Blog post

Do effective animal advocates only care about farmed animals?

3 min read
4 Jun 2021

This article is part of a series addressing common concerns about charitable giving.

Animal advocates in the effective altruism movement (or “effective animal advocates”) typically care a great deal about farmed animals. Globally, about 70 billion animals are farmed for food each year, mostly in factory farms. In the U.S., 99% of animals used for food live in these industrial complexes. The high number of farmed animals, together with the relative tractability of reducing suffering that is caused by humans in the first place, makes farmed animal advocacy a high-impact cause area.

However, effective animal advocates don’t just care about farmed animals. They also care about wild animals who suffer due to human activities or nature’s indifference, domestic animals in shelters, animals in labs, animals used in entertainment, and so on.

Farmed animal advocacy is an attractive cause area for effective altruists, who generally prioritise their work according to scale, tractability, and need. There's no denying that the scale of farmed animal suffering is enormous.

Every hour in the U.S. alone, more than one million land animals are slaughtered in factory farms. Most factory farmed animals live awful lives. They:

  • Aren't given enough space to turn around or lie down comfortably
  • Require antibiotics to survive the unsanitary conditions
  • Have been genetically manipulated to grow larger than they naturally would (sometimes their legs cannot support their bodies)

Advocating for farmed animals is more tractable than advocating for certain other groups of animals, because the suffering of farmed animals is inflicted by humans. If humans can cause so much suffering, we should presumably be able to stop!

There's also a great need for more funding and advocacy and on behalf of farmed animals. In the U.S., only about 3% of charitable contributions support animals and the environment, combined. Of that amount, the majority of animal charity donations support animal shelters, though animals in shelters are vastly outnumbered by other groups.

However, effective animal advocates don't just care about farmed animals. Another burgeoning area of interest is helping wild animals. With countless animals suffering in the wild, the project of helping wild animals is even larger-in-scale than advocating for farmed animals. It's also in greater need of funding and other resources.

Like farmed animals, many wild animals suffer because of human activity. For instance, one trillion fish in the wild are caught and killed by humans each year. Fish caught by trawling are chased to exhaustion, goaded into industrial nets, and compressed and suffocated en masse. Ending (or reducing) fish trawling would be a relatively tractable way to help a lot of animals.

Of course, not all suffering in the wild is caused by humans. Many wild animals suffer from disease, parasites, hunger, dehydration, stress and anxiety, accident and injury, extreme weather and habitat destruction, predation and premature death. Whether we can alleviate this suffering, and how we may be able to intervene, is an area of active research in the effective animal advocacy community.

Effective animal advocates also care about other groups of animals, including the dogs, cats, and other animals we keep as pets, and those that live in shelters or in our streets. However, advocates are likely to prioritise intervening in factory farms and the wild first, because the scale of those problems is enormous, and the causes are relatively tractable and quite underfunded.

You can help animals by donating to highly-impactful organisations working to improve animal welfare.

This post is part of our Common Concerns About Donating to Charity page. Multiple authors contributed.