If you want to reduce the suffering in the world (regardless of who is experiencing it), animal advocacy might be the right cause for you. Over one million land animals are slaughtered every hour in the US alone. In the meantime, countless animals suffer needlessly in the wild.
We think improving animal welfare is a high-priority cause area because of its massive scale. Right now there are around 31 billion land animals being raised in factory farms so they can be slaughtered for food. Living in crowded and confined spaces that are designed with little or no regard for their welfare, these animals often experience intense suffering throughout their lives. An even larger number of fish are farmed each year, and a larger number still suffer in the wild (often due to human-induced changes to their habitat).
Animal advocacy is an extremely neglected cause area. In the US, only about 3% of charitable contributions support animals and the environment, combined. Of that amount, only about 2% goes to farmed animals.
Because this area does not receive the attention it deserves, your support could be especially impactful.
As so much animal suffering is caused by humans, improving animal welfare has tractable solutions. By reducing or eliminating factory farms, lobbying for more animal-friendly policies, and developing alternatives to animal products, we can vastly reduce the amount of suffering in the world.
We're happy to recommend some cost-effective charities working in each area.
There are many ways you can improve the lives of animals, so it can be difficult to know which is best. We've provided research reports into three specific causes that we think are especially promising.
Conditions in factory farms are appalling. It's a tragedy that any animal has to be raised in a factory farm just to be slaughtered for food, and it seems even worse that their well-being could be significantly improved at relatively low-cost. Advocating for farmed animals involves pressuring companies to make these improvements, and the work so far has had impressive results — having improved the quality of life for billions of animals.
Factory farmed animals suffer because there is a demand for their meat and produce. There are several promising ways we can lower this demand, thereby reducing the number of animals who need to endure these horrid conditions. One way is encouraging individuals to consume fewer or no animal products. Another is to provide an alternative by researching and advocating for plant-based or cell-cultured proteins.
The overwhelming majority of animals live in the wild, yet extremely little attention gets paid to how we could improve their welfare. This is partly because it's such a complex issue: it's difficult to predict exactly how an ecosystem would respond to an intervention, and we want to make sure we don't make anything worse in our efforts to make things better. At this stage, most of the work involves conducting research so that we can better understand this very neglected cause.
We think that improving animal welfare is one of the best ways to reduce the amount of suffering in the world today, but below are some reasons you might choose to prioritise other areas. Deciding which cause to focus on is difficult, your choice will depend on your values and worldview. Read more about how we recommend prioritising between causes.
Though there is evidence animals are conscious and can suffer — most of us would recoil to see a beloved pet in pain — you may think human wellbeing is important enough that you prioritise it despite the difference in scale. We think helping animals also helps humans because our farming practices not only hurt animals, but increase the risks of pandemics and contribute to climate change. Yet, it is unlikely these indirect benefits improve human well-being as much as helping humans directly, so you may choose to prioritise global health and poverty.
You might prioritise safeguarding the future
You may think that even though animal welfare is incredibly important, you could have an even bigger effect on the world (and all its inhabitants) by safeguarding the long-term future.
We recommend giving to Animal Charity Evaluators' top charities (learn why we trust their recommendations.) We also recommend funds that support a variety of projects designed to improve animal welfare. Funds allow donors to pool their resources so they can be allocated by expert grantmakers and charity evaluators.
- The Humane League
- Wild Animal Initiative
- Effective Altruism Funds' Animal Welfare Fund
- Animal Charity Evaluators' Recommended Charity Fund
You can help by volunteering or working for effective animal charities. We recommend looking at the openings listed on 80,000 Hours' Job Board to see whether you can contribute to this area, or could build the skills most needed to make progress.
To learn more about animal welfare, we recommend the following resources:
- Farm Animal Welfare (Open Philanthropy)
- Why Farmed Animals? (Animal Charity Evaluators)
- Animals in the wild often suffer a great deal. What, if anything, should we do about that? (80,000 Hours)
- Bruce Friedrich makes the case that inventing outstanding meat replacements is the most effective way to help animals (80,000 Hours)
- The wild frontier of animal welfare (Vox)
- Animal Liberation (Peter Singer)
This page was written by Michael Townsend.
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