering may be riskier than other causes because of the high level of uncertainty involved, but its potential positive impact is also high. We hope to see more charities working to improve wild animal welfare in the near future.
Causes ACE Does Not Currently Prioritize
There are some cause areas that we generally don’t prioritize, usually because they are smaller in scale, less neglected, or less tractable than the cause areas listed above. Importantly, whether we prioritize a cause is a different question than whether we support that cause. We support any cause area aimed at improving the welfare of nonhuman animals. However, given that the animal advocacy movement has limited time and funding, we prioritize only the cause areas that we believe can make the most efficient use of those resources.
We continually reevaluate our priorities. If there is ever a shift in the movement—such as that far more money is going to support farmed animals rather than companion animals, for example—we might shift our priorities towards helping companion animals. However, based on the current state of the movement, we support but do not prioritize the following cause areas:
Animal testing has historically been a high-profile cause for protest within the animal advocacy movement. Many groups continue to direct some or all of their efforts toward restricting and ultimately ending the use of animals in labs. Such groups have made considerable progress in the past, causing an increasing number of people to oppose animal testing.17
However, ACE believes the ultimate scope for action on behalf of animals used for animal testing is limited. Relative to other cause areas, a small number of animals are used in labs each year: about one for every 860 farmed animals. Combining the relatively smaller scale with the amount of work that has already been done to oppose animal testing, ACE believes that the most effective actions on behalf of animals are not likely to be in this cause area at present. We do not currently evaluate groups whose primary focus is animal testing. However, we believe that a group can still be highly effective overall while focusing a smaller amount of their activities on animal testing.
Animals used for entertainment are highly visible, appearing in zoos, circuses, rodeos, television, and movies. A variety of groups protest or monitor the conditions of animals in the entertainment industry. Some protest any use of animals for entertainment. Others object only to particularly cruel conditions, such as confinement in small cages or training methods that rely on punishment.
ACE believes the ultimate scope for action on behalf of animals used in entertainment is limited. Relative to other cause areas, a small number of animals are used in the entertainment industry. Combining this with the amount of work that has already been done in this area, ACE believes that the most effective actions on behalf of animals are not likely to be related to animals used in entertainment at present. We do not currently evaluate groups whose primary focus is animals in entertainment. However, we believe that a group can still be highly effective overall while focusing a smaller amount of their activities on animals in entertainment.
The majority of animal charities in the U.S. (and likely in most countries around the world) are humane societies and groups that run companion animal shelters as a significant portion of their activities. These groups receive a very large proportion of the overall funding for animal charities in the U.S., and ACE is not currently planning to evaluate any of them for several reasons. First, these groups already receive a very high level of funding relative to both other animal charities and the number of animals they affect. Any funding redirected to them by our recommendation would have little impact compared to the funding that already exists. Second, ACE believes that all animals deserve equal consideration, regardless of species membership. This is a relatively uncommon view in our society, so an important action animal charities can take is to spread this ideology. Charities devoted to caring for companion animals, and especially for dogs and cats, do less in this area than other groups because many people already believe dogs and cats deserve a high level of care. Third, because people already care more about companion animals and expend more resources upon their wellbeing, it is likely that the cheapest and easiest opportunities to benefit these animals have already been used. Thus, the impact of new funding would likely be small.
While we value companion animals as much as other species of animals, we think that given the large amount of resources already devoted to companion animal care, these groups are unlikely to be the most cost effective opportunities to help animals. We believe that a group can still be highly effective overall while focusing a smaller amount of their activities on companion animals.
Appleby, M. C., Hughes, B. O., Olsson, A. S., & Mensch, J. A. (Eds.). (2011). Animal welfare (2nd ed.). CABI.
Animal Charity Evaluators. (2016, November). Why farmed animals? https://animalcharityevaluators.org/donation-advice/why-farmed-animals/
Animal Charity Evaluators. (2021, May). The philosophical foundation of our work. https://animalcharityevaluators.org/about/background/our-philosophy/
Bar-On, Y. M., Phillips, R., & Milo, R. (2018). The biomass distribution on Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(25), 6506–6511. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/suppl/2018/07/13/1711842115.DC1/1711842115.sapp.pdf
CAROcat. (n.d.). Statistics on cats. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://carocat.eu/statistics-on-cats-and-dogs/
Dawkins, R. (1995). River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View Of Life. Basic Books.
Fishcount. (n.d.). Numbers of farmed fish slaughtered each year. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from http://fishcount.org.uk/fish-count-estimates-2/numbers-of-farmed-fish-slaughtered-each-year
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (n.d.). FAOSTAT. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#home
Fraser, D. (2008). Toward a global perspective on farm animal welfare. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113(4), 330–339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2008.01.011
Gompper, M. E. (Ed.). (2013). Free-ranging dogs and wildlife conservation. OUP Oxford.
Grandin, T., & Cockram, M. (Eds.). (2020). The slaughter of farmed animals: Practical ways of enhancing animal welfare. CABI.
Haynes, R. P. (Ed.). (2008). Animal welfare: Competing conceptions and their ethical implications. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-8619-9
Horta, O. (2010). Debunking the idyllic view of natural processes: Population dynamics and suffering in the wild. Télos (Τέλος). Revista Iberoamericana de Estudios Utilitaristas, 17(1), 73–90. https://redib.org/Record/oai_articulo652920-debunking-idyllic-view-natural-processes-population-dynamics-suffering-wild
McMahan, J. (2010, September 19). The Meat Eaters. The New York Times. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/the-meat-eaters/
Rollin, B. E. (2003). Farm animal welfare: Social, bioethical, and research issues. Wiley.
Taylor, K., & Alvarez, L. R. (2020). An estimate of the number of animals used for scientific purposes worldwide in 2015. Alternatives to Laboratory Animals : ATLA, 47(5–6), 196–213. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261192919899853
Webster, A. J. (2001). Farm animal welfare: the five freedoms and the free market. Veterinary Journal, 161(3), 229–237. https://doi.org/10.1053/tvjl.2000.0563
Wilke, J., & Saad, L. (2013, June 3). Older americans’ moral attitudes changing. Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/poll/162881/older-americans-moral-attitudes-changing.aspx
For the effects of individual dietary change, see our “Dietary Impacts” page.
These estimates only include vertebrates (i.e., mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes) because of the lack of data regarding invertebrates. Note that there are rough abundance estimates of invertebrate animals (i.e. arthropods, annelids, mollusks, cnidarians, and nematodes) that surpass those for vertebrate animals. For example, Bar-On, Phillips, & Milo (2018) estimate the world population wild invertebrates to be about 1021.