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Every year tens of billions of animals are raised in terrible conditions in factory farms before being killed for human consumption. Despite the enormous scale of suffering this causes, the issue is largely neglected, with only about $50 million dollars spent each year tackling the problem globally.
Over the last two years Lewis Bollard – Project Officer for Farm Animal Welfare at the Open Philanthropy Project – has conducted extensive research into the best ways to eliminate animal suffering in farms as soon as possible.
This has resulted in $30 million in grants, making the Open Philanthropy Project one of the largest funders in the area.
Our conversation covers almost every approach being taken, which ones work, how individuals can best contribute through their careers, as well as:
- How young people can set themselves up to contribute to scientific research into meat alternatives
- How genetic manipulation of chickens has caused them to suffer much more than their ancestors, but could also be used to make them better off
- Why Lewis is skeptical of vegan advocacy
- Open Phil’s grants to improve animal welfare in China, India and South America
- Why Lewis thinks insect farming would be worse than the status quo, and whether we should look for ‘humane’ insecticides
- Why Lewis doubts that much can be done to tackle factory farming through legal advocacy or electoral politics
- Which species of farm animals is best to focus on first
- Whether fish and crustaceans are conscious, and if so what can be done for them
- Many other issues listed below in the ‘Overview of the discussion’.
Listening to this episode is among the fastest ways to get up to speed on how animals are mistreated and the best ways to help them.
If you subscribe to The 80,000 Hours Podcast, you can listen at leisure on your phone, speed up the conversation if you like, and find out about future episodes. You can do so by searching for ‘80,000 Hours’ in your podcasting app (include the comma).
Below you’ll find the full interview, along with a coaching application form, overview of the discussion and extra resources to learn more.
Table of Contents
Extra resources to learn more
- Guide to improving institutional decision-making (discussed last episode)
- Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history by Yuval Noah Harari
- Job vacancies at the Open Philanthropy Project in operations and farm animal welfare
- Table of animal welfare estimates from Compassion by the Pound
- Animal Charity Evaluators, which recommends effective places donors can give to help animals
- Luke Muehlhauser’s analysis of the sentience of different organisms for the Open Philanthropy Project
- MTurk study of The effects of “reduce” and “eliminate” appeals on individual meat consumption
- List of organisations that have received farm animal welfare grants from the Open Philanthropy Project
- The number of insects in the world is estimated to be 10 quintillion
- New Report on the Welfare Differences Between Cage and Cage-Free Housing
- Our problem profile on factory farming
- Going undercover to expose animal cruelty, get rabbit cages banned and reduce meat consumption.
- Bruce Friedrich makes the case that inventing outstanding meat replacements is the most effective way to help animals
Overview of the discussion
2m40s What originally drew you to dedicate your career to helping animals and why did Open Philanthropy end up focusing on it?
5m40s Do you have any concrete way of assessing the severity of animal suffering?
7m10s Do you think the environmental gains are large compared to those that we might hope to get from animal welfare improvement?
7m55s What grants have you made at Open Phil? How did you go about deciding which groups to fund and which ones not to fund?
9m50s Why does Open Phil focus on chickens and fish? Is this the right call?
11m40s What is Open Phil doing in China and India?
13m50s Why have you focused so much on corporate reform campaigns? How many animals do you help per thousand dollars that you spend in these grants?
15m45s What is your research work like day-to-day? How do you spend your time? Is Open Phil a place at which you would recommend people work? What are the biggest frustrations of the job?
21m45s Are there any organisations you’ve investigated that you ultimately decided not to fund and what were your reasons?
24m20s In your view, what are the most effective interventions for helping animals, and how confidently do we have answers to that question? Are there any interventions that you think are especially overrated?
30m What are some of the most popular things that people do today, in general, to try to improve animal welfare?
31m40s What in your background put you in a good position to take the role that you have now?
35m You worked in consulting for a while. Was that useful? Why did you go to law school and would you recommend it?
37m50s Why is it that legal advocacy isn’t such a promising avenue for helping animals?
43m20s What do you think about radical vegan advocacy?
44m45s Animal advocacy seems really quite distinctive in just how much infighting there is – what’s the reason for this?
48m45s Can you tell us more about your work funding groups overseas?
51m30s What’s the nature of animal advocacy in India? Is it often religiously motivated?
54m30s What about countries that are majority Buddhist? Does that potentially provide a foundation for spreading humane values much more broadly?
57m40s Earlier you mentioned Brazil and South America – what’s going on with animal advocacy there?
1h2m20s Can you describe in detail the approach that corporate campaigns are taking?
1h5m20s How have chickens been genetically engineered or bred already and why is that a problem? Could we use those same methods to make them happier?
1h13m50s The economics of cage-free campaigns: why are they so successful? Is it because it’s not that much more expensive to get rid of the cages? Or is it that consumers already kind of wanted it? Or is it that if everyone’s doing it at the same time, no-one’s at a commercial disadvantage?
1h19m20s What are the conditions like for cage-free hens?
1h25m45s Critics of these corporate welfare campaigns might say that there’s a good chance that these improvements would have been made anyway; they companies might not even follow through on their promises; or that the conditions aren’t actually more humane. What do you say to people who offer critiques of this kind?
1h30m30s What other technologies would be useful to develop that most people don’t think of?
1h34m15s Have you ever met someone in the agricultural industry or animal agricultural industry who, after realising the conditions animals are kept in, was overcome with shame and decided to leave the industry?
1h38m45s Undercover investigations – how do they happen?
1h46m22s What is the goal here? Is it to get people to become vegetarian; to bring about policy reform; or to get a lot of media attention? Do they aim for legal prosecution?
1h52m The cost effectiveness of undercover investigations: how many animals are helped per dollar?
1h55m30s What’s the case for meat substitute research? What are your reservations about the area?
2h1m Do you think that funding cost-effectiveness analysis of different approaches for helping animals is itself cost-effective?
2h9m What is the best argument against working on animal welfare with your career?
2h11m How do you think work on improving animal welfare compares work to reduce global catastrophic risks? Assuming that someone was going to focus on animal welfare, what are the strongest critiques of Open Phil’s approach to doing so?
2h16m5s Most animal organisations don’t focus on fish. Why does Open Phil care about them?
2h21m50s What about crustaceans? Are they conscious and should we care about them?
2h23m50s There are far, far more insects than there are all of animals combined but nobody is confident that they’re conscious. What should we think of insect farming? Should we look for humane insecticides?
2h33m20s What would be the ideal study route for an undergraduate looking to work on farm animal welfare, assuming that they were a good fit for that area?
2h36m40s If someone has just graduated, what would be some good places to start their career, if they wanted to get their foot in the door in the sector?
2h40m5s What’s the pathway to becoming a food scientist or someone who works on clean meat? How do you go from being a high school student to being a research scientist?
2h42m30s What skills are oversupplied in the movement?
2h46m What are some smart early career steps? Which specific organisations offer internships?
2h48m50s Are there any government agencies or think tanks which would be particularly promising to work for? What about party politics?
2h55m20s Are there any start-ups doing any particularly impressive work?
2h57m15s? If someone is struggling to get their first job in the sector how might they be able to start to build up their CV?
3h50s Should people worry that by working on farm animal welfare they won’t build up as much career capital?
3h3m40s Could you describe the ideal kinds of people, maybe in their late twenties, who you’d be most excited to meet?
3h7m50s Should animal advocates earn to give rather than do direct work?
3h11m20s How can people go about finding mentors to push forward their careers?
3h15m20s Final appeal to get involved
Hi podcast listeners. Today’s episode sets a new length record but it’s also very comprehensive. I had time to ask Lewis all the questions I had about how to effectively help animals, and he had a lot to say. If you want to spend a few hours learning everything you need to know about ending cruelty to animals in agriculture, I don’t know of any better single resources.
I’ve added a link to a comprehensive overview of the conversation so you can skip to whatever sections you want to listen to. As always we also have a full transcript and links to the job opportunities and research pieces we discuss. The link is in the show notes.
You can get the episode on your phone so you can listen to it whenever you like over a few sessions, by searching for 80,000 Hours in your podcasting app.
If what we’ve talk about today piques your interest in working on farm animal welfare, you should apply for free, one-on-one career coaching. We’ve now helped hundreds of people formulate their plan and compare between their options, introduced them to mentors, collaborators and funders, and got them into high impact jobs. It takes a few minutes to apply for a 45 minute Skype call, and the application process itself is designed to help you structure your own thinking, and give you a list of actionable next steps.
The link is in the podcast description or the blog post where you found this episode.
Our guide to improving institutional decision making which I talked about in the podcast with Julia Galef is now out and I’ll link to it from this episode as well.
And now I bring you Lewis Bollard.
Robert Wiblin: Today, I am speaking with Lewis Bollard. Lewis leads the Open Philanthropy Project strategy for Farm Animal Welfare. Full disclosure, the Open Philanthropy Project is one of 80,000 Hours’ [00:01:23] biggest donors. Prior to joining the Open Philanthropy Project, he worked as policy advisor in international liaison to the CEO at the Humane Society of the U.S. also called HSUS. And prior to that, he was a litigation fellow at HSUS, a law student, and an associate consultant at Bane & Company. He has a B.A. from Harvard University in Social Studies and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Thanks for coming on the podcast, Lewis.
Lewis Bollard: Great to be here.
Robert Wiblin: We plan to talk about Lewis’s work, making grants, how we can most effectively help animals, and how listeners can best use their careers to improve animal welfare. But first off, Lewis, what originally drew you to dedicate your career to helping animals and why did Open Phil end up focusing on it, among other things?
Lewis Bollard: Sure. So, when I was a teenager, I became aware of global poverty, first. And like I imagine many of you listeners, it was an issue that really struck me as incredibly important and incredibly neglected. And then I later became aware of factory farming. And it struck me as also important, but even more neglected and with really clearer solutions. And so, really since I’ve been a teenager, this is an issue I’ve been really passionate about — wanted to work on. As far as Open Philanthropy Project went, they have these three criteria — importance, tractability, and neglectedness — for selecting cause areas. And farm animal welfare lined up on all three of those criteria. And so, I think the primary consideration was ultimately just that it was a major issue. It’s been neglected by the donors and has the real potential to gain some traction here.
Robert Wiblin: Do you want to give us some numbers to help give an idea of the scale and tractability and neglectedness of the problem?
Lewis Bollard: Sure. So starting with numbers for the scale of the problem. If you look at the number of animals being farmed at any point in time, globally, there are about 23 billion chickens, at any point in time, alive in farms. Overwhelmingly, in intensive factory farming systems, globally. Now, about 15 billion of them are broiler meat chickens. And the other 8 billion, roughly, are layer hens. There are another, roughly, 6 billion land mammals that are being farmed. That’s pigs, cows, rabbits. And then there’s somewhere between 35 billion and 140 billion farmed fish, at any point in time. And those numbers are incredibly imprecise because no one is keeping track of precise numbers. So the Food & Agriculture Association keeps pretty good track of the numbers of land animals but not the numbers of farm animals. And if you’re also concerned about wild caught fish, the numbers could be in the trillions.
Robert Wiblin: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Lewis Bollard: So, certainly they’re on the importance of the issue. If you look on the neglectedness side, the numbers are also pretty stark. Before we came into the space, I’d say that there was probably about 20 million dollars a year being devoted to this problem, it’s entirety. That’s now probably increased to maybe 50 million a year.
Robert Wiblin: So, 20 million in the U.S. or globally?
Lewis Bollard: Globally.
Robert Wiblin: Wow. That’s really very little. So there were almost no farm animal advocacy organisations, only a handful.
Lewis Bollard: There were only a handful of animal organisations and when I say that number, I’m only counting certain things. I’m not counting, for instance, farm sanctuaries where it’s providing direct care for farm animals. But, if you really just look at advocacy for farm animals, It was extremely limited. A couple of groups like Mercy for Animals, Compassion in World Farming can be around for several years, but at very small budgets.
Robert Wiblin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you have any concrete way of assessing the severity of animal suffering? Any kind of quantitative measure that you can use, I mean ideally I guess to compare it to human suffering. But short of that, just you know, how bad is it, in a general sense?
Lewis Bollard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it would certainly be great to have a more rigorous quantitative measure to compare to human suffering. I think for now, that all we can really do is compare with in-species. Because our ability to understand the relative experiences of different species still so limited. But within species, you can look at a couple of different things. You can first look with acute pain experiences. How long do they last? So we know, for instance, with castration and piglets. This is standard practice for virtually all male piglets, globally. We know that that is a process that causes minutes of intense pain as measured by stress responses and that they’re still feeling some degree of pain … days, weeks later. When it comes to chronic suffering, you can look at the conditions, and you can use aversion studies. So you can say, “We’ve put these hens into a cage or we can put these hens into a cage-free environment.” And we can see how much effort they will exert to get out of that cage environment and how much effort they’ll exert to get things they’re not receiving currently. Like access to a nesting box, access to a perch.
Robert Wiblin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, some people will advocate for vegetarianism or try to scale back animal agriculture on the basis of environmental and health benefits, as well as animal welfare benefits. Do you think those gains are large compared to those that we might hope to get from Animal Welfare Improvement?
Lewis Bollard: I think the environmental gains are real. I think that if you look at the best global estimates right now, the Food & Agriculture Organization estimates that about 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions come from animal agriculture. If you look at land use or water use, the percentages are significantly higher, in terms of the amount of water used globally and the amount of land. So from an environmental perspective, I think there’s a very clear case. Particularly for moving toward pulses, whole grains, other relatively low carbon footprint foods.
Robert Wiblin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What grants have you made at Open Phil, and how long has the programme been running?
Lewis Bollard: So we started this programme in October of 2015. And since then, we’ve made about 30 million dollars of grants within Farm Animal Welfare. Those grants were initially directed largely toward corporate campaigns, to eliminate some of the worst practices within animal agriculture. So we began with grants to support corporate campaigns to phase out battery cages in the United States. Then extended those campaigns globally to work in Latin America and in Europe. We’ve also sought to reach neglected regions and neglected issues. So we’ve made a set of grounds in China, a set of grounds in India, a set of grounds related to fish welfare, and then we’ll also remain open to exceptional opportunities that fall outside of these core areas [00:08:07]. So one example would be The Good Food Institute which is working on alternatives to animal proteins. Another example would be Animal Charity Evaluators which is looking to build the field and evaluate animal charities.
Robert Wiblin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). How did you go about deciding which groups to fund and which ones not to fund?
Lewis Bollard: So the number one thing we look for is whether the group is operating in an area of high impact. So, a group working on fish has the potential to do so much more than a group that’s working, for instance, solely on cows. Just because there are so many more fish out there. A group working in China has the potential to a great more impact than a group working in New Zealand. The second thing we look for is a track record. So, to what degree has this group chalked up tangible victories in the past. And this was something that was very appealing about corporate charity campaigns, which we can track very tangible outcomes from these campaigns in the past. And then the third thing is a good team or good leadership. So we look for people who seem to be highly competent, seem to have a clear sense of success, seem to be flexible and willing to adjust their tactics and strategies based on past experience.
Robert Wiblin: So, most animal advocates seem focused on animals that are easier to sympathise with, perhaps like pigs and cows. But you’re kind of going in the opposite direction, thinking of chickens and fish and I guess potentially even insects? Or other more unusual cases like that.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so the case we’re focusing on chickens and fish is very similar to the case focusing on Farm Animal Welfare as a cause. In terms of importance, there are more than 10 times as many chickens as there are, for instance, pigs. And there are more than 100 times potentially as many farm fish as there are for pigs. So, the numbers are really there. Then in terms of neglectedness, it’s also the case. So certainly, we need more funding for work on pigs and cows and other more charismatic mammals, but there’s been real dearth of funding around fish, chickens, and other animals that people don’t think about or relate to as easily.
Robert Wiblin: But, while there’s ten times or so as many chickens, their brains are also about one hundredth the size of the brain of a pig, right? And a similar number to the brain of a cow. So I guess it’s not completely obvious that there’s more suffering in chickens than pigs in the world, right?
Lewis Bollard: Certainly not completely obvious. I mean I think there’s a really interesting question about how to compare the well being of different species. I do think it’s very unlikely that the sheer size or weight of a brain is likely to be closely correlated with ability to suffer. I think if that were true we should possibly be focused on sperm whales, or on elephants, or other large creatures with huge brains. But I think what we see even within humans, is that brain size can differ and it doesn’t necessarily affect relative capacity to suffer.
Robert Wiblin: OK well maybe let’s come back to that in a minute. Another interesting study is that about half of the world’s fish, and a quarter of the world’s land farmed animals are in China. So why is Open Phil not focused on China and perhaps India as well?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so we are as much as we can be. We see China and India as absolutely top priorities, particularly China. As you note, a huge portion of the world’s farm animals are based there and contrary to some perceptions it’s not for export, it’s primarily for domestic consumption that these animals are being raised in China.
So we have made a set of about four million dollars worth of grants to groups in China. And the primary constraint on making more grants than that, is a lack of opportunities in China. So we’ve already supported most of the groups that were excited about doing work there, and that have a legal ability to work there, and that’s another constraint in terms of operating in China.
Robert Wiblin: Is there just a lack of any people who take an interest in animal welfare in China? Is it just a kinda not a cultural issue there?
Lewis Bollard: I’m not sure what the origins are. I think that it is true that there is less civil society across many sectors in China.
I think it’s something we naturally see more of in more developed countries. There are more people focused on social activism than there are in still developing or emerging economies. And my hope is that as China develops further we’ll see more this, and I think we already are. I mean one of the most heartening things to me in China is seeing the recent protests around the dog meat trade within China. Which, to be clear, the dog meat trade is really no worse than the trade in pigs or in chickens, in China or elsewhere. But the fact that this is an issue that’s really mobilised a lot of Chinese, gotten a lot of people out involved protesting, stopping trucks, suggests to me something very heartening about the future of animal advocacy in China.
Robert Wiblin: That at least there’s many people who in principle think that animals can matter in particular cases?
Lewis Bollard: Exactly, and the fact that they’re willing to devote their time, and really to undergo some serious risks to be engaged in this kind of activism.
Robert Wiblin: Why have you focused so much on corporate reform campaigns? It sounds like that’s the main thrust of your work at the moment.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah it’s certainly not the only thrust but I would say about a third of our portfolio has gone to support directly corporate campaigns. And the reason really is that the track record recently has been very impressive. So, when we started supported corporate campaigns in late 2015, groups in the US had already secured some critical victories on cage-free. They had gotten Costco, one of the largest retailers to go cage-free. They had gotten Aramark and Compass Group, the largest food service companies, and they had just gotten McDonald’s, within the fast food sector.
And in the year and a half since then, they’ve basically gotten the remainder of the entire US food industry to make commitments to move away from battery cages. And there are certainly questions about how much better is that transition from battery cages to cage free. But iI feel very confident that that transition only happened because of the advocacy of these campaigning groups.
Robert Wiblin: Do you have a sense of how many animals you’re helping per thousand dollars that you spend in these grants to corporate welfare campaigns.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah so our rough cost-effectiveness estimate is that these cage-free campaigns are at least 150 animals per dollar spent. And what we mean by that is 150 hens moved from a cage to a cage-free environment for a year per dollar spent. And one of the assumptions there is that these campaigns only brought forward progress by five years. I think that’s a pretty conservative assumption. I think it’s quite likely they brought forward progress by much more than five years. So we’re only counting five years of benefits. But yeah 150 … And I would say there’s a wide potential spectrum, maybe a 100 to 250 per dollar there.
Robert Wiblin: What is your research work like day to day? How do you spend your time?
Lewis Bollard: So I spend my time between a combination of online research, trying to read the latest reports both from animal advocacy groups, from animal charity evaluators, but also from the industry. So reading industry publications to see what changes are happening, what’s influencing them. And I spend a lot of time on the phone with animal advocates. So I spend a lot of time finding out what are the things people are thinking about, what are they doing. And I try and spend a decent amount of time on the phone with independent experts. So talking for instance to fish welfare scientists, or talking to people who are experts on the non-profit situation in China.
And then combining those two things, I think that the third task is kind of compiling that. And this is something … I’ve a monthly newsletter where I kind of synthesise some of those findings together, and really see what is there that we can learn from disparate sources that could be useful for our philanthropy.
Robert Wiblin: Do you do a lot of follow-up with the groups that you make grants to, to see how they’re going?
Lewis Bollard: We do, yeah, and we’re looking to increase that follow-up too, over time. So our current set-up is that we look to talk to each of our grantees at least once every six months, to understand what wins they’ve had, what losses they’ve had, what they’ve learned, what they’ve changed about their plans. In the case of larger grantees I’m talking to them more often than that, perhaps every few weeks. We want to be very careful not to be in the role of micromanaging them. Or to be dictating their tactics or telling them what to do. But we absolutely do want to understand how they’re doing and what they’re up to. Both in terms in renewing the grants but also so we can share those lessons with other philanthropists.
Robert Wiblin: I guess a lot of the grants are pretty recent but do you have a sense of how well the money is being spent? Are you getting the bang for buck that you were hoping for?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I’m very excited about how the grants have gone so far. So as I mentioned one of the biggest categories is the corporate campaign grants and those have significantly exceeded our expectations. We did not expect that that the US corporate campaigns would have already produced cage-free pledges across basically the entire food industry. And they’ve similarly exceeded expectations internationally. So large UK, German, French retailers making similar commitments based on these campaigns.
The other things we funded, I think it’s generally too soon to tell. So for instance with our China grants, with our India grants, a lot of what we’re looking to do is to build up a movement and to build up capacity over the longer term. And I think unfortunately we’ll only really be able to evaluate the effectiveness of those grants over a five, ten or longer year time-frame.
Robert Wiblin: So coming back to your day-to-day work, is Open Phil a place that you would recommend that people work? Is it a fun place to work, or at least an exciting place to work?
Lewis Bollard: Yes, I’d definitely recommend it. And not just because my boss is probably listening to this podcast.
Robert Wiblin: I’m sure he knows it all already. He’s probably just skipped through it.
Lewis Bollard: I mean I think it really is kinda of a dream job in the sense of if you care most about having an impact within one of the cause areas that Open Phil works on, and in my case what I care most about is having an impact on farm animal welfare. Then there are not only the resources there, the financial resources to do that, but also a huge amount of autonomy to really pursue what appear to be the most promising opportunities. And to spend a lot of time researching them. And to really make grant recommendations based on your best judgment.
Robert Wiblin: What are the biggest frustrations of the work?
Lewis Bollard: I think one of the real frustrations is a lack of good data. So I’ve mentioned some the data we do have on total animal numbers for instance, from the food and agriculture organisation. But we don’t have good data on the experiences of these animals. So we don’t have great data even on what percentage of animals in different countries or in different types of production systems, are undergoing different kinds of physical mutilations or particular kinds of slaughter. We also don’t have robust data on what those experiences are like. And so robust data of the sort you were asking for earlier, of how would we compare the experiences of different animals, with still really going off very limited evidence. And it would be great to see more data in that. So that can be very frustrating when we’re trying to compare grants, and that could be the most important thing to distinguish based on … We just, we don’t have it.
Robert Wiblin: Thinking about working at Open Phil specifically, are there any downsides of the work there that people might not consider? I mean it sounds extremely appealing, you have potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in the long term to give away. Are there any things that make that difficult or unpleasant?
Lewis Bollard: Well I think the flip side of great autonomy is that you don’t have as much of the benefits of being part of a team. I mean there certainly is a team that [00:20:00] at Open Philanthropy, but we’re each working on very distinct issues, and so within my work on animal welfare it can be a little lonely at time. I mean, there aren’t a lot of other, there’s no one else there working solely on this issue, and so there are people I’ll talk to about it, there’s people who’ll give me guidance, but it’s not something if you’re looking for a real team environment. The programme officer role, at least, doesn’t really fit that bill.
Robert Wiblin: Why haven’t you hired a research assistant, or something like that?
Lewis Bollard: So, we’re actually looking into the possibility now, and for interested listeners, my hope is we will be looking to recruit that in the next few months, and you can look out for that opportunity. So, yeah, it’s on the horizon.
Robert Wiblin: What kind of personal traits will you be looking for, above others?
Lewis Bollard: So, I think the most important trait for me, is someone who’s analytical and good at dealing with data and independent research. Obviously, we want people who care about the issue, both care about farm animal welfare and, ideally, care about effective altruism and having the greatest impact. But generally, I’m trying to keep a pretty open mind otherwise about what that person would look like in terms of their worldview, their ideology, their background.
I think the most important thing is just that analytical ability and the intelligence to really be able to engage in debates. And to be able to criticise me and to prove me wrong on things, because I think one of the dangers of only having one person, and one of the real benefits of having another person, is that you can get a little more diversification of views on things.
Robert Wiblin: We’ll put up a link to that job vacancy when it goes up. Are there any other jobs, or job vacancies, that Open Phil has at the moment?
Lewis Bollard: I think we’ve had, we have some vacancies in the logistics team. I think we’ve been looking for possibly a couple of people in the logistics team. And I’m pretty sure those are up on the website.
Robert Wiblin: Okay, we’ll link to those as well. Are there any organisations you’ve investigated that you ultimately decided not to fund, and I guess without naming any names, what were the reasons for that?
Lewis Bollard: Sure, yeah, we’ve had a number of investigations that we opened, and ultimately decided not to fund. And there have been a variety of reasons for that. I’d say the most common reason is that we weren’t excited about the particular proposals presented to us for what this group would do with additional funding. So, even where a group seemingly has a good track record, or has a good leadership team, we still want to see really tangible plans for how they need and would use more funding.
So, I’d say that’s the most common one. Otherwise, we’ve also just found other red flags. We’ve heard, during the evaluation process of a group, negative things or disputes about their track record. Or we’ve come to see perhaps that particular strategy, when we look at the cost-effectiveness estimate, the numbers really aren’t as good as we expected them to be.
Robert Wiblin: If you have an existing group that’s doing good work, but they can’t yet show you a plan for how they’ll scale up and what they’ll do with more money, mightn’t you just expect that if they have a good track record they’ll be able to find a way to use the money effectively?
Lewis Bollard: I think that’s certainly possible. I think that it depends a lot on the kind of group we’re talking about. Particularly in many of the cases we’re considering, pretty well-established groups where one or two of their programmes have good track records, and other programmes don’t. And so in those cases, we want to be very careful that we’re only funding truly additional work and we’re not just providing money in the general pot that could go to ineffective work. And so in those cases, the room for more funding question becomes very important.
With the smaller groups, certainly, I think we’re more open to the philosophy of just backing them to do something, and the more that a group just has one programme, or does one thing, the easier that case is. So long as the argument they’re making to us is just, “We’ll do more of this thing we’re already doing well,” that’s a compelling case.
Robert Wiblin: You just mentioned doing the math, the cost-effectiveness analysis of the different kinds of interventions that groups have. In your view, what are the most effective interventions for helping animals, and how confidently do we have answers to that?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so, right now there’s a variety of confidence levels, so I’d say the intervention that I am most confident in right now, are corporate campaigns, because we can track so clearly the role of each advocacy group, the number of companies, the number of animals affected by each pledge, and then the subsequent implementation of those pledges.
When it comes to other strategies, I think there’s a lot of potential, particularly where strategies focus on important areas, and neglected areas. But it’s going to be a lot harder to have confidence in the cost-effectiveness estimates we come up with. So, for instance, I feel very optimistic about focusing on China, because of the number of animals there and because of the neglectedness. But, I feel very low confidence in the cost-effectiveness estimates we’ve come up with, just because we don’t have a good sense for the tractability of those interventions, yet.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any interventions that you think are especially overrated?
Lewis Bollard: I do think that, traditionally, there was too much faith placed in online ads. So, in individual dietary change in general, trying to get people to go vegan. And that’s not to say that individual dietary change cannot be an effective tactic. I think that it’s totally possible that, if done well, it can be and there’s a need for more research there.
But I think there were a few studies early on that gave misplaced confidence to advocates, that online ads in particular, and leaflets, too, were having an outsized impact on dietary change. And I think more rigorous studies since then have really suggested that that was not the case, and that we don’t have a strong sense for the effectiveness of these interventions.
Robert Wiblin: Why do you think those studies produce positive results, perhaps excessively positive results?
Lewis Bollard: So, the early studies were all done by advocacy groups in the area [00:25:46], who had a very clear incentive. They also just weren’t particularly well-designed studies. We didn’t … Some of the studies didn’t have control groups. Some of the studies relied on the same volunteers who handed out the leaflets, going back and asking the people that handed leaflets to, what effect it had on them. And in a lot of cases, the sample size was really small. So, there were just the kind of classic problems we have with a study that doesn’t have the kind of methodological safeguards that studies should have.
Robert Wiblin: Someone who had a lot of experience in social science research reading those papers would have realised that they weren’t good at the time, it sounds like.
Lewis Bollard: Absolutely, and I think people did. I think that this has been a debate since these studies first came out, and that’s a big part of the reason why better studies were put into the field, and why those better studies have now provided more caution. I think that some people got overly optimistic, probably because they wanted to be. I mean, there’s an aspect of motivated reasoning, here, where it makes sense that you want this to be an effective intervention, because it’s relatively easy to do. And ultimately one of the most important things is, can we get people to change their diets?
Robert Wiblin: Are there any really high quality studies coming out on this topic in the future that will really allow us to settle that debate?
Lewis Bollard: I don’t think there’s something that will allow us to settle this debate, yet, though maybe further down the line. The study that I’m most excited about recently, was a study by a group called the Animal Welfare Action Lab. So, this was a study done by Krystal Caldwell and Greg Boese and Bobbie MacDonald.
And what they did was they had a group of [00:27:21] respondents read articles about a general transition to veganism, about a general transition to reducetarianism, and a control article, I think, about global poverty. And they measured the effect of those articles simply on self-reported meat consumption, and self-reported perceptions about animals, reducetarianism, and veganism. And they found quite a robust, surprisingly robust, impact, not only right afterwards, but also a month later.
The reason I like the study is because it really observed lots of good practices. So, they pre-registered the study, they put all the data online, they had an adequately powered sample. There was no P-fishing involved. It was just everything you’d want to see in a study.
So, we recently funded them to replicate, or attempt to replicate, the study on a larger scale using YouGov data, rather than MTurk [00:28:18]. And to me it will be really interesting to see whether that study replicates, or whether it doesn’t. But that’s what I’d love to see more of, is that kind of study where it’s a strong study. It doesn’t matter so much about the specifics of what it’s measuring are, but that it really has some external validity.
Robert Wiblin: That sounds like a really exciting study. I’ll see if we can put up a link to that in the show notes [00:28:39].
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, absolutely.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any things you’ve personally supported in the past, either financially or otherwise, that you’ve come to regret?
Lewis Bollard: I don’t know if there are things that I’ve come to regret. I mean, I think that we’ve certainly had some grants that look likely to be failures, but I think that that’s part of taking higher risk bits. And so in some ways it would be concerning if we didn’t have any failures. So, I’m less inclined to regret those.
I mean, I also think it’s the case that in the past, for myself, I’ve given funding to groups that I no longer think are effective. But again, I think it’s probably normally more constructive to see that as a positive learning path, that you reach a point of realising these were ineffective and finding better ways to do things.
Robert Wiblin: So, there’s nothing you’ve personally done that you think it was stupid even at the time?
Lewis Bollard: Not that immediately comes to mind, but I’m sure there’s something out there.
Robert Wiblin: What are some of the most popular things that people do today, in general, to try to improve animal welfare?
Lewis Bollard: Well, I think if you look beyond the EA movement, the most popular thing is to help local groups helping cats and dogs. And while that obviously has positive, direct benefits, I think in the greater scheme it doesn’t have the same effectiveness as: (a) focusing on farm animals; and (b) focusing on advocacy, as as opposed to direct care. I think even within the farm animal side, you see a lot of people focusing on caring for farm animals. For instance, within sanctuaries. Though those can certainly be a useful advocacy or education tool, I think that has to be the focus and oftentimes, the focus instead becomes caring for farm animals, which again, is very much a positive, but is not going to reach anything like the cost effectiveness of advocacy interventions [00:30:29].
Robert Wiblin: Looking at farm animal welfare groups in particular, how does your portfolio of interventions that you fund differ from what people are doing in general? What are the things that you’ve decided not to fund that you might have?
Lewis Bollard: I think the biggest thing we’ve decided not to fund that is widely done otherwise is individual dietary advocacy. Leafleting, online ads, other forms of vegan outreach remain very common within the movement and for us, we just don’t feel like the evidence is there yet. It’s not that we think it could never be there and it’s not that we think people are necessarily wrong to be supporting those initiatives, but we just don’t feel there’s robust evidence there that would make us feel confident enough to support that kind of advocacy.
Robert Wiblin: Let’s talk a bit for a moment about you personally. What in your background put you in a good position to take the role that you have now?
Lewis Bollard: I think the programme officer role is in many ways a generalist role, where it’s really useful to have a broad background in research, in writing, in communication. In some ways, I think of the extra curricular activities that I took. For instance, I was very involved in debating through high school and through college. I think that was a very useful activity for honing some of the analytical skills and communication skills that I now use. I think a general liberal arts degree in the US is also pretty useful in terms of reading a wide variety of material, researching, and putting together papers. I ultimately went to law school and I think that was useful in the sense that it also further honed my thinking process. I don’t think it was necessary though. I would say for people who are listening that if they want to perform a similar role, I’m not sure that law school is necessarily the right way to go about it.
Robert Wiblin: What’s your accent? You sound Australian to me.
Lewis Bollard: Almost. I’m from New Zealand.
Robert Wiblin: Okay, right. There’s a lot of Australians and New Zealanders seemingly involved in effective activism.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, there are. It’s a funny phenomenon.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah, like Canadians. We’re everywhere, we’re walking among you. Do you think those traits that you’re looking for are kind of natural dispositional characteristics that don’t change very much or are they primarily trainable? Are they things that people listening could develop on their own?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I’m going to go for the compound answer that it’s both. But, I do think that there are definitely things that people can do to train for this. I think that just doing more rigorous research involving numbers, using data, understanding data, researching online to find essential facts, pulling them out, preparing reports. I think that that is some of the best kind of training for what we do. I think too, obviously evaluating charities. If you also make your own personal donations, thinking hard about those and thinking about what numbers and what data should inform that, but also where you could gain more information and how that information would update your thinking and influence your decision.
Robert Wiblin: It looks like in terms of animal advocacy, you’ve only worked for the Humane Society of the US, is that right?
Lewis Bollard: That’s right.
Robert Wiblin: Do you wish that you’d worked at a wider range of places to have a better sense of the whole space?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I do. I mean, I think if nothing else, the optics would look better if I’d worked at more than one animal group and I’m certainly conscious to not want to have favorites within the movement. I think that one of the nice things about farm animal welfare is that, it’s still a pretty small movement and a very closely connected one. I’ve really had the opportunity to get to know people across all of the groups and to get some sense at least of what they do. But, I do think that there is a lot of value to people getting experience in multiple related jobs or domains and certainly within animal welfare, I think there’d be a lot of value to people working for multiple groups.
Robert Wiblin: You worked at Bain and Company for a while. Was that your first job out of university?
Lewis Bollard: That was, yeah.
Robert Wiblin: Working in consulting for a couple of years is one of the parts that we’ve recommended, although because so many people have done it, we’ve started to back away from that lately because we’re worried that we’re getting saturated. At least soon, we’ll be saturated by [00:34:47] ex-management consultants. Is that something that you would recommend? Do you think that that added a lot of skills?
Lewis Bollard: For myself I don’t think it did. I can certainly see it making a lot of sense to someone, particularly, obviously if you are looking to give, it can be a useful launching plan for a lucrative careers. I think that if you are looking to work in management with a non-profit, then there is some really useful skills. Analytical skills certainly that are brought to bare. For myself, my feeling is that, I mainly did this as a sort of a cop out because I wasn’t yet ready to go and work full time on animal advocacy, and because I came into the job market during the depression and so it was kind of exciting just to have a job in New York. I generally think … I ended up working there for a year. I don’t really believe that in that time, that I gained a lot of useful skills. I think I mainly gained a lot of information about very particular business sectors, which would be useful if I wanted to go and work in those business sectors. Otherwise, I’m not sure it is completely generalisable.
Robert Wiblin: It sounded like you were also doing law school or potentially now you’ve ended up developing some skills that are somewhat stranded given the way you’ve gone with your career. Why did you go to law school at the time?
Lewis Bollard: Yes. I’m not sure I regret law school, but I would say that I don’t necessarily recommend it to others. At the time, I think that law school appeared to be the obvious route towards effective advocacy. I think that for a lot of people in America in particular focused on social change, it’s natural to look to the courts because this was the success route of civil rights, this was the success route of gay rights. Unfortunately, I think it’s very unlikely to be the success route for animal welfare, or for that matter, for other EA courses. When I went to law school, I think I had this inclination that generally lawyers are in good position to bring about social change, and it was only once I started working as a lawyer at the Humane Society on factory farming, that I realised the legal options are very limited on this issue.
Again, I think not necessarily mistaken that I gained useful skills. The credentials were probably helpful in getting this current job, but I do think that for people who are thinking about how they can have the greatest impact, it’s often people who look far too quickly at law school on social change issues, rather than at looking at where their competitive advantage lies.
Robert Wiblin: I want to spend the next half an hour to perhaps 45 minutes working through a bunch of specific different approaches that people might take to help animals. Given that you were talking just about legal advocacy, maybe let’s dive into that a little bit more. Why is it that legal advocacy isn’t such a promising avenue for helping animals?
Lewis Bollard: The biggest constraint on legal advocacy, is the lack of laws to be used or enforced. Within the United States, there are only two federal laws that apply to farm animals, and both of them are only enforceable by the department of agriculture or prosecutors, so there is no private citizens suit. No way that individuals can help enforce them, and they are both very minimal legal protections. Similarly, at the state levels, the very minimal protections that do exist, first normally except farm animals from their protections or agricultural practices from the protection. Secondly, they don’t provide any means of civil enforcement. What you are really looking at, is a system that’s set up to only be used by district attorneys or US attorneys.
Unfortunately, most of the district attorneys in the areas where factory farming is, tend to be tight with those communities who are often elected positions. Your ability as an independent litigator to make an impact, is extremely limited, and to further constraint, is the constraint of standing, which is that in US courts, to be a litigator on this, you need to show a concrete harm to yourself. It’s not sufficient to show a concrete harm to an animal, or to show an animal cruelty harm that might affect you. That makes it very hard to get into court in the first place, even when there is law you can use and a clear legal violation you can challenge.
Robert Wiblin: Who would have standing? Would it be other firms that are trying to compete with that firm and are following the regulations?
Lewis Bollard: Sometimes, yes. It depends a lot on the law being used. The problem is that, often no one has standing, which is why a lot of these laws go completely unenforced.
Robert Wiblin: Seems like an oversight on the part of the legislators.
Lewis Bollard: You can see it’s an oversight, or you can see it as intentional. I tend to think that a lot of these cases … animal agriculture has been very careful that they don’t want to see laws on the books enforced. The few occasions where these laws have started to be enforced, they’ve often come in and amended the laws to prevent the enforcement. I think that standing doctrine … and this has been across multiple areas. Certainly across environmentalism, and other areas where it’s not directly individuals who are affected, this being consented if it by industry, to increase the requirements for standing doctrine, to make it harder for people to get into courts in the first place.
Robert Wiblin: I guess this allows them to say, “Oh, look at these very strict regulations that are on the books that we have to follow.” Or at least, there are some regulations, but then of course, they are not enforced at all. So they can basically do whatever they want.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, that’s right. A lot of US factory farming companies like to say that they are compliant with all US laws and regulations. There are virtually no US laws and regulations, and it’s not at all clear that they are compliant with them. But they’re correct in stating that no one is prosecuting them for violating them because of the total lack of enforcement of those laws.
Robert Wiblin: What about in the EU or the U.K. or possibly New Zealand? Are there more promising avenues for a legal advocacy there?
Lewis Bollard: I think there might be. I haven’t looked as deeply into legal opportunities in those countries. Certainly, in the U.K. and in the European Union there are stronger laws protecting farm animals. At the European Union level, there are a number of quite powerful directives. I don’t think that there is an ability for a citizen suit to enforce any of those laws but it does seem like there’s a more functional political system in which lobbying and working with regulators is more likely to have an impact. I know that there has also been attempts at litigation in Australia and New Zealand around animal welfare. I’m not sure how successful it’s been to date but it does seem that there are fewer barriers than there are in the United States.
Robert Wiblin: There’s also groups like the Non-Human Rights Project and I think groups that have advocated on behalf of killer whales in farms, or, I guess, the Great Ape Rights Project … I don’t know exactly what it’s called but they get a lot of attention I suppose though. I’ve seen them regularly on the front page of The New York Times, so they might be seen just as a legal approach to getting a lot of publicity and engaging in advocacy that people read about. What do you think about those?
Lewis Bollard: I think they’ve been very effective in getting publicity and I hope that that publicity has started to make people reflect more on the legal lines we draw around humans and keeping our animals. My concern is, firstly, that I think it is very hard for those groups to succeed in the current legal system. I think they would acknowledge that that the standing doctrines and just the lack of laws to be enforced mean that they are forced to really ask the judges to go out on a plain for them.
The other issue that I always think about is how likely is this to help farm animals down the line? To me, it’s quite conceivable that society will expand our moral circle, or our legal circle, to include chimpanzees, to include orcas, to include elephants and other cognitively sophisticated mammals, but will still feel completely capable of excluding chickens or fish, or other animals that don’t have the same claim to legal personhood based on cognitive ability or something similar.
Robert Wiblin: A related approach a number of people who we both know are working on is in a radical vegan advocacy, where you really get in people’s faces and you have a really strong message. Your goal is to shock people into a paradigm shift where they realise that cruelty towards animals or just in a speciesism is a really important issue. You get a dramatic shift in attitudes in society in the way that we’ve perhaps seen with feminism or with civil rights in the past. What do you think about those approaches?
Lewis Bollard: My general inclination is that it’s too early for society to be receptive to such radical advocacy. I think when you look at past social movements it normally came at a point where far more society was onboard. For instance, with the Civil Rights Movement you had a far larger portion of U.S. population actively supporting the movement. Then it was the use of more radical tactics to really get the salience on the issue and to get people riled up.
I do think that this is something that is very open for research. So I think that this would be a great thing for people to test for studies, whether confrontation is effective or not. The one thing I would say is that I think that confrontational tactics often become confrontational against other activists and it seems very likely to me that it’s counterproductive to spend some portion, or in many cases most, of and activist’s time fighting other activists, or convincing other activists that they’re wrong.
Robert Wiblin: Animal advocacy seems really quite distinctive in just how much infighting there is and how much you have groups set up almost seemingly for the purpose of attacking other groups within the same very niche cause. What’s going on there?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, it’s confusing. I think that it is natural given that it is a source of such strong feelings. I can understand, being so angry and upset myself when I found out about factory farming. I mean I think there’s a realisation when you find out about the scale and the degree of mistreatment of animals by humans. There’s a real desire to be angry about that and to be annoyed at the world. I think that oftentimes activists first express that anger or frustration toward general society. Then when they find that general society won’t listen they will direct it towards those who will listen, which is to say other activists or companies that are trying to do higher welfare policies.
I think that it makes sense, that given we have such strong emotions as activists on this issue. It makes sense that even relatively small tactical disagreements can quickly become moral disagreements, or become moral judgments on one another. So I think it’s natural and I do think that there are parallels in past movements. If you look at, for instance, the U.S. Anti Slavery Movement, there were similarly virulent disagreements within the movement. That said, I think it’s definitely counterproductive, and I’m hopeful … It does seem that the divisions within the movement are slowly dissipating over time and so I’m hopeful that that trend will continue.
Robert Wiblin: It seems to me like you should try to implement a really strong norm within that group of just, basically, not aggressively criticising other activists at all just because the history has been that it’s been so destructive. People are just fairly rarely persuaded by using those means, it seems to me.
Lewis Bollard: Yes, I completely agree with you. I think the challenge is that, as a funder, we certainly will only fund groups that don’t spend their time or funds attacking other groups, but that that leaves us in a position with really no leverage over those activists and groups who are doing that.
Robert Wiblin: Well, I guess you might hope that, as a result, they would shrink as a fraction of the movement.
Lewis Bollard: I think that’s happening. I think that that is one of the things that is already happening. I certainly think I’ve been happy to see that a number of funders feel the same way that they will only fund groups that don’t spend time attacking other groups. I think that there is still the potential for a relatively small number of people in a small portion of the movement to do a lot of harm to other groups, but I completely agree that whatever we can, to establish a norm that does not include attacking other groups that includes, wherever possible, cooperating with them and supporting them. That would be very positive.
Robert Wiblin: I guess we wouldn’t want to preclude the option of explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing and saying I think other people should, in some case, stop using interventions that don’t work and switch over to these other approaches in a way that’s polite and evidence-based. Because, of course, that’s the kind of thing that you and I would be doing and trying to accomplish.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, that’s right and I think that’s absolutely the case. I think, for instance, when we made our original cage-free grants Direct Action Everywhere, published a post criticising them, and I’m glad they did. I think that that is exactly the kind of respectful disagreement and debate you want to see. We do need to have that kind of lively debate within the movement. We do need to have some settled positions criticised, conventional wisdom questioned. So I think it’s absolutely great to have that kind of debate and I think that the object should be seeing the norm in such a way that that kind of debate is possible, but actively sabotaging other groups’ campaigns and work is not.
Robert Wiblin: Can you tell us more about your work of funding groups overseas? I see you’ve funded China, and what were the other countries again?
Lewis Bollard: We funded now in China, in India, in Brazil, in a number of European countries, the U.K. and Germany, and we have indirectly funded advocacy across a number of other countries via regranting.
Robert Wiblin: How do you go about finding these groups? I imagine you only speak English, or you can speak English and perhaps Spanish.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, unfortunately, I only speak English. The most useful thing I have found has been networking through people who I already know. So talked to U.S. based activists and asking their recommendations for people in other countries, or talking with people I already know in other countries and asking their recommendations for activists. But even just online research has turned out to be surprisingly useful. For instance, with our China grants we ended up supporting 10 groups. I’d say of those groups I was already connected with about three of them and through those connections was put in touch with another three. But the remaining four were all just things that I found online by exhaustively searching for reports and for everything I could find on the work being done in China and just reaching out to those groups cold.
So that’s often the way. In the case of our grants in India, I actually traveled to India and met with about 25 different activists representing different groups, and certainly found that to be a very useful tool. So I think it’s quite likely we’re hopefully going to recommend a set of grants in Europe. For that set of grants, I also recently went over to Europe and met with a number of groups. I think that is an increasingly useful tools to actually meet with groups, but where that’s not possible, certainly, I’m always trying to talk over Skype, have phone conversation-
Lewis Bollard: Where that’s not possible, so I’m always trying to talk over Skype, have phone conversations and as much as possible vetting one group via multiple different independent sources. So really asking everyone about everyone else, to give a kind of as independent sense as possible for what’s going on.
Robert Wiblin: Have you had to reduce your standards for quality of evidence in order to find granting opportunities overseas?
Lewis Bollard: Yes, definitely. I would say for instance, that in China our standard for quality of evidence is significantly lower than it is in the United States.
Robert Wiblin: But it’s compensated for by the fact that the problem is so neglected over there that perhaps even a worse project, or a more risky project, is still worth going for.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, that’s the thinking and I think it could fall into either bucket, right? It could be that projects are worse and I’m certainly open to us supporting worse projects in a country where I think it’s really important to get things going. But I think it’s also as you say, just riskier, because in a lot of these cases it’s projects without track records. So we’re talking about a project where we can’t find clear evidence on what it’s done in the past, whether it’s been effective. But we know that it’s operating in an important area. We know that it’s neglected, and that can really start to make the case.
Robert Wiblin: What’s the nature of animal advocacy in India? Is it often religiously motivated?
Lewis Bollard: So there’s certainly a religious sub-current. I was quite happy in traveling to India, to see that there is a very clear distinction between the animal advocacy movement and the Hindu fundamentalist movement. And so a lot of the headlines you’ll see about cow protection laws and preventing the slaughter of cows, most Indian animal advocates want nothing to do with that. They understand, first of all, that it’s really just a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry. But that secondly, it’s probably bad for animal welfare, I mean what happens when these slaughter bans get passed at the same time as the Indian dairy industry is rapidly growing, is huge numbers of surplus cows that can’t be legally slaughtered, so they’re either smuggled long distances to be slaughtered or they’re dumped in these sanctuaries where they will slowly die or won’t receive medical treatment. So, I think that there is a real understanding amongst Indian animal advocates of that.
It’s certainly true that the Hindu nationalists right now have a lot more political power than the animal advocates do. But, there is also a really strong cultural and historical current of animal protection in India. So, it goes back to the promotion of vegetarianism by Ashoka and others early on in Indian history.
Robert Wiblin: Does Jainism as well?-
Lewis Bollard: Jainism as well, certainly. Jainism has a very strong current on this. Really, all of India’s religions do. That something, which is remarkable to me, is that India’s constitution includes animal welfare protections. And right after independence India passed a very strong animal cruelty law. Now there is still major problems with enforcement of that law. But, the fact that it has on the books laws that are far stronger than what the U.S. has, and really stronger even than many European countries suggest to me that there’s a lot of potential there, once those laws are enforced to actually see really high standards in India.
Robert Wiblin: Is it fair to say that India morally is just ahead of Europe and the U.S. in this respect, like culturally, are those values widespread?
Lewis Bollard: You know I can’t really speak to how widespread those values are. I haven’t seen any good public opinions surveys on the issue and so I think certainly within the Indian elite, these values seem a lot stronger than they seem amongst the elites in other countries. I think the other thing is there’s far less of a countervailing lobby there just doesn’t seem to be the same kind of organised lobby in favor of factory farming or other abuses of animals so that seems pretty important. I do certainly see really, really promising trends in terms of even amongst the Indian population there seems to be some broad degree of concern about animal welfare.
Robert Wiblin: What about countries that are majority Buddhist? I mean, Buddhism, I’m not an expert on this, but my understanding is it regards vegetarianism as a noble thing to do, though in most countries it’s not regarded as obligatory, but in some strains of Buddhism, particularly in China it is generally regarded as obligatory or something that most Buddhists would be doing, but varies country to country. Does that provide potentially a foundation for spreading humane values much more broadly?
Lewis Bollard: I think it might, this is certainly something we’ve been looking into about, I mean it’s certainly the case that the majority of Japanese are Buddhist, large portion of the Chinese population are Buddhist, and as you say this is a religion whose precepts involve doing no active harm to other sentient beings so I think there is a strong ideal of non-harm in that religion. And what you’ll often see is even within subsets of the religion or within regions where not everyone is vegetarian, the monks or the nuns normally still are vegetarian and so there’s definitely a sense that this is what you should strive toward.
I think it’s also a very tough thing to get involved with religious advocacy and often a very sensitive thing, so I mean for instance in China, we don’t want to be in the business of being seen as sort of religious advocates saying it’s even more sensitive than being seen as civil advocates. But, my hope is that there are things we can do to bolster those voices already within the Buddhist movement, within the Buddhist religion, that are promoting vegetarianism or that are promoting a stronger degree of respect for other sentient beings to really encourage their voices and to give them the resources to elevate their voices too.
Robert Wiblin: It occurs to me that that could potentially even be a cost effective thing to do even setting aside animals, that Buddhism seems to have values I think that are closer to mine than most religions, and inasmuch as there’s a huge population there that could be motivated to think in a more effective altruist way and might be quite receptive cause it’s quite compatible with some of the underlying ideas of the religion, maybe there’s just some good opportunities there?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting question. I would certainly defer more to experts on the theology and on the-
Robert Wiblin: I probably should as well. (laughter) I’ve read the Wikipedia page to be fair.
Lewis Bollard: I do think there is an aspect of a lot of religions have some really good things on paper. I mean not just about animals but about, for instance, charitable giving and the obligation to care for the poor and to care for the sick. And it’s really a question about whether people actually implement those in practice. But I do think that there’s a lot of room for effective altruism to connect more with religious communities in general and to really connect more too with those teachings that are very deep in some religions that really do try to promote altruism and doing good for others.
Robert Wiblin: I might be judging Buddhism by a different standard because it’s further away from what I’m used to. You judge things that are near to you by what they actually are and things that are far away by what they describe themselves as being.
Earlier you mentioned Brazil and South America, I’ve been to Central America and it doesn’t seem like animal advocacy is a huge thing there, people really love their meat. What’s the story with animal advocacy there?
Lewis Bollard: Latin America has been a real bright spot and a real pleasant surprise, some of this came out of initially just talking to Mercy for Animals, which had been placing online ads in multiple countries around the world. And just seeing what the click-through rate was like, how much they had to pay to get a click, and then what that click led to, how much time a person spent on the website, whether they requested a vegetarian starter guide and so on. And the metrics were just hugely better in Latin America than anywhere else, so for instance, compared to the U.S. they were getting click-through rates that were five, six times higher, they were getting people spending much more time on the website.
And we’ve really seen more of that as we’ve started to support more advocacy in these countries, particularly in Brazil and Mexico, just because they’re the largest countries in Latin America. We’ve seen a lot of receptiveness, a lot of people getting engaged in Facebook campaigns, companies often surprisingly receptive to going cage-free or making animal welfare reforms. And politicians now starting to really discuss this as an issue so I don’t know what the story is there behind that, but I think that part of it is that there really were a lot of activists and a lot of sympathy beneath the surface but there just previously hadn’t been the resources to mobilise that and so it started at a head start compared to other countries.
Robert Wiblin: It’s quite surprising because I think you’d face significant headwinds there, one, animal welfare seems to be a bigger deal in say northern Europe than southern Europe, and Latin America seems to have more of a, like Italian and kind of Spanish style culture and historical pedigree. And then you’ve got the Catholicism, which isn’t inconsistent, but also doesn’t seem to push animal welfare that hard. Plus like maybe a more macho culture than you’d think in like northern Europe. And yet, it’s more effective there than in the U.S. I suppose one thing is the ads might be cheaper per impression because the people aren’t as wealthy.
Lewis Bollard: Right. So the ads are cheaper but quite separately from that the click-through rates are better and the time spent and so on is better. I don’t want to overstate how rosy the picture is, there certainly still widespread factory farming, it is the case too that some companies have proven very resistant to change and some of them, because there aren’t the kind of free speech protections that there are in the U.S. some of them have sued activists for campaigning and tried to really squelch their campaigning.
Robert Wiblin: Well that’s happened in the U.S. as well.
Lewis Bollard: That has happened in the U.S. as well, yeah. I think it’s a mixed picture in Latin America, I guess, to me it’s mainly optimistic relative to my base-line assumption. Less optimistic just kind of objectively.
Robert Wiblin: It’s really good that it was tried out cause I guess you have these-
Lewis Bollard: Objectively.
Robert Wiblin: It is really good that it was tried out because you have these stereotypes about countries that are based on not all that much experience just like the people’s very broad impressions and sounds don’t always match the actual experience.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah I think that is a great point, I mean I think that particularly when it comes to pretty new issue, like animal welfare, that isn’t very well correlated with, for instance, political left and right or other kind of standard things we know more about. It makes a lot of sense to this test it, to see, to test the message, to test in different countries, in different places and see what works. I think we’re constantly kind of surprised by what that is.
Robert Wiblin: One possibility is that people in the US are already familiar with the fact that people care about animal welfare and advocate vegetarianism. They’ve least heard of it even if they haven’t heard all the details. So possibly they’re just sick of it and they know what the ad is going to be about they don’t want to read it again. But in South America it just might be a more noble thing so people are curious to find out.
Lewis Bollard: That’s definitely one plausible explanation and I think another set of results consistent with that set I heard recently was that of a group in Australia was testing online ads with different demographics. Traditionally we thought of young people as being the most receptive demographic but what they found was that old people clicked on their ads far more often, spend far more time on their website, and, based on a very kind of lose subjective interpretation of comments, left far more favorable comments. And again that may just have a lot more to do with the fact that they hadn’t [01:01:27] been exposed this message previously. So you both have a set of low hanging fruit that hasn’t already been grabbed but you also have people who really just have more of an interest factor, there’s more for a new, unique factor here.
Robert Wiblin: Maybe they’re just less easily distracted than the kids, y’know interrupting their reading about animal welfare to check Snapchat I bet.
Lewis Bollard: That, too. That, too.
Robert Wiblin: Alright, as as we continue on march through each of the different intervention areas, let’s talk a bunch about corporate campaigns. Can you describe in detail the approach that these campaigns are taking or try to influence corporate behavior?
Lewis Bollard: Sure, so the basic premise of this campaigns is that the manner in which farm animals are treated is really oblivious to the customers of grocery stores or fast food chains or other companies that are using these animal products. In those cases when consumers find out how those animals are treated, they are not very happy about it. It’s not consistent with their expectations and their faith in the company. So, what these campaigns do is really seek to capitalise on that dissonance. They seek to make customers of companies aware how the animals in the chain are treated. And to thus really create a PR incentive or brand incentive for the companies to do something about it, to deal with that dissonance, to avoid the consumer backlash. Then to really avoid the significant negative publicity from just simply exposure of how they’re treating the animals in their supply chain.
Robert Wiblin: Mm-hmm, and so they describe the conditions of animals to the general public and try to get it in the media and then say “Stop doing this and we’ll stop complaining if you change what you stock or how you produce eggs”?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so I mean a lot of it is more fine in particular leverage points. So it’s for instance finding, first making sure that the company’s senior management and their investors are aware of how the animals are being treated. And oftentimes that is enough. They aren’t even aware and when they see it they feel terrible about it or they recognise a major brand liability waiting to happen. If that fails, then yes, launching campaigns certainly generating media publicity, generating a lot of online feedback and so making sure that consumers are really communicating with this company how annoyed they are about this. Communicating through Facebook, through Twitter, through phone calls to the company and then doing things like targeted protests to really make the company’s consumers aware, in particular a lot of calls to make it a hassle for the company and to make them really deal and interact with the issue.
Robert Wiblin: Most of these campaigns have been about cage versus barn-laid or free-range eggs, right?
Lewis Bollard: Yes, so first round of campaigns which are just now winding up in the US have focused on eliminating use of battery cages for layer hens. That’s now the primary focus of campaigns in Latin America and in Southern Europe. In the US and in Northern Europe where those campaigns have largely been won in the sense of securing pledges from across the industry, activists have now moved on to the treatment of broiler chickens, the meat chickens, which are raised separately from layer hens and are particularly focused on reforming the genetics, the amount of space they have, so the crowding, and slaughter methods and other living conditions.
Robert Wiblin: So what do you mean, changing the genetics?
Lewis Bollard: So one of the biggest problems that modern broiler chickens face is the genetics that they’re born with. Those genetics have been optimised for two things only: for as rapid growth as possible and for lower feed conversion ratio as possible. In the process, animal welfare has been really neglected. What we have now is birds that grow five, six times faster than they did in 1950, but the bird’s systems are not designed to keep up with that. So their legs aren’t five to six times stronger, their lungs and heart aren’t six times bigger. So what you end up with is a lot of birds lame later in the growing period, you end up with major respiratory problems or heart problems. So a lot of sources of chronic suffering that are created simply by the genetics these birds are born with.
Robert Wiblin: It sounds perverse but could that even have been positive for animal welfare? Their lives are worse but you need fewer of them to produce the same amount of meat. On the other hand, of course, the meat becomes cheaper, then, and so people consume more of it. I guess that it’s not obvious that it’s obvious overall
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so this is certainly a debate that’s been had around the current requests for higher welfare genetics which may mean slower genetics. To me I think the most important thing is that when we’re talking about higher welfare genetics, the focus is on those welfare outcomes. So I think if you look at the current outcomes for broiler chickens, it seems very likely that they live net negative lives as opposed to in 1950 where I think it’s totally conceivable that they had net positive lives. If you’re talking about net-positive versus net-negative then extending a net-positive life isn’t such a bad thing whereas extending a net negative life is a very bad thing.
But I think when we look at these welfare outcomes whether it’s lameness, whether its respiratory problems, it’s not the case that we need to reverse all the genetic changes made since 1950. So we don’t need to make birds grow five to six times slower. Just reducing the growth rate by something like 25 percent could make a major difference and the biggest reason for that is not the actual growth rate itself but it’s that at every stage in breeding chicken the genetics companies only have so much genetic variation to play with. What they’ve been doing with these high performing bird ranges is selecting solely based on these two characteristics of growth and feed-conversion. When you free up some that genetic potential and then able to select based on animal welfare factors, you end up with a significantly higher welfare bird without doing a lot to sacrifice that growth rate.
Robert Wiblin: Could we take that even further and ultimately make animals that have just amazing lives that are just constantly ecstatic like they’re on heroin or some other drug that makes people feel very good all the time whenever they are in the farm and they say, “Well, the problem has basically been solved because the animals are living great lives”?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so I think this is a really interesting ethical question for people about whether that would, in people’s minds, solve the problem. I think from a pure utilitarian perspective it would. A lot of people would fine that kind of perverse having, for instance, particularly I think if you’re talking about animals that might psychologically feel good even in terrible conditions. I think the reason why it’s probably going to remain a thought experiment, though, is that it ultimately relies on the chicken genetics companies and the chicken producers to be on board. And not only have they shown very low interest in improving chicken welfare and improving chicken well-being, it’s a fight just to get them to agree on the most basic reforms, but they also seem far more concerned about being able to say to their consumer that a chicken isn’t technically genetically modified which sort of changes you’re [01:08:45] envisaging would probably involves some sort of genetic modification. So it’s funny given that they’ve done so much to genetically manipulate these birds and to do far more than GMO technologies could have done in one swoop.
Robert Wiblin: Quite ghastly things.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, exactly. But they still maintain this real – they want the consumer still to feel the kind of naturalistic fallacy about these birds.
Robert Wiblin: I was thinking you could just use the same breeding techniques to select the birds that seem to be happiest. I guess you would have a problem there between seeming happy and being happy. You could end up breaking that link.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think that certainly when you’re talking about higher welfare outcomes, one of them is to look at the perceived subjective well-being of birds. It’s quite hard to measure. Birds don’t smile in the same way as we do and we don’t have the same kind of insights into their minds and when they’re happy or not. But I think the bigger issue here is that for birds to truly be happy in the kind of environment they’re being kept in would require far more than you can naturally select for.
Robert Wiblin: Or it would take thousands of generations, or a huge amount of evolution for that to work.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, and it might still not be possible. There are some basic evolutionary reason why you would find really harsh unforgiving environment make you unhappy. There are reasons why there should be aversive [01:10:03] for an animal evolutionarily.
Robert Wiblin: Although … Well, I’m not so sure about that. I studied genetics, and I’m just thinking, in fact, these environments aren’t bad for them in the modern world, in a sense, because they get food and they reproduce. In a way, there’s a disconnect between what they’ve been evolved to want in the past and in fact what actually perpetuates their genes today. So it would certainly require a radical reprogramming of what kinds of environments chickens enjoy, but there’s other species that like cramped, damp conditions. I don’t know, I mean insects obviously, but like burrowing animals.
Lewis Bollard: Right. Yeah, so I mean I think you’re certainly right that the biggest problem here is the imbalance between these animals needs as they were naturally and have been developed through breeding, and the environments they’re in. And despite the best efforts of farmers to breed the original animal out of them, they have not gotten to a point where birds, for instance, don’t feel the desire to extend their wings or to perch or to dust-bathe, or do other things that are severely constrained in these environments.
I’ll defer to you on whether you could ever breed a bird like that, but I do think that the simpler solution is likely to be to just improve the conditions sufficiently, that the bird is able to exhibit those kind of important behaviors.
Robert Wiblin: Another reason that this approach might be redundant is that I expect it would be more difficult and take longer than producing meat, cultured meat or other meat substitutes that don’t require animals.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I mean, I think when people start to talk about completely re-engineering the minds of chickens so that they’re essentially brain-dead and don’t realise the environment they’re in, it just seems like a better option to only grow the meat part of the bird and not grow the mind at all.
Robert Wiblin: I expect that is probably coming in the next 30 to 50 years, possibly even sooner than that, and it’s clear that there’s a commercial path to doing that in a way that probably just doesn’t exist without these radical changes in bird genetics.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. I think that’s right. I mean, people always talk about hurdles to consumer acceptance of grown meat or clean meat, but obviously those hurdles would be far greater for brain-dead meat or otherwise significantly altered chickens, so I do think that as you say, it’s most likely we’ll see this through people just growing the meat cells themselves, and that also seems more efficient than growing the entire bird.
Robert Wiblin: It’s strange that that would have hurdles to consumer acceptance, with birds so large that their legs break and then they starve and rot on the floor of the farm not so much.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, it’s a real irony. It really is kind of crazy how so many of the, when there are surveys done, questions about “Would people eat grown meat,” and people say they wouldn’t because it’s not natural, when you look at the current system, if natural is even a good thing that you care about, there is just no way you would assign natural as the descriptor of the current system. I think that has a lot to do with willful ignorance of current conditions and my hope is certainly that as the animal movement does a better job of raising awareness of actual conditions with people, that will make them more receptive to alternatives like grown meat, which they’ll come to see are really both cleaner in terms of how they’re produced but also just obviously so much better for animals.
Robert Wiblin: We just had a lengthy diversion into genetics, but we were talking about corporate campaigns and their approach. I wanted to discuss for a minute the economics of the cage-free campaigns. So they’ve put pressure on these companies and they inform them, some moral persuasion, and some just profit-based persuasion, and many of them have folded quite quickly. Is that because it’s not that much more expensive to get rid of the cages? Or is it that consumers kind of wanted it anyway? Or perhaps if everyone’s doing it at once, you don’t get much of a commercial disadvantage?
Lewis Bollard: I think it’s a variety of those factors, but I actually think more than that, that these campaigns have just been very effectively run. I mean, I think the most important factor behind these campaigns is that they have never given up a campaign until they’ve won.
So if you think about the proposition as a company when one of these campaigning groups comes to you and says, “Hey, you’re doing this cruel practice. We’re planning to campaign against you.” As that company, you face a choice. If you know that they have never backed out of a campaign; they have ultimately won every campaign even if it’s taken them a year or longer, you face a choice of either we can do this right now and incur whatever cost there is down the line and possibly get a mild kind of positive halo for doing a good thing, or we can endure a brutal campaign where our brand gets trashed for weeks, months, or even a year, and then we can end up doing the same thing with the same costs associated to it. So when you see it in that way, it becomes pretty rational to make that decision.
And I think that one way they’ve been able to really build up their reputation has been going through industry subsector at a time. So starting out with food service companies, and really creating a place where after Aramark and Compass Group had made these commitments, for Sodexo, they were the only other major food service company that hadn’t, and they’d risked becoming the pariah within their industry. And similarly doing that within fast food, food fat manufacturers, grocers. So I think definitely building up the kind of momentum within each industry has been really important and there is a kind of herd mentality that occurs, but I also think there’s a basic kind of rational calculus for companies.
Robert Wiblin: Are the campaigners gonna make sure that they never drop a campaign, that they’re going to just … If they start something, they’re gonna finish it?
Lewis Bollard: That’s the plan and so far, they’ve held true to that. I mean, there are campaigns that have been going on for quite a while. Some that have been going on for more than six months. But almost invariably, other than the current few campaigns that are going on, they have ultimately won. And I think that normally over time, they either kind of wear down a company, or they experiment and ultimately find the pressure points that really get to the company and make them want to compromise. So yeah, that really has been their track record to date.
Robert Wiblin: What is the kind of first email or letter that they send to the company? Is it very friendly and informative? Is it all smiles and cheer?
Lewis Bollard: Some I’m not involved in the tactics. But my understanding is that yes, the initial communications are always as friendly and polite as possible. So there really is an effort to appeal to the better angels of the executives’ nature. And sometimes it works. I mean really, sometimes it is the case that what happens here is that executives of the companies simply didn’t realise, and it sounds crazy, but you think, if you’re running a large food manufacturing company and just a few of your products have eggs in them, It’s totally possible that you just don’t know how those eggs are produced. And so it’s sometimes the case that when the executives find out how they’re produced, they’re shocked and they want nothing to do with it. I think it’s also sometimes the case that executives even just receiving their polite emails see the potential brand damage for when consumers will do this, and so that’s sufficient. So yes, it starts out with a pretty polite, nice approach.
Robert Wiblin: And they kind of go in order from companies that seem either most culturally receptive or their brand is most likely to be damaged, because they have a brand that says, “We’re a nice, friendly, environmentally positive company.” Or do they go to companies where it’s not costly for them because the eggs, say, are only a small fraction of the product cost? What’s the calculus?
Lewis Bollard: So certainly, they’re looking for the low-hanging fruit first but ultimately, they know they need to get through the entire food industry. So you ultimately need to get pledges from even the toughest companies at some point. So, generally, I think that there’s been a tendency with each of these corporate campaigns first to focus on the food service sector. And the reason for that is that it’s a highly competitive sector where accounts, where the companies are constantly competing for accounts.
Robert Wiblin: What do you mean food service?
Lewis Bollard: So food service, Compass Group, Aramark, Sodexo, these are the companies that serve all the food served at universities, in hospitals, in office cafeterias, and each of those universities or office cafeterias is viewed as an account. So what happens is, when a campaign starts, and when the Humane League for instance, they would have mobilised students at campuses across the country. They’re not just protesting against Aramark. They’re petitioning their university to drop Aramark as their food service provider because of its mistreatment of animals and given this is a high-margin, highly competitive business for companies like Aramark, they’re very sensitive to that, so they want to fulfill what those customers are demanding. They want to avoid that kind of negative publicity. So that’s one example of how they start.
Robert Wiblin: So, a lot of companies are switching from cage eggs to non-cage eggs, but what are the conditions once they get out of the cages?
Lewis Bollard: So they’re certainly far from perfect. Typically, what the difference looks like is this, is that in a cage operation, the average bird in the United States is in a cage with between four and six other birds. In that cage, they have about 67 square inches. So that’s about the size of an iPad, and that’s where they spend their whole life and there’s really no behavioral enrichments, which is to say that there’s no way for them to express their need to perch, to nest, to dust-bathe, to do other things that preference studies and aversion studies suggest are very important to hens. In a cage-free environment, there are similar in a total numbers of hens as there would be in a facility, so we’re still talking about hundreds of thousands of hens in a single farm. Perhaps 50,000 in one barn. But within that environment, they’re free to roam around, so it’s typically entirely indoors and there is both horizontal and vertical space. On the horizontal space, the minimum required by the industry standards are 144 square inches, so more than what’s required for a bird in a cage, more important obviously, given they can move around, they can functionally make use of far more space. I think, critically about these cage free environments, industry standards require that there be access to perching space, to dust bathing, and to nesting boxes, and again, we know these are really important things for hens.
So, clearly there are still things lacking from the set up. They don’t have access to the outdoors. These are still high density operations. There are still real management concerns. That mortality, for instance can be very variable depending on the management of the operation. They are harder to manage than battery cage operations are. So, there remain major animal welfare concerns but I also feel pretty confident that it’s a significant improvement.
Robert Wiblin: What about free range chickens? Are they better off again?
Lewis Bollard: I think in most ways they are. So I think that, I know less about those because I haven’t read up as much on the stays as free range. Free range still remains a tiny fraction of the US market, and is simply not financially viable for these companies right now.
Robert Wiblin: That’s different than in the UK and Australia right?
Lewis Bollard: That’s right.
Robert Wiblin: In Australia that seemed like most of the eggs are always free range.
Lewis Bollard: That’s right, so in the UK and Australia it’s now a significant portion. I don’t know if it’s a majority yet, but it’s certainly a significant portion of egg sales. I think part of that is lower total scale. I think also that certainly British climates are better suited to free range operations. One of the problems that US free range operations have is the birds often end up indoors for half the year anyway. The biggest problem in free range operations is predation and keeping predation under control. I think we’re free range operation managed to do that. They can be very high welfare.
Robert Wiblin: Some even positive perhaps.
Lewis Bollard: I think that’s quite likely. I mean I think that there are still other problems associated with the egg industry. Say, for instance, even free range operations rely on chicks from commercial hatcheries where the male chicks are normally ground up alive because there’s no need for them. So there are still certainly other problems with the industry. But I think if you will look just at the experience of a free range hen in a place where predation is being controlled. I think they probably are getting to express most if not all of the things that a hen really cares about and wants to express.
Robert Wiblin: Do they still cut off the half of their beaks to prevent them from pecking?
Lewis Bollard: This, it varies. But in most free range operations, my understanding is they don’t. So debeaking is done in cage operations, it’s done in most cage free operations. In an environment with low enough density and with enough other distractions, so I think, in particular this is something with free range hens where they have access to soil, and they can peck at soil, that creates enough of other distractions that they’re not going to peck at other hens.
Robert Wiblin: So I’ve got three broad categories: cage eggs, I guess, larger cage eggs, and then free range. Do you have a sense of the relative cost of the eggs from each of these different modes of production?
Lewis Bollard: So, right now, US egg prices are at historic lows due to a variety of factors. My understanding is that in the last month, and this is in August, the average cage egg price for a dozen has been hovering around $1.30 or so nationally.
Robert Wiblin: That’s incredibly low.
Lewis Bollard: Incredibly low, yeah. For a cage free dozen we’re looking more at like $2.20 or so for a dozen and for free range, I think for a lot of free range labels you’re looking more at like $4.00 or $5.00.
Robert Wiblin: Okay.
Lewis Bollard: So …
Robert Wiblin: So, it’s several multiples …
Lewis Bollard: Several multiples, I think in the case of … often times, both cage free and free range is used as a price differentiation tool as well, so …
Robert Wiblin: … the part where there’s picking up consumers that are willing to pay more even if it doesn’t cost that much.
Lewis Bollard: Exactly, exactly. I think that, my hope is, that will change over time, as this becomes the new standard. So as it moves away from being the sole specialty product, it makes sense for companies to not price it in that way.
Robert Wiblin: I recall in Australia that the difference in cage eggs and free range eggs, was maybe that they were double, maybe double and a half, from memory. So maybe a guess that might cost in production, that’s maybe where we’re ballparking at.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, that sounds right. I think certainly some of the studies coming out of Europe, in terms of cage free production, suggest costs about 25% higher than cage production. They don’t suggest costs that are twice the price.
Robert Wiblin: And, so, because the cost of production isn’t that much greater, has that made this a more promising campaign to go with first because just companies are more willing to do it, and maybe also eggs aren’t as expensive as meat in the first place, so it’s just less of an overall increase in cost?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think those are all things that have made this more tractable. I think the fact too, that for a lot of companies eggs are not integral to their menu. So even, for a lot of fast food companies, eggs are something that they are, maybe have a couple of breakfast dishes including, but otherwise aren’t using. So I think that, all those things together, certainly made this a more tractable first goal and will make subsequent campaigns harder.
Robert Wiblin: Have you ever met someone in the agricultural industry or animal agricultural industry, who you’ve explained the conditions animals are in and why this is immoral and have just been overcome with shame and decided to leave or change their ways?
Lewis Bollard: (nervous laugh) … um …
Robert Wiblin: Have you ever heard of a story like this? …
Lewis Bollard: Well …
Robert Wiblin: … thinks you know, maybe I’m one of the baddies, and you know, I’m going to hell, or whatever their non-religious equivalent would be ..
Lewis Bollard: Sure, sure, so I did have a friend I went to university … I went to University at Auckland for six months before I came over to the United States for university. And I had a friend from a dairy farming family, and both of his, two of his brothers went into dairy farming and I ultimately persuaded him to go vegan and he, has since then, been vegan and been very concerned about factory farming. And when I say I did, it was mainly that we debated and liked on to read animal liberation and that had the effect.
You know, what I found a lot more often with people in industry, is either that they are understandably very defensive because they have a lot at stake in the current system, or that they’re just not particularly happy about aspects of the system. That they feel like they have already made some costs and they’re already sort of bored into it. That they either don’t have the power to change it, or that someone else will do it if they don’t. So I think this is a kind of common refrain is that it’s just, it’s the market dictating this, they don’t have a ton of autonomy about setting these conditions or changing how animals are treated.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah, I did know some people at university who, especially came from dairy farming, or have free ranging livestock. And I’ve got to say, in those cases it is somewhat harder to persuade people of the fact that conditions for dairy cows are probably among the least that and also free ranging livestock that they say, based on my experience, they seem to have positive lives. And it’s understandable that they’re not ignorant about what’s going on. But in more thinking, people who raise broiler chickens or caged chickens, it does require an astonishing lack of empathy, I think, to just not think, that is a moral issue.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, think that’s right. But I think that there’s also an aspect of focusing on particular rationalisations. So I have a really interesting example, recently of, I was talking with a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Agriculture, which is sort of a blue ribbon panel put out a number of years ago, and he’s a quite senior professor at Johns Hopkins. He said the most the shocking experience for him as a scientist, was visiting a major pig factory farm at the University of Iowa, that was part of the … I think maybe it was Iowa State, rather, it was part of the university, it was kind of an agricultural demonstration facility, and they were using gestation crates. He walked in and he asked …
Robert Wiblin: Do you want to just describe gestation crates for us by chance?
Lewis Bollard: Sure, gestation crates are essentially coffin sized crates that are used for pigs during their pregnancy. Pigs typically spend their sixteen week pregnancy in gestation crate before being moved to a farrowing crate for about four weeks, while they give birth to their litter. Then they’re re inseminated and moved back into a gestation crate. So they spend a majority of their three to four year lifespan in these crates where they are completely immobilised. They can’t turn around, they can just lie down but that’s about it.
Robert Wiblin: Really, it’s just astonishingly evil.
Lewis Bollard: It really is, I think that it’s probably one of the most obviously evil practices used in factory farming. It just has so little justification and is so obviously cruel to these smart and complex creatures. You know, in this particular case this scientist was telling me that he asked these students at Iowa State, who were studying animal science, or studying veterinary sciences. He asked them, what did they think about this?
They all said they thought it was great, and they pointed out that these pigs didn’t have to worry about climatic variation, didn’t have to worry for a shortage of food, didn’t have to worry about lack of water. They really focused on those few aspects of the system, that were providing for the pigs needs. He even said he asked one of the scientists there, he said, “How do you justify this not providing for these pigs needs?”
And she said, “Well, we are providing for the pigs needs, they can drink as much as they want, and they can eat as much as they want, and they can go to the bathroom whenever they want.”
Robert Wiblin: I would be interested to offer this personal lifestyle that is nourishing to them, but at the same time typically extended …
Lewis Bollard: Indeed.
Robert Wiblin: Well, that leads us fairly naturally to the next approach that I’d like to discuss, which is undercover investigations of conditions in farms. I guess, in the more extreme case, rescues that sometimes take place after there’s undercover investigations. Do you want to describe what those approaches involve?
Lewis Bollard: Sure. So, for several decades now, activists have gone undercover on factory farms to expose the conditions. And this is really a necessity, because these farms deliberately shut themselves off from the world and try to avoid consumers seeing how animals are treated. And so the most common method for these investigations involves investigators securing a job at a facility, and then once they’re on the job, using secret cameras to simply film what’s going on. And they then typically will turn that film over to the authorities, and at the same time publish it, so that the public can become aware.
And the one recent major threat to these undercover investigations has been a set of ag-gag laws passed in various states, which sought to criminalise undercover investigations to make is basically a felony to engage in these kind of employment-based undercover investigations. And a promising development on that front, about five or six states passed these ag-gag laws in recent years. Most recently, though, two different federal courts have struck down ag-gag laws in Utah and in Idaho under the First Amendment.
Robert Wiblin: Okay. My understanding of First Amendment is that you might still be prosecuted for stealing the information, because it might be a breach of contract, a breach of perhaps your labour agreement as an employee. But that having gotten the video, you can’t stop anyone from publishing it, because that would be a violation of their freedom of expression. Do I understand that correctly?
Lewis Bollard: So these rulings have gone a little beyond this, and certainly I think it’s very clearly established under the First Amendment that you have a right to publish anything. So if you already have the video, you absolutely have the right to publish that. I think the area that was a little murkier until these recent rulings was the gathering of that information with the explicit purpose of publishing it, and in both of these cases, the court’s found that that was a First Amendment protected activity, that essentially that gathering of information was part of that same act of speech, and that same act of publicising conditions, and in particular these laws were so obviously targeted, it’s oppressing speech. They were so obviously targeted at stopping the publication of these videos, and that they shouldn’t be able to achieve their aim by just focusing on the backend [01:32:41] rather than explicitly banning that publication.
Robert Wiblin: I love the First Amendment even more now. I guess my understanding was always so clear that it was going to violate the First Amendment in some form, that it was kind of vexatious legislation, just an attempt to hassle and it might force them to go in the court to defend themselves.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, that’s only one interpretation. I don’t think that’s how the animal agricultural industry found it. Sure. I mean, they certainly were trying to hassle activists, and trying to take them into court, but I think that they believed that they could do this, and I think perhaps they don’t have a great deal of respect for the First Amendment. I think what’s been really great to see has been this becoming such a prominent Free Speech issue. The ACLU getting involved, other major Free Speech advocates getting involved. And really as a result, these judges seeing this so clearly for what it is, as an attempt to suppress speech.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah, I’m a monthly donator, so yes. I’ll keep going with that. Let’s step back again. So they do these undercover investigations, is it difficult to slip people in who, I guess, if you have any association with animal advocacy [01:33:53], of course you’re not going to be hired for a factory farmer, I expect.
Lewis Bollard: That’s correct. So, it’s tough to do undercover investigations, and particularly now, the kind of sad response of factory farms in these investigations has been first, to try to criminalise them, and secondly, to try and prevent investigators getting in in the first place. So rather than looking at changing the conditions, or getting rid of things that might look terrible, they really focused on how they can increase their vetting of applicants. I think the reason why investigators still get in is that being a factory farm worker or slaughterhouse worker is not a very sought-after profession, and so typically these farms and these slaughter houses are still desperate to hire workers, and they’re not asking any questions. In many cases they’re getting undocumented immigrants or others and that. So they have reasons to not ask questions.
Robert Wiblin: That makes sense. So, then groups that do this, like Mercy For Animals and Animal Equality, that’s correct?
Lewis Bollard: They’re two prime groups, yup.
Robert Wiblin: They then put out these videos, after some editing, I guess. Do you think that when they edit them, it’s like a faithful representation of all the footage? Or do they deliberately pull out the worst abuses?
Lewis Bollard: I think there’s certainly an aspect, of course you’re going to focus on some of the more horrific things that you see, but I do think it’s accurate. And I think two kind of data points on this. One was a few months ago, I was visiting factory farms in India, and the battery cages, they look exactly as they do on the videos. And so many of the abuses that you see on these videos, in my eyes, all the worst abuses like gestation crates or battery cages, they’re not aberrations. They’re part of the design of the facility. So it’s not a case of they just once caught the cage on camera. The cage is unmoving. So I just sort of find it funny when the industry says, “Oh, these are just a few bad apples.” But at the same time the industry calls up the statistics saying, “Well, 90% of our facilities use these cages.”
Robert Wiblin: There’s probably an instruction manual.
Lewis Bollard: Right, an instruction manual, exactly how to use them. So, yeah, I think that that part certainly seems representative. The other thing I would say is having been involved in Humane Society, I watched the full outtakes of an investigation at a calf slaughter house. And I did this to identify legal violations that we could point out to the USDA, and having watched that I can tell you that the worst things were not included in the video.
Robert Wiblin: Because it would be too brutal?
Lewis Bollard: It was too graphic, it was too graphic. And so for the media to agree to cover things, you can’t show things that are too graphic. And so, a lot of what I consider the worst stuff was just never shown, was never put online, was never put anywhere, would violate the YouTube content policies, and wouldn’t be allowed on Facebook. So, as much as-
Robert Wiblin: And that’s what the viewers are effectively paying people to do.
Lewis Bollard: Right. Yeah, to me, that’s the thing. You’re sort of seeing, yes, you’re seeing some of the more unusual things, so certainly … And unfortunately what’s newsworthy is often what’s unusual and weird. So the fact that these gestation crates are being used day in and day out, and are absolutely awful, is not newsworthy. But when some workers in Ohio is dragging up a pig behind a forklift, it was newsworthy. Now I have no doubt that’s an isolated incident, but it’s also in many ways representative of the culture that operates within these facilities.
Robert Wiblin: Maybe you could contrive other unusual things that they could do on camera, like, I don’t know, put party hats on the pigs. Just something silly to get attention, because that would be awful, and in the meantime you would see what the conditions in the farms are.
Lewis Bollard: I like that idea. I hope that putting party hats on pigs is the worst that we find in these videos in the future.
Robert Wiblin: So, they release the videos. What is the goal here? Is it to get people to become vegetarian? Is it to get policy reform? Is it just to get a lot of media for the charity and attract donations?
Lewis Bollard: I think there are multiple goals, and it certain varies by the group that’s involved. But I do see the overarching goal is to make people aware of the cruelty on these farms, and aware of the conditions they’re subsidising when they buy animal products. So people will have different responses to that. Some people, certainly, will see that and say they want nothing to do with it, and then they go vegetarian or vegan or dramatically reduce the amount of animal products they buy. Some people will see that and think we need wholesale political or corporate reforms, and will really get involved in activism, and see this as a motivation to get involved in activism. So, I think it’s really just that awareness is a key [01:39:44] motivating factor for people, and the transparency is so important. And it’s less prescriptive of what will come after that. And more adjusted, that is the essential first step for most of the important actions on this issue.
Robert Wiblin: Do they then prosecute? I guess it sounded like a HSUS that’s [inaudible 01:40:02] that’s looking at these videos and trying to prosecute. You’re saying it’s hard to get standing.
Lewis Bollard: That’s right, so we wouldn’t have the prosecution power, but we would go to prosecutor. Every case that I’m aware of, undercover investigators go to prosecutors, the local prosecutors that have jurisdiction over this, and present them the evidence. The biggest problem they face is that most of the forms of cruelty they find on camera are completely legal. For instance, the use of gestation crates, completely legal, except in a couple of states, even though it’s a form of animal cruelty that would be a felony if done to a dog or a cat. The way the laws are written, it’s completely legal to do it to farm animals. In fact, there’s a particularly mean twist to a lot of state’s animal cruelty laws, where anything that is defined as a common agricultural practice is exempt from the animal cruelty law.
Robert Wiblin: The more people do it, the less illegal it becomes.
Lewis Bollard: Exactly, so one just crazy incarnation of this, I recommend people who are looking to watch something on this, there was an HBO documentary several years back, called Death on a Factory Farm. This documentary was about the case I mentioned of Ohio farmers using forklifts to strangle pigs. The local prosecutors … Local prosecutors normally do nothing about these things particularly because they’re in factory farm areas, but in this case, they were appalled. They saw it and they said, “Yeah, we’ll bring in animal cruelty prosecution. This is obviously not a common agricultural practice.” The defense of the pig farmer was this is a common agricultural practice. Amazingly-
Robert Wiblin: It beggars belief.
Lewis Bollard: … the state pork association sent, not just their president, but also veterinarians to go and say that this was a common agricultural practice. The judge ultimately found that it was because the pork industry said it was, and who’s in a better position to know what’s a common agricultural practice than the pork industry.
Robert Wiblin: Was that ever turned against them in subsequent campaigns?
Lewis Bollard: It certainly in this documentary, Death on a Factory Farm. I think that, hopefully, that had an effect on people. I think what’s been unfortunate is that these issues so often just slip under the radar. People, I think the vast majority of Americans have no idea that state animal cruelty laws don’t apply the vast majority of farm animals and farm practices. In fact, we know that from polls, that when people find out that most agricultural practices are exempt from animal cruelty laws, they think that’s obviously wrong, but it’s just not something they’re paying much attention to.
Robert Wiblin: What about in Europe. I know Mercy for Animals and Animal Equality are pretty big players there. Do they ever prosecute there? Can they ever bring suits themselves?
Lewis Bollard: Animal Equality is actually the bigger player in Europe, but there are a number of others like Compassion World Farming. I’m not sure about their ability to prosecute or to bring legal mechanisms.
Robert Wiblin: These are mostly public advocacy media approaches.
Lewis Bollard: That’s right. That’s right. There have definitely been some exceptions. I know, for instance in Germany, there’s been some public litigation. Some of which I think has even reached the German constitutional court about these issues. In Israel there’s been some really powerful litigation. [01:43:08] Foie gras was banned in Israel, based on litigation. There has been some of that. My understanding is that, for the most part in Europe, we’re still talking about similar methods though, in terms of undercover investigations, corporate campaigns. Plus, with the added benefit that there is a somewhat functioning political system at the EU level, that is able to enact directors of the sort that the US political systems is unable or unwilling to do.
Robert Wiblin: Do you want to comment on the kind of public response you see when one of these undercover investigations is made public?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. I think that almost universally people are outraged. I think that it’s heartening in the sense that you generally see, just in terms of their responses people leave on Facebook, or the way that news articles are perceived, or when they’re shown to people on the sheet, that people are pretty outrage. I think what can be frustrating for advocates is that that doesn’t necessarily lead people to make changes in their own diets or in their actions, but my hope is that over time these are really building the basis for larger reforms. I think that’s part of what you’re seeing in the corporate reforms.
I think one reason these were able to take off so quickly was that for over a decade undercover investigators had been exposing conditions in battery cages and started to sensitise the public to how horrific these conditions were. I think that’s what created a lot of the kind of ground that was fertile for those campaigns.
Robert Wiblin: Do you want to talk about the cost effectiveness of the undercover investigations? My understanding is that they’re really quite cheap to run and that they get a huge amount of media views through each dollar spent.
Lewis Bollard: I think that’s right. I think generally these investigations cost somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand dollars, and that’s kind of from start to finish, including the legal advice, the rolling it out, the PR, and everything. Which is pretty cheap, when some of these get a lot of publicity. The primary constraint right now, on investigations, is not financial. Most of the groups that do them, at least in the US, and I think also Europe, have the funding to do so, but what they’ve found is that there is a risk of saturating the market.
For instance, Mercy for Animals actually cut back on the number of investigations that it did each year, because it found that reporters became less and less interested in them, the more it put out. Unfortunately, it’s a tactic that has natural limits to it. One we’re getting around those limits is by supporting undercover investigations in other countries where there have been fewer.
For instance, Mercy for Animals just did a major investigation in Brazil, where there hadn’t been a lot of investigations previously and they’re other investigations coming out from Animal Equality in Mexico and Germany, so I think there’s a lot more potential to scale this globally.
Robert Wiblin: It’s possible that someone listening to this might be in a position to help with an undercover investigation and doesn’t yet have an association with an animal charity. If so, I would suggest do not go posting on Facebook about this issue. Keep your views under wraps, and I guess very privately contact Mercy for Animals or one of the other groups that does undercover investigations.
Lewis Bollard: I think that’s right. I think that if someone is interested in becoming an undercover investigator they would do well to contact Mercy for Animals or Animal Equality or even The Humane Society of the United States. I think that those groups are always looking for investigators, and as you say, it needs to be someone who hasn’t posted anything online about farm animals, and it also needs to be someone who is really resilient, who’s able to work in an environment where you’re witnessing really horrific abuses of animals on a daily basis and ca
Robert Wiblin: Keep a straight face.
Lewis Bollard: … keep a straight face, exactly, and not really give any indication or any hint of things being wrong. I think it’s a very tough demanding task and I have immense respect for the people who succeed in doing it. One thing I would note, for people who might be interested, is that it doesn’t need to be a lifelong career. I know a number of people who’ve done it for six months and that’s as long as they could last, but that was long enough to investigate two different facilities and really to make a major major impact by doing that.
Robert Wiblin: Likewise, I have really immense respect for people who have the grit to go through with something like that. I think I might struggle myself.
Are these undercover investigations something that you fund very much at Open Phil?
Lewis Bollard: We’ve started funding, particularly on the international side, where we see the potential to scale up undercover investigations more. Certainly it’s been a portion of our grants already in Latin America and in India. We’re looking at the potential for more funding of investigations in Europe. As we move more and more toward general support for groups we trust, it’s really going to be in their discretion whether they use funds they use for that purpose, but certainly it’s something. It’s an intervention that I view as potentially very cost effective.
Robert Wiblin: Let’s move on then to meat substitute research of various kinds. I’ve done an interview with Bruce Friedrich, who heads up the Good Food Institute, one of the groups that you fund in this area, possibly the only group that you fund in this area at this point.
Lewis Bollard: Yes, that’s right.
Robert Wiblin: That was about an hour and a half and it goes through a lot of basics, so we might go a bit quickly through this one, but what’s your perspective on meat substitute research?
Lewis Bollard: I think there is huge long-term potential to transition from an animal product based economy to an economy based around either plant based or cellular agriculture alternatives to animal products. I do think that is one of the more promising and exciting long-term solutions to really getting rid of farm animal suffering. I think that right now the technology is far more advanced on the plant-based side, so you’re seeing already products like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods producing things that many people find to be kind of equivalent to meat and to have a similar proposition. I think that’s only going to keep getting better.
I think that on the cellular agriculture side, the growing of meat, we’re not as far along and there’s a need for a lot more research, but obviously there is that potential down the line for it to be something transformative.
Robert Wiblin: My view, I think, is if I could have one very skilled person working on any individual thing to try to improve human, sorry to improve animal welfare, my guess is that having a really fantastic food scientist working on plant based meat substitutes or clean meat, as it’s now called, is probably among the most effective careers. It’s a little bit of a speculative guess, but I think not a totally uninformed one.
On the podcast with Bruce, that I put up the link to, he made the case for doing this kind of research and why it’s extremely cost effective. Do you want to maybe offer some counter points? What are your biggest reservations?
Lewis Bollard: Well I …
Robert Wiblin: Do you want to maybe offer some kind of points? What are your biggest reservations?
Lewis Bollard: Well, I think those researchers could be very effective, and I certainly think that, from a talent perspective, to any listener who has a scientific background or a scientific aptitude, I would strongly encourage them to consider this.
Robert Wiblin: Because … And it’s more of a talent gap than a funding gap because inasmuch as there are good projects, then there’s often quite a lot of commercial interest in this already? Is that right?
Lewis Bollard: Exactly. So I think that there’s a lot of funding already on the private side, the for-profit side. I think we could certainly use more funding. I mean the more the merrier on this issue, but there has been … if you look for instance at Impossible Foods, its last funding round was $75 million. There’s one before that was over $100 million. If you look at companies like Hampton Creek and over $100 million.
So there are a number of these pretty major start-ups with a lot of funding, and-
Robert Wiblin: So, is it the case that maybe a really good food scientist could be worth a million dollars in donations a year, or possibly even more, in terms of how much money you need to do a certain amount of good is what an extra person can do.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. I think they could easily be worth a million dollars. I think they could well be worth more than that. I mean, when you look at the impact that someone like Pat Brown at Impossible Foods, or Ethan Brown at Beyond Meat, no relation, have had in this space, I think that that one person really can make a huge difference. Another example’s Uma Valeti at Memphis Meats.
So I think that just having a few really strong scientists advancing this field, testing new approaches, that is the real need that we have now.
Robert Wiblin: Sorry, so I interrupted you. I think you were gonna go into, perhaps, some of your reservations about the area.
Lewis Bollard: Well, I think probably not so much reservations as solely reasons why we have so far focused elsewhere. So I would say that I think this is, again from a talent perspective, something great to do, but also from a private funding perspective, something great to do.
It’s only when I look at our potential to spend charitable dollars on the foundation side that it becomes less obvious that we should focus heavily on the alternatives. And the biggest reason for this is because the charitable side is just so much more neglected than the for-profit side, where a lot of this research is being done?
And the other thing is that I haven’t seen the same degree of charitable opportunities outside of The Good Food Institute. So The Good Food Institute, we’re already supporting and they’re doing some great stuff. But when you look at, for instance, academic institutions and what they’re doing in the space, I haven’t yet seen those opportunities? They may come along. When they do, they’ll probably be quite expensive because science is expensive. But they could still well be worth doing. They could well be worth the kind of … pass the cost-effectiveness test.
So I don’t have reservations against this field. I just think so far, you know, we’ve mainly supported it from the for-profit side. We’ve made an investment in Impossible Foods and we will continue looking for potential to do more on the charitable side.
Robert Wiblin: Your colleague, Nick Beckstead, published a blog post two years ago where he expressed some skepticism about the scientific practicality of clean meat. Do you want to comment on that? Or should I just bring that up with Nick when I speak to him tomorrow?
Lewis Bollard: Probably best to bring that up with Nick. He’s the expert there.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah. Alright. Moving on to the next approach. There’s groups that are doing research, both sides … social science research and, I guess, cross-prioritisation research, like Animal Charity Evaluators or also charity evaluations similar to what you do, trying to figure out how we can best help animals. I think you’ve given a grant to Animal Charity Evaluators? Is that right?
Lewis Bollard: That’s right, yeah.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any other researchers that you’ve given money to? Perhaps in academia?
Lewis Bollard: So, we’ve also given some funding, as a mission to the Animal Welfare Action Lab, for replication of the study on MTurk [01:54:00]. We’ve supported a number of research initiatives focused specifically on animal welfare.
So for instance, we’re supporting a Dutch researcher to come up with a comprehensive evaluation of different potential chicken welfare forms and their impact on the welfare of poor little chickens.
In the space of evaluating advocacy techniques, our only things have been that Emter study and now supportive Animal Charity Evaluators, but we’re certainly open to supporting more research there. I think it’s a really important priority. One reason we haven’t funded it more to date is that Animal Charity Evaluators has their own research fund, and that has really taken some of the best projects in the space. I would love to see more projects and I definitely remain open to funding more in that space.
Robert Wiblin: Do you think that funding research is more or less cost-effective than some of the other things that you fund? Do you have any cost-effectiveness estimates? Even ballpark ones?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. I don’t have great cost-effectiveness estimates on the research piece. I mean, I think part of the problem is that there’s been so little really rigorous research to date that it’s hard to say, based on that, how effective it’s been. I do think that research that has the potential to change how large organisations are allocating their funds is potentially very impactful.
So, for instance, research working out if online ads are effective in their goals or not is very important because that’s something that Still Groups is spending a lot of money on and, obviously, if it’s not effective it would be better that they reallocate that funding towards something that is.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah. So, for disclosure, I was on the Board of Animal Charity Evaluators for its first two and half years of life, so maybe I’ll explain some of the reservations I have about doing research in general.
One of the concerns I had, when I was on the Board, was that, as you have said earlier, the animal space just in general is really quite small. We’re talking only about tens of millions of dollars, and when the amount of funding that you can influence is small, that potentially means that you only want to be spending a small amount of money kind of figuring out how to allocate that, or doing research that can provide a multiplier on that. And, you know, even among those tens of millions, there’s only so many donors who are responsive to the kind of evidence that ACE or other similar groups like you, you might be collecting.
So that was one possible reason that it wouldn’t be that effective. On the other hand, it could be the case that if you can produce proper research, then maybe you’ll more people who will jump into the field. So that would be a hopeful thing.
Another is it seemed like in animal charity, you faced … There’s a general problem with research that you tend to look for the keys under the lamppost and that can lead people into the wrong direction. And it seems like that happened a little bit early on with these studies on leafleting that were difficult to study, but easier to study than other things, and were promoted a lot. And now it would probably seem less cost-effective than many other approaches that could be taken. And I guess there’s always a concern that, unless you have people who are willing to venture out into really difficult to study areas and give them fair treatment, that you could end up really distorting where their money’s going.
And do you have any responses to that?
Lewis Bollard: I really agree with everything you just said. I mean, I think that it’s certainly the case that there needs to be … The primary focus should be on doing things, and activism, and only then does it make sense to have research to be testing that. You don’t want to be in a constant testing phase.
I do think that though now that Open Philanthropy Project is in the space, and a number of other major donors have come on line, there is more value to that research. I mean, obviously it would affect our decisions. I think it would also affect a number of other major donors, and a number of major groups.
So I do think there’s a value to more evidence. I also think a lot of the things are hard to test, and that has kind of biased people toward, as you were saying, interventions that are relatively easier to evaluate, like leafleting. So, I do think it’s a tough assignment and we should certainly avoid the bias toward the easily measurable, but I still think it’s worth doing where we can produce rigorous studies that can even just demonstrate whether an approach has some effect or doesn’t.
Robert Wiblin: I should say that the amount of money moved per dollar spent for ACE, so that that ratio has actually been going up at the time. So it’s not the case that they’re, you know, the amount of research that they’re doing is out of whack with the amount of money that they’re influencing, and that situation’s not getting worse as they grow.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, and I’m pretty optimistic that there will be more and more funding in the space. I mean, I think as EA’s, but also all sorts of other donors are waking up to the importance of farm animal welfare and the potential tractability and the current neglectedness. I think that will draw more funders into the space and that will make research more important.
Robert Wiblin: Alright. So I think we’ve been through most of the main categories of what that you fund. Are there any others that I’ve missed?
Lewis Bollard: I think those are the main ones. We’ve … as I kind of alluded to, we’ve funded some animal welfare research. So we’ve funded both … Dutch study. We’ve also co-founded a study with a government institution, focused half on finding alternatives to castration in piglets … to get rid of the need for castration, and half on optimising welfare in cage-free environments so that hens do have better welfare in cage-free environments.
We’ve also made a number of smaller, sort of more speculative grounds? So one example is we recently made a $500,000 grant to the Greenfield Project, which is two very talented advocates who have started a new group focused on non-controversial regulatory reform approaches. So looking for where there are kind of small policy wins that could be brought about that aren’t likely to, in general, a lot of opposition.
So, for instance, gaining more funding for animal welfare research. So …
Lewis Bollard: Any more funding for animal welfare research, so it will be interesting to see if whether that is a viable approach or not.
Robert Wiblin: It’s a case of getting smaller wins with greater likelihood?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, and also just really testing an approach that hasn’t been tested previously. I mean, all the sort of regulatory and policy work that’s been done to date has focused firstly on the big-button issues that tend to be controversial, but it’s also been done by groups, by animal rights groups, who are inherently controversial in the political space. So, just seeing whether having a different messenger and having a different message can make a difference there, is really the objective.
Robert Wiblin: Do you fund Compassion in World Farming?
Lewis Bollard: We do.
Robert Wiblin: You do, oh okay. Right, right. Do you just may… briefly say what they do?
Lewis Bollard: Sure, yeah. So, we fund them both in the U.S. and in the U.K., and actually in China, for that matter. So, they’re one of the largest groups focused solely on farm animal welfare. They do take a variety of approaches. So, in the U.S., they’re primarily involved in corporate campaigning and corporate outreach. In the U.K. they do some corporate outreach, they also do a lot of work at the European Union level. And they have a pretty significant scientific department and try to a lot of thought leadership, or finding the right answers. So we funded them in the U.K. on fish welfare and looking into new approaches there. And in China, they have a food business programme where they’re working with Chinese businesses, basically giving them awards for incremental improvements in the conditions of their animals.
Robert Wiblin: Okay. What is the best argument against working on animal welfare with your career, in your view?
Lewis Bollard: I think it depends a lot on someone’s personal comparative advantage, and also obviously on what motivates them. So if someone has a background in researching vaccines, maybe you should work on vaccine research. Or if someone is really motivated to work in developing nations directly with people in extreme poverty, then that’s probably where you’re going to be most effective. So, I would say that the strongest arguments are just going to come down to individual circumstances around motivation and around qualifications. And I could think of plenty of people for whom this is not the right career path, but I also think for a lot of people hopefully it will be.
Robert Wiblin: What do you say to those who say that we should focus on humans, say, humans who are suffering a great deal? Do you think that, is it a reasonable disagreement that people can have whether animals are conscious and how much they matter morally, or do you think that that’s settled well-enough to say that, no, this is an important problem?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think that it’s pretty settled that most animals are conscious. I mean, at the very least, mammals, and birds. And I think that there is increasingly a consensus that fish are conscious too. I think that it’s certainly reasonable for people to think they could have a greater impact on human well-being, but I’m not sure it’s reasonable to completely discount animal well-being. And, the other thing I would just say, is that I think that typically focusing on animal well-being does not come at the expense of human well-being, and something I like about the effective altruism movement is that it recognises that we can do more than one thing, and that there is value to having kind of worldview diversification and to having, to be working on multiple problems at the same time.
Robert Wiblin: Perhaps the biggest focus area for Open Philanthropy is working on things that can benefit the long-run future, so future generations, particular reducing the risk of global catastrophes. How do you think that compares in terms of effectiveness with improving animal welfare?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so I don’t have a sort of good sense of the comparison there, mainly because I don’t have a good sense of the risks and tractability of long-term interventions. The only thing I would say is that I think that animal welfare is in many ways a long-term issue. First, because factory farming certainly could remain a major threat to animals in the long run if we don’t do something about it now, so there could be huge numbers of animals that suffer well into the future.
But the other issue I think people are increasingly becoming concerned about is the well-being of wild animals. And even if there’s nothing we can do to improve their well-being today, I think it is very likely that in the future there will be something we can do. And so certainly that’s an argument to care about human civilisation being in a good position in the future, but it’s also a reason to really think hard about how we can make sure that the future trajectory of humans is in kind to focus on the well-being of those animals rather to ignore it.
Robert Wiblin: Alright, so assuming that someone was going to focus on animal welfare, what are the strongest critiques of Open Phil’s approach to doing so?
Lewis Bollard: So I’d say the first critique is that we focused too heavily on corporate campaigns, and incremental animal welfare reforms. I think that this can come both from the perspective that we should be promoting complete dietary change, and that animal welfare reforms are necessarily fast more and are really kind of more tinkering with the system. And I think there’s also a critique in there that we’re not thinking about long-term social change, that we’re really kind of thinking too much about the immediate and the present. I think another critique would be that we focus too much on opportunities that already exist, and not enough on creating new opportunities. So, for instance in relation to China, sort of where I said we’re funding everything we could find, but we’re not funding things we couldn’t find. We’re not funding new initiatives in China that…and so I think certainly, particularly if we had more time resources, it could make a lot of sense for us to be doing that, and to be thinking far more proactively about what are the things that don’t exist in the movement that could and how could we make those happen.
I know that another critique some people have is that we’re not doing anything on clean meat, and growing meat. And certainly given it’s totally possible that the way that farm animal suffering will ultimately end, is through the invention of cost-effective clean meat, there is an argument that that’s all we should be focused on, that we should just be spending money on that. And so I think that’s a very valid critique too.
Robert Wiblin: So these are just critiques that you keep in mind all the time, and wherever you find an opportunity to address them without raising other more severe concerns, then you do that?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think these are things that make sense to keep in mind, and I could probably list off about ten other critiques. I mean, I think there are a number of very valid critiques of what we’re doing, and I mean I think that’s sort of inherent. There should be, I mean there should be, we should be doing things that have enough risk associated with them, and that aren’t completely obvious, and there should be a vibrant debate it. It is good that people question that and point out where we have biases in our world views and where we’re missing things, and I think it’s certainly our duty to keep reflecting on those criticisms, and to see how we can update based on them and how we can change based on them where it makes sense to do so.
Robert Wiblin: You gave one of the main reasons for focusing on animals just being the sheer number of animals that there are, but there’s actually even more wild animals than there are animals in farms. And that’s something that’s even more seriously neglected in a sense that there’s basically no organisations, one organisation in the world, that’s focused on helping figuring out how we can help wild animals. So why not make that a focus area?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think there’s a real strong case that being a focus area. I think right now farm animal welfare seems significantly more tractable than wild animal welfare seems, but that’s certainly not to say that no one should be working on it. I think it would make a lot of sense for, as people are thinking about a career they could do in animal welfare and where they could kind of have the greatest marginal impact, it is a far more neglected space now, wild animal welfare. And my suspicion is that the initial research there, the initial work done in that space, will be disproportionally important, so I certainly hope there’ll be more work in that space, I think it’s completely possible we’ll fund in that space in future. Part of the reason we haven’t to date is because that, because there are so few opportunities, sort of time to money ratio, it’s made more sense to focus on grant-ready opportunities. But I think it’s quite possible we’ll look at the space in future, and I certainly think that people listening should be thinking about the well-being of wild animals.
Robert Wiblin: One of the animals that are most numerous in the world are fish, which you discussed earlier. Tell me what do think about fish in particular, that’s one that animal organisations don’t tend to focus on so much, perhaps because it’s harder to arouse compassion for them, but we’re pretty confident that fish feel pain, is that right?
Lewis Bollard: I think that’s right. I think that certainly there are still one or two scientists who object to that view, but the scientific consensus very much seems to be that fish do feel pain and do have morally-relevant experiences.
Robert Wiblin: They have very small brains, right? Surprisingly small, even smaller than birds.
Lewis Bollard: So I’m not sure about the total brain size. I know that their brain is ordered in a different way than a mammalian brain, and the one argument made previously against fish pain was that they basically don’t have a neocortex where we process pain in mammals. More recent studies have suggested that, as in birds, analogous portions of the brain can perform analogous functions.
Robert Wiblin: So they don’t have a neocortex, they just have another thing that acts like the neocortex?
Lewis Bollard: Exactly, exactly. So I think that that’s really where the debate on pain and consciousness has been hitting. It’s been recognising that evolutionarily does make sense for them to have pain, behaviorally it seems like they have pain, and once we start to look into the brain functions we see analogous portions of the brain. But I think you’re certainly right, there … it has been heavily neglected by the animal welfare movement for a long time. I think that it’s primarily because it’s very hard to relate to something that lives under water, is covered with scales rather than skin, and has beady little eyes. So I think that fish have really being very unlucky about their kind of natural appearance. We still don’t know a lot about the animal welfare issues in fish farming but I think we know enough to be very concerned. For instance, we know that the stocking densities in a lot of fish farms seem very detrimental to the fish and they behave in ways that seem abnormal and seem adversive. We know that a lot of fish suffer pretty severe health problems. On several farms, for instance, they have major issues with sea lice biting away at them.
I think the most obvious issue of all is fish slaughter. When I was traveling in India we visited a number of fish farms and by far the most appalling thing I saw there was what they call the harvesting at the fish farm, and this wasn’t unique to India. It’s very standard on fish farms where really the technique is just to haul them out of the water and to leave the fish to slowly suffocate, slowly be crushed to death, and this can take hours. I mean we’re not talking … Normally with mammalian slaughter even if it takes more than a few seconds it is rightly considered inhumane, but in this case we’re talking minutes and often hours with no attempt at stunning and no attempt at shortening that suffering.
I’ve heard some people suggest that the conditions in fish farms could even be worse than the gestation crates that we were talking about earlier. Are they just absolutely bumper-to-bumper in these fish farms? I think it depends a lot on the fish farm. The fish farm that we visited in India wasn’t that crowded, and I think part of that had to do with the system. It was farming carp, which are the most commonly farmed species globally. They were not being fed a great deal of additional feed. A lot of it was they were trying to grow plant matter in this pond that the fish would eat, which meant that they couldn’t stock it that densely.
I’ve also seen pictures and videos of some fish farms that are incredibly closely stocked, particularly those where they’re using concrete tanks or using other more high density methods, so I think there’s a huge between different farming methods and between species, and we still need to do a lot more work on that. But I think it’s certainly possible that some portion of fish really have it the worst of all.
Robert Wiblin: You mentioned earlier that there wasn’t very much research done on these kinds of animal welfare questions at all. There’s a book that came out some time ago called Compassion by the Pound, which has this table that’s done the rounds where they’ve tried to actually put numerical estimates on how good and bad the conditions are in various different situations like in a feed like cattle versus free ranging cattle, and they even try to compare it across species, maybe not taking into account the philosophical issues or the relative consciousness of different species, but just saying for that animal how unpleasant is it, how anxiety inducing is it.
I’d be really interested to get some estimates from you … Perhaps later on we could put it up in the blog post in addition to the podcast, but I wouldn’t want to force you to try and put some numbers down across the board, because that would be very difficult, but hopefully we’ll put that together and we can stick it in the post.
Lewis Bollard: Sure. Yeah. That sounds good, and I certainly recommend Compassion by the Pound. I think it’s a great book and it’s shockingly independent and objective, coming from two Oklahoma agricultural economists. But I do think that the way their table was originally drawn up is pretty arbitrarily. I think they would probably acknowledge that, that this was really just their best guesses. It was an attempt to break down the aspects of the animal’s life, and there’s a necessary arbitrary factor. If I threw out these numbers they’re probably still … People will reasonable disagree with them, but I do think it’s helpful certainly to think about what the experience of these different animals is life.
Robert Wiblin: I’ll put up a link to that table and see if you can put together your own personal views [02:14:22] on that.
Lewis Bollard: Sounds good.
Robert Wiblin: We talked about fish. Let’s move further into the weird territory. What about lobsters? Is that a thing that … I mean one of the things that’s most shocking to me is seeing people burning live … Or boiling an animal live. Have you thought about crustaceans or prawns or anything like that?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. We thought a little bit about it. I’ve always had the same reaction as you do. It’s kind of shocking to me not only that we boil lobsters alive, but we don’t even outsource it to slaughterhouses.
Robert Wiblin: People almost relish it as something that’s interesting and fascinating and macabre.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. It is really weird and disturbing. I think in fairness the debate on the consciousness of lobsters and crabs is far less settled than it is on fish, but I certainly don’t think that we should be running the risks that we are, even if you think it’s only a 50% chance, say, that they’re conscious.
Robert Wiblin: I think in some places they also stun them pretty seriously at the spine level, and so some people think that they’re not conscious at that point at least for some period of time.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, and I think unfortunately that’s still pretty rare. I think that there is one device globally for the purpose of stunning lobsters and crabs.
Robert Wiblin: And they’re not doing a sufficient business for the lobsters.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. They’re not really doing enough business. I think there’s still overwhelmingly the case that these animals are either boiled alive or in industrials plants that they’re slowly crushed or have their shells pulled off or otherwise treated in pretty horrific ways.
I would love to do more on that. It is part of … It is a small part of the focus of one of our fish welfare grants. The challenge of course is as intractable as fish seem, crustaceans seem even more so, but I do think that it makes sense to be thinking a lot about what else we could do along those lines, because I completely agree with you that the slaughter methods in particular for crustaceans … It is appalling.
Robert Wiblin Okay. Then at the outer limits, I guess until we hit artificial intelligence we have insects, which are perhaps the least likely to be conscious I expect. We can talk about bacteria or dust mites or something like that, but sticking to things that people can have a real conversation about, we have reasonably large insects which are extremely numerous. It’s hard to fathom the numbers. I’ll look them up later and stick them in the show notes, but there’s far, far more insects than there are all of animals combined. But nobody [02:17:02] is confident that they’re conscious. What do you think?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. I think it is certainly most likely that insects are not conscious and I very much hope that insects are not conscious. But that said, I would be hard pressed to assign less than a 10% probability to it and I do think that even at that level of probability you should be very concerned. Certainly I think there are things that we can do, for instance, in opposing the large push now toward insect factory farming and the creation of a whole new insect protein industry.
Whether it makes sense for people to be focused on this entirely I don’t know. You sort of have to factor in any intractability concerns and also for people whether they can work on something where they can kind of be sure that the animal is conscious and their benefits versus somewhere where it’s a lot more speculative.
Robert Wiblin: Let me push back on that for a minute. There’s some people who think that it’s pretty clear that insects in the wild have negative lives. The basic argument runs that most insects basically produce incredibly large numbers of young, a tiny fraction of which survive to adulthood, and then they basically all die during winter. That’s not with all species, but among the most numerous species you have very quick die offs with the seasonality.
What I’m thinking is that the likely life for most insects is to be alive for a very brief period of time, perhaps eat for a bit, and then be crushed or eaten by another insect or starve or something like that. So you get a small amount of enjoyment from eating, but then you die, and the death might be quite unpleasant. You might be parasitised [02:18:50] and paralyzed for a long period of time where you’re eaten from the inside out and things like that, or partially crushed but still conscious, if insects are conscious.
Especially imagining the insect farms, if you had lots of crickets they would probably live for a few months or at least a few weeks. They, as I understand it, would be killed probably painlessly using carbon monoxide gas or something like that, so the slaughter would just be involving poisoning by gas, which I think we know some poisons for insects that we believe don’t trigger any neuro response, so they’re unlikely to cause pain. At least that’s one approach that we could take in principle.
In the meantime they just get to chomp down on some calories, and if insects are conscious they probably enjoy eating like other animals do, so that’s a case in favor of animal farms. Possibly you might also think it could be good for insects to be conscious in the wild, because they just enjoy eating so much and their deaths are relatively quick. Especially with insects, we might not be too concerned about the broader philosophical questions of is it bad to live a short life where you don’t fully actualise yourself – because I don’t really know what it is for a cricket to actualise themselves.
Lewis Bollard: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think these are great questions for research, and I think there’s a need for a lot more research on insects in general. The one thing that I would say is: I don’t think it’s gonna be an either/or choice of being wild or farmed. I think that the wild population is kind of a constant in this, so where we talk about farming insects, we’re largely talking about an addition of more insects, so then even if wild insects have net-negative lives, that wouldn’t justify farmed insects having mildly less negative, net-negative lives. Now if you think that farmed insects might have net positive lives, that certainly is a positive argument for insect farming, that the limited amount that I’ve researched on this, makes me think that is unlikely, that if insects are conscious, the experiences they experience in insect farms are probably pretty negative and that has a lot to do with just the need to raise so many insects in such a confined space, and certainly insects are used to a certain degree of crowding, but this takes it far beyond what they’re used to. And-
Robert Wiblin: To the point where you get a very strong stress response.
Lewis Bollard: Exactly. There’s that and there’s also: the sort of methods I’ve seen described have been less humane than the ones that you’re describing. I would also worry that we know so little about the brains of insects that our ability to even ensure that something is humane is limited. So I generally view this as more likely than not to be a negative development; more insect farming. That’s not to say there’s not a decent-size probability that it could be otherwise. So that’s why it worries me, but I certainly do think that’s somewhere we need more research, I mean, not just on the question of conditions but also on the space and consciousness question.
Robert Wiblin: Another approach that I’ve had suggested is: doing research into which insecticides might kill insects in ways that are more humane, because we do kill extraordinary numbers of insects in plant agriculture as well as animal agriculture. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Lewis Bollard: It seems like an important field of research. It makes a lot of sense to me, that we should find the insecticides, as with other chemicals, that are gonna cause the least harm to sentient beings, and certainly given the possibility that insects are conscious, I think it makes a lot of sense to look at insecticides.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah, possibly in the future we’ll be able to find a scientist who knows something about that. One of the two humane insecticide researchers in the world.
If you’re a bit skeptical about insect farming, what about eating mussels? So I’m almost vegan, but I think … I have some risk-aversion about the health effects of not eating animal products at all. I think that it’s probably pretty healthy but the ideal diet, just given our evolutionary history might well involve some meat.
So I looked around for what meat can I eat that seems like it’s most humane, and that appears to be mussels, which also happen to be extremely, quite tasty and extremely healthy and actually very cheap.
So the basic logic there is that mussels, if you look at their nervous system, the odds that they’re conscious is probably even lower than insects. It’s maybe similar to insects. There are some ways in which they’re more sophisticated and some ways in which they’re less.
Also, the mussels that I buy are grown on ropes in places like Chile, or Scotland, just off the coast. They’ve put kind of the sperm for the mussels down on these ropes, and then they grow over a period of years and then the ropes are pulled up. They’re snap-frozen or, I think, boiled quite quickly. My sense is that if they’re conscious, they probably enjoy sitting on ropes eating plankton. Seems positive. They’re not really preyed upon or anything like that. They don’t have stress in their life. Probably less stress than I have. And then they’re killed pretty quickly one way or another. Does that seem good to you? Do you eat mussels?
Lewis Bollard: I don’t eat mussels, but I’ve always thought this seems like a marginal case. I’ve found it easy to be vegan and so I haven’t had to confront this marginal case, but it certainly makes sense to me that first of all, the odds of consciousness are far lower; and secondly, that the treatment seems a lot better than other farm animals.
Robert Wiblin: So we spent the last five minutes talking quite a lot about these more difficult cases where it’s harder to tell whether animals are sentient or not, and in fact one of your colleagues, Luke Muehlhauser wrote an incredibly long and detailed post that covers both the natural science side and the philosophy side of trying to figure out what is conscious or what creatures are morally relevant and which ones are not, which talks about different kinds of species, including insects, and I think even ventures into thinking about what kinds of artificial intelligences could conceivably have moral standing as well. We’ll put up a link to that obviously. It’s a pretty long read, but it has a good summary at the start and it’s I think one of the best sources on this topic out there anywhere. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I strongly recommend reading it. I mean, Luke has read a lot more of the literature around consciousness than I have, and I think he does a great job of synthesising some really plausible views of consciousness.
Robert Wiblin: I think it’s great that we have a charitable foundation that’s willing to do all this fundamental research in philosophy to guide their decisions. That’s not so common.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s … I mean it’s one of the real luxuries at Open Phil is that we have the resources and the talent to really probe into questions like this that are so foundational.
Robert Wiblin: I’ll try to have a more thorough read of that in future and perhaps get Luke on the podcast to talk about it.
Lewis Bollard: That sounds good.
Robert Wiblin: Critics of these corporate welfare campaigns might say that there’s a good chance that they would have done it otherwise. Other people might say they might not even follow through, that they’re just making these pledges to get publicity, and they’re not going to do it when push comes to shove. Others might say that the welfare gain, moving from these tiny cages to slightly less tiny cages, is not so large. What do you say to people who offer critiques of this kind?
Lewis Bollard: Sure. So I think those are all valid critiques and I also feel pretty confident that they’re all wrong.
So on the first point, whether these would have happened anyway: I think that you can really trace the advocacy country by country. So in the United States until 2008, virtually no companies other than Whole Foods and a few natural foods places had made any cage-free pledges and really up until 2015, none of the major players had made 100% cage-free pledges. You can trace through that time when the advocacy started. So when did advocates start working on this issue? And it squares up perfectly with when the companies made these pledges, so unless you think that the cultural conditions changed dramatically between 2010 and 2015, it just makes sense that advocates played the role.
So that’s not to say it was just their corporate campaigns, I think that the political initiatives that advocates had brought, I think the undercover investigations, I think all of these were important to setting the atmospherics for these campaigns, but I think just looking … And even … To me, the even stronger evidence for this is looking at other countries. Look at Brazil or Mexico, and until 2016, I’m not aware of any cage-free pledges in either country. Now, there are about 20 in both. That has everything to do with advocates starting campaigns in those countries. Similar thing has happened in Europe, in France and Italy where these campaigns started in the last two years; until then, no cage-free pledges, now major cage-free pledges. I think just tracing that timeline is a pretty easy way to kind of see, particularly given that’s been staged over different times in different countries, so it’s not like everyone just did it in 2015. It happened whenever the advocates in that country started campaigning on the issue.
To the second question, of whether these countries will follow through, I think that is a very real concern. I think it’s something that we’re gonna need to remain focused on. I’m pretty optimistic on the cage-free pledges in the US at least. So what we’ve seen already is that just a few years ago, a tiny fraction of the US egg industry was cage-free. It was as low as about 3%, a decade ago. Now, we’re up to 14% of the industry is already cage-free. So there are already about 45 million birds right now in the US that are cage-free. The trendline is very strongly up as is the projected expansion over the next few years.
So what we’ve seen so far suggests that the egg industry is taking this very seriously, suggests that companies are taking their pledges seriously. That doesn’t mean that every company is gonna take it seriously, and I think there will need to be some campaigns down the line against companies that seek to back out of their pledges or seek to ignore them. There will need to be some campaigns to hold them to their pledges. But I’m optimistic that those campaigns will be successful and that we will get rid of cages within the US.
The final concern around whether cage-free is significantly better for hens. We’ve been doing a report internally on part of this, and I hope it’ll go up online soon, but particularly looking at the claim that mortality might be higher in cage-free systems. To me, at least on the behavioral side, it seems pretty clear that cage-free systems are preferable to cages. Not only do birds have the simple behavioral freedom to turn and move around and flap their wings, but the preference study …
Lewis Bollard: … turn and move around and flap their wings. But the Preference Studies … and these are studies where hens are given opportunities, where we find how hard will they work to do something. Will they push through a cage wall? Will they give up food for an opportunity? Those studies suggest very strongly that these birds have a real need to do these things they can only do in cage-free environments, like nesting, perching, dust bathing.
That doesn’t tell us at all that the system is perfect, or even that the birds have net positive lives or anything like that, but I think it should make us pretty confident that their behavioral opportunity is significantly better and that that really is a positive for welfare compared to battery cages.
Robert Wiblin: So we’ve talked about clean meat and plant based meat substitutes and incidentally, also genetic modification of animals. Are there any other technologies that would be useful to develop, if there’s any engineers listening or other scientific researchers or entrepreneurs?
Lewis Bollard: Sure. I can think of two other categories of research. One is around other animal products, so for instance, around growing eggs or growing other animal products alternatives. This is Clara Foods is already doing, but I think there’s a lot more potential in that scope. The other side which I think often gets neglected is around animal welfare research and improvements, so particularly looking at technologies that could get rid of the need to do particular brutal things to animals on battery farms.
One example is their piglets, male piglets right now are castrated within days of birth, almost entirely because consumers don’t like the taste of boar taint it’s called, the taste an intact boar has. As a result, there’s this process which we know is extremely painful. Now, there are already some basic immunocastration techniques, so there are things where these pigs, instead, could be injected and would completely get rid of the need to castrate them. Those haven’t been adopted widely for various reasons, but simply improve technology on that front could get rid of about 40, 50 million piglets being castrated just in the U.S. alone every year.
Another example would be the sexing technologies for eggs. I think I mentioned earlier the male chicks being ground up in the egg industry. This is something that’s done because there’s no perceived need for these male chicks. They’re ground up because there’s no other alternative the egg industry thinks they have. Here, just having a technology where farmers can see into the egg in advance and see what gender it is, and then either prevent male eggs from developing at all, or abort them early in the process. It seems like a far more humane alternative there.
So I think there are a number of animal welfare science innovations that are yet to be developed further, and where I think some quite low hanging fruit and not a lot of people working in the field such that an engineer or a scientist with some real skills could makes some real inroads there.
Robert Wiblin: Why grind up all of these hundreds of millions, billions of baby chicks alive, rather than kill them using, say, carbon monoxide or some other painless method?
Lewis Bollard: Some farmers do use carbon monoxide, but the horrible reality of factory farming industry is that everything is dictated by cost, and even a small differential in cost will be used to justify the most monstrous treatment and this is an example of that. It is more expensive to buy carbon monoxide gas than it is to operate an electric macerator, and so they operate macerators.
Robert Wiblin: By a fraction of cent per chick [crosstalk 02:33:55].
Lewis Bollard: Exactly, but I mean this is just at the scale they operate, those fractions of cents add up. It really is just so heavily dictated by those tiny cost differentials. I mean for that matter they could raise the male egg-laying hens as meat chickens, and some organic and free-range producers will do that. But the vast majority of producers won’t do that because their meat yield is worse than for broiler meat chickens, so they would rather just kill them and then raise another chicken entirely for that purpose.
Robert Wiblin: We’ve been talking for quite a while already but now I want to get to the last third of the conversation where we … We’ve discussed the issue in general, what approaches can be taken in general, but I want make it extremely concrete to give listeners specific advice about what they can do to more effectively help animals at any stage of their career. The first question would be if someone is listening and they’re an undergraduate, or perhaps they’re considering going to university, what things would you be most enthusiastic about them studying, assuming that they were a good fit for that area?
Lewis Bollard: Sure, so I think there are a couple of pretty exciting career paths that could be followed. The first one we’ve alluded to is the technological path. I think for someone who has scientific aptitude or scientific interest, thinking about whether they could pursue, for instance, cellular biology and use that for helping grow meat, or whether they could take classes in tissue engineering or in plant science, and understanding the plant proteins that could be used. That’s one very appealing career path.
Another one I think is just developing really strong management skills. I think that there is a constant need at non-profits of all varieties. So those advancing animal welfare reforms, but also those in the technological sector and elsewhere for really good robust management skills. That could mean going to business school or it could mean taking extracurriculars or otherwise working, say, within college to really develop those skills.
I think that another exciting path is just developing capacities as a campaigner. Some of that is obviously innate to how extroverted someone is, to what degree they just have a sense for things. But I think a lot of it is learned and a lot of it is skills in terms of public relations, interacting with the media, being a spokesperson and being articulate as a spokesperson. Having a sense of strategy and having a sense of how to engage with a company, and also understanding some of the animal welfare science issues. So I think even just for a campaigner, that’s quite a useful tool to have.
Another path obviously is to become an animal welfare scientist. I think that’s typically neglected by people who care about animals because the animal welfare science programmes tend to be very unfriendly toward animals and not only require people to test on animals while they’re going through those programmes, but also often promote pretty bad ethos. But I think if you look at someone like Temple Grandin, who is an animal welfare scientist who has been very pro welfare, unlike most animal welfare scientists, I think she’s had a huge impact in terms of mitigating some of the worst harms within slaughterhouses. I think there is a lot that could be done there.
Then a real inside track is thinking about going to work for food companies and whether you could develop the kind of business skills that would be useful to work, say, in a sustainability or a purchasing department for a major food company, perhaps a grocer, where you could really influence their decisions over the long term.
Robert Wiblin: If someone has just graduated, what would be some good places to start their career, if they wanted to get their foot in the door in the sector? I’m aware that often these entry-level roles can be very competitive, especially in some of the animal charities.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, the best advice I generally have is to start getting involved in the actual sector rather than, for animal advocacy at least, focusing on career capital. I think that the best kind of career capital in animal advocacy tends to be career capital gained at those advocacy groups themselves. So I would encourage people to apply for roles. If they want to become an activist or work for an advocacy, apply for roles at the Humane League, or Mercy for Animals at Animal Equality at the Humane Society.
If they want to go down the scientific route, I imagine there’s a lot more studying that needs to be done first, but ultimately trying as early as possible to get into a lab or a company that is working on plant based meat, that’s working on cellular agriculture so that their skills are going to be really focused and really honed on that one issue. I do think that I have certainly found it to be true that just thinking at each step, which of these opportunities open to me right now would give me the potential to start impacting this issue as soon as possible?
Because I think the real value, obviously, it’s more motivating to know that what you’re doing is actually starting to have an impact on the issue you care about, but I also think you get a far better feedback loop. You start learning a lot quicker if you’re doing something that really relevant within that space. You start seeing, okay, this is having an impact on animals, or it’s not having as much impact on animals as I thought. That provides a useful framework to then reflect on how would I change this, how could I have more impact for animals?
Robert Wiblin: Should people start doing extracurricular animal related work when they are studying, and what kind of options are there?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think it’s a great idea. I think it depends a lot on what someone’s expertise is. If someone is thinking they want to be a frontline campaigner then getting out there for protests and leafleting and joining corporate campaigns by leaving messages online. Each of the groups has their own activist network. The Humane Heroes Network and so on you can find online but I think even for people who don’t want to be-
Lewis Bollard: – network and so on you can find online. But I think even for people who don’t want to be active I think there is first of all a huge amount of value in networking in this space. So going, for instance, to the Animal Rights Conference every year. It is held in Washington DC one year and LA the next year, and just going there and getting to know people in the field. Becoming involved with a local animal group in their town or setting or in a campus I think will help with that networking, and even just emailing people and asking for advice, I think, is one really helpful way to get to know people in the field.
Then the other thing I would say is, wherever possible, really integrating this into their academic work. So, for instance, myself, I was studying Social Studies in college. I was often able, in classes, to write about an animal advocacy related issue. So to write about the history of the animal advocacy movement or the effects of endorsing violence within the animal advocacy movement, or other issues that, things that I really wanted to reflect on or think about. I am sure my writing did nothing to advance literature but it really provided me a great opportunity to really delve in, to think my own thoughts through hard, and to do some research and find out more things.
Robert Wiblin: Do you want to talk a bit about the pathway to becoming a food scientist or someone working on clean meat in particular? Because that’s kind of a huge issue in itself. Like, how do you go from being a High School student to being a research scientist?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so I probably have less insight into this than others might. But it seems like it, is that right now, the most exciting researching in this space is going on at a number of start-ups. So it’s going on at Impossible Foods, it’s going on at Memphis Meats and Beyond Meat, and for people who want to work at those companies I get the strong sense that once they have the academic chops, so once they’ve at least got an undergraduate degree in their relevant science, and I think probably ideally have a graduate degree in the relevant scientific field, applying directly to those companies I think is probably the best way to go. And my sense is that they are always searching for really top scientists in this field. So certainly you could go to work in another lab, or you could go to work in another company, but I am very much of the view that you’re better off going and getting started in this field right now, such that your experience will be very specifically focused on the most relevant field.
Robert Wiblin: If someone wanted to work with you or Animal Charity Evaluators, what kind of skills do they need and what should they be studying?
Lewis Bollard: So I think the most important skill is analytical and I think just understanding how to gather a lot of information together, whether it is online research whether it’s data provider, whatever, and really just to sift through that and work out what’s important. To work out what the insights are from that and to work out how that should affect our beliefs and our actions. That’s really the most important skill that I can think of and I think that that is honed most through kind of a liberal arts education. I mean, I think it’s honed a lot through writing research papers whether they’re scientific research papers or humanities research papers. I think it’s honed through interacting with data whether it’s in statistics classes or math classes or for a job. And I think it’s often honed by extracurricular activities like debate or like writing for student newspaper or –
Robert Wiblin: Writing a blog.
Lewis Bollard: Writing a blog, exactly. I think that there’s a huge amount of value to people, you know, just starting to write a blog or starting to write some research papers and throw them online. And I would worry less about, you know, is this initially going to really contribute to the literature or, you know, provide groundbreaking insights and more how can this really help, help me to gain skills and to hone my skills further.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any skillsets that are especially abundant in among people who want to help animals? Where perhaps you’re not going to have a comparative advantage if you’re bringing those specific skills to the table?
Lewis Bollard: I think legal skills could actually be one of those. There’s kind of a funny consequence of, about a decade ago, a philanthropist, Bob Barker actually, of The Price is Right, he endowed animal law programmes at most major American law schools and partly because of that and partly because I think law students tend to be socially conscious and thinking about what needs to be changed in the world, there has been a real influx of lawyers who care about farm animals and care about animal issues, which is great, and it’s great we have that set but –
Robert Wiblin: Is it great to have so many lawyers? I was gonna say how much damage have they done? (laughs)
Lewis Bollard: (laughs) I think it’s generally a positive and I think certainly, you know, when you see important cases come up on farm animals, there are a lot of lawyers at top law firms wanting to take these cases pro-bono. So there is no shortage of lawyers who would like to work for free on this issue, which makes me think that if you’re a prospective student out there, unless you’re really sure that your comparative advantage is being a lawyer and being a litigator that it might make sense to reflect a little more on alternative approaches.
Robert Wiblin: We have a career review on legal careers coming out in the next, sometime in the next few months that I think is going to say basically that.
Lewis Bollard: Cool.
Robert Wiblin: That direct work as a lawyer is quite challenging.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any particular programmes of study or possibly even PhD supervisors that you would like to highlight for people who are open to doing graduate study?
Lewis Bollard: So, I think certainly on the scientific side, thinking about graduate study in plant biology, cellular biology, each of the kind of pieces of the scientific puzzle makes a lot of sense. I don’t know supervisors on that front. I think when it comes to graduate study outside of the sciences, I think the case is a lot less clear. I would say that for people who feel very pulled toward that, then it could make sense. So for instance, someone who has the potential to be the next Peter Singer, you know, go and do grad school in philosophy. But I think most people are not going to be the next Peter Singer.
Robert Wiblin: It would be an odd world if most people were going to be the next Peter Singer. There would be a lot of Peter Singers I suppose.
Lewis Bollard: It’s true.
So, and I think that’s probably true too, across other fields where there may be value to having one exceptional historian working on this and providing insights for the movement. There may be value to having one exceptional social scientist who can perform studies, one exceptional economist who cares about this and will do better cost benefit analysis. But I think for the most part, those are not the skills that are in complete need right now, and most the skills that are don’t require a graduate degree. So similarly, it may be useful to have a business degree, it might be useful in some cases to have a law degree. I think sometimes graduate degree programmes can be a great time to spend a lot of time researching and thinking about things other than the graduate degree programme so maybe for us it’s a good forum for people to take time to do that. But I think otherwise I wouldn’t go to grad school just for animal welfare.
Robert Wiblin: What are some other kind of smart early career steps that people could take? And I’m thinking, how else can you go about building a network or learning relevant skills outside of university, or, you know, are there any jobs people can take while they’re under graduates?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I would encourage under graduates to look into interning with an animal organisation. I think there is a lot of value in doing a summer internship or a term time internship with an animal organisation and really getting a sense from that of what the work is like, starting to connect with people and really starting to build some of the relevant skill sets. There is also an addition to internships. There’s also an addition to internships, there are a lot of campus programmes. So the Humane League, Mercy For Animals and others are on a lot of campus’ now looking for campus coordinators. I think that is a great way to get further looped in.
I would certainly think about attending the conferences where that’s possible. Thinking about just reaching out to activists for advice. I think you’ll find a lot of them are willing to chat with interested people.
Robert Wiblin: Which specific organisations offer internships?
Lewis Bollard: So, The Humane Society of the United States does and does actually in multiple different areas. So that’s kind of a good one if you’re unsure whether you want to be a campaigner or you want to be a lobbyist, then those are both different intern opportunities and that can be a great way to kind of test that. Mercy for Animals does. So does, I think, The Humane League does. I think it’s quite likely that Animal Equality does, though I’m not certain on that. And I imagine you would find that a number of other groups, even if they don’t have formal internship programmes, if you went to them, particularly obviously if you have kind of, some kind of sponsorship from your university, but if you went to them and offered your services as a summer intern I think a lot of them would be receptive to that.
Robert Wiblin: Is it, how important is it to be, kind of, obsessively interested in the animal welfare cause to be involved in solving the problem?
Lewis Bollard: I don’t think it’s essential. I think that there are certainly people who have a wide variety of cause interests but recognise that they can have a greater marginal impact in animal welfare because there are so few people relatively working on it and there are such strong skill needs and more obvious solutions. So I have definitely seen that. That’s it. I do think it’s useful to definitely care about the issue and I think that that obviously will motivate you to want to work more and so on, but I think also for myself I have found it’s just motivated me more to research questions about this. So I’m generally really interested and excited to find out the answers to questions about animal welfare advocacy and that makes it far less of a duty and far more, kind of exciting, fun job that it might be otherwise.
Robert Wiblin: Thinking outside of just animal advocacy organisations and, you know, clean meat groups, are there any government agencies or think tanks, or anything like that which would be particularly promising to try to try to build a career to [02:50:06] work for.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah. I think if you’re resilient in the way that [02:50:14] you might need to be, then certainly working for a government agency could be viable. I think that the trouble is, the government agencies that directly regulate the space, tend to be pretty hostile to animal welfare, so it can be hard to work there if you’re overtly passionate about the issue. But I do think that someone working for the US Department of Agriculture, for instance, could have a real impact.
And in particular, there, working for one of the sub-agencies, either the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is in charge of monitoring humane slaughter conditions, or the Agricultural Marketing Service, which sets the procurement standards for all federal meat buying and animal product buying.
I think in either of those departments, there are obvious roots to how you could have some impact.
I think there are some other, more obscure roles where you might. So, for instance, working at the Food and Drug Administration, and having an influence over how plant based foods are labeled or regulated. You could potentially have a significant impact. I think that working in the office of a receptive senator or congressperson, you might be able to. And I say receptive because I think in a lot of offices, they’re probably not gonna even let you work on the issue. So you would really want to be sure that it was somewhere you could work on the issue.
Robert Wiblin: It’ve heard Corey Booker is a vegan. [02:51:27].
Lewis Bollard: Corey Booker is both vegan and a great champion for farm animal welfare. So, I think that’s a great example of, in office, where obviously you’re not making the marginal impact of actually persuading him, because he’s already persuaded. But you could make a great marginal impact in helping him, to implement reforms and changes that he’s pushing.
The other thing I would say is that I think at the state level, there may be more potential. So, I know pretty little about state departments of agriculture, and I could imagine that trying to work at the Iowa Department of Agriculture would be very tough, unless you were really good at …
Robert Wiblin: … talking the talk.
Lewis Bollard: Talking the talk and not coming across as an animal advocate. But I do think it’s totally possible that at some of those places, if you’re really kind of willing to work on the inside, a state department of agriculture, or even perhaps a district attorney’s office in a really rural county where there are lots of factory farms … Again, if you’re able to operate in that environment. And I think it’s worth asking very seriously, whether you really would be able to work in that environment. Then, there could be a potentially high impact bar.
Robert Wiblin: There’s also the issue that, in bureaucracies, often you don’t get that much discussion of which projects you work on. So, I guess it’s possible to work at the Department of Agriculture and just get shafted and moved between lots of projects that don’t really provide you many opportunities to do good.
Lewis Bollard: Absolutely. I think that’s absolutely right. And I think that one way you could perhaps reduce that risk, is for instance, by becoming an animal welfare scientist. So it’s far more likely that if you apply as an animal welfare scientist, that you’ll get a job within the Food Safety and Inspection Service, and that it will relate to human handling.
Robert Wiblin: You’re slightly showing your hand there, perhaps by studying animal welfare. So …
Lewis Bollard: That’s true, although, you know, the animal welfare science is such a conservative profession, that I think that would certainly not hurt your chances of getting a job. That would be seen as a positive and be seen as relevant. But they wouldn’t realise from that, that you were a reformist. There are many animal welfare scientists who are defenders of the status quo.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any think tanks that work on animal welfare?
Lewis Bollard: Not really. So …
Robert Wiblin: [02:53:36] Compassion World Farming is a little bit like a think tank.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, there’s some parts of it in the UK that are a bit like that.
Robert Wiblin: I guess, there’s also Sentience Institute. [crosstalk 02:53:44]. It’s very new.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so there’s a brand new group, Sentience Institute, right now, just three people. But I think they want to be, I think they call it an action tank. They want to have ideas generated, but also be implementing them. So, I think that they may be the closest thing we have right now, but not really established think tanks. Although, it’s a possible career. I’m skeptical that you would be able to have much influence, but certainly possible that you could try working in Brookings or another major think tank, and get them to start writings and things like this.
And I think certainly if you were successful in that aim, it could be very impactful.
Robert Wiblin: What about running for political office? I guess I’m a little bit skeptical of this one. One, because bringing up animal welfare issues on the campaign trail, unless you’re in a very safe seat, seems like a non-starter. And two, even if you were a member of Congress, there just doesn’t seem to be that much appetite for reform. And I don’t expect there to be that much appetite for reform any time soon. And I imagine that you would end up working alone, or maybe with just a handful of other members of Congress who agree with you. And in fact, I think if you became a member of Congress, even if your original goal was to work on animal welfare, you would be best off to basically dump that and start working on another policy area that is highly pressing and on which you can get a lot more traction.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that generally, running politically is not a great option for this. I think certainly there can be value to persuading people who are already in positions of political power to care about this issue.
Robert Wiblin: Better to recruit than to make yourself one of them.
Lewis Bollard: I think that’s right. I mean I think that your odds of becoming the Chair of the Senate of Agriculture Committee or one of the few other places where you can have a really strong impact on this issue are pretty low. And as you say, the seat that you would have any chance of winning, and if you were open about your animal welfare beliefs, is a seat that’s likely already filled by someone who is at least pretty decent in animal welfare.
So, the liberal districts in L.A. and San Francisco and New York, the representatives from them, consistently vote in favor of animal welfare. They would absolutely support a law tomorrow, that are regulating farm animal welfare, and they’ve tried. The problem is the rest of the Congress. And you’re probably not gonna be able to bring them along just by filling one of those seats.
So, I think it would only work if you had some really unique vantage point. Your farmer rural area that has such deep roots in the community that you could get elected, and you could be an unlikely voice for animal welfare. And that would give you a kind of credibility or something like that.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any start-ups doing any particularly impressive work. We’re in the Bay area at the moment. Possibly you know about some other tech groups that people could try to join?
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I think that there are a number of startups that are doing really stunning work. So, Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Clara [02:56:45] Foods. I think that there are a number of companies that I’m less familiar with, so I don’t want to unreservedly recommend them. But I think one of the best things for people interested in going into the tech sector could do, is to reach out to the Good Food Institute. They very much see it as one of their roles to help direct people toward these companies, and to help start new ones. So, for people who are interested in being entrepreneurs, I think that’s a really, really promising path.
Robert Wiblin: Do you just mind listing those, the other organisations that there are? Just so people can look at them, even if you’re not offering endorsement, per se?
Lewis Bollard: Sure, the other companies? Yeah, so … Finless Foods, working on fish. Hampton Creek, working on eggs and now, clean meat. There is, I mean there are more traditional plant based companies, so like Tofurkey, Gardein, Eve’s. There’s a …
Robert Wiblin: I love my Tofurkey.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, I like it too. Apparently they’re a pretty cool office, up in Portland, Oregon. There’s Perfect Day, working on growing milk. There are a number of new plant based milk companies, whose names are escaping me right now. And, there are a couple more smaller, new plant based companies. So like Upton’s Naturals comes to mind as one of them. But, yeah, I’d defer to the Good Food Institute.
Robert Wiblin: One problem that people we coach, can often have with their career, is how to break into work on a problem, where it’s very competitive, and there’s lots of people interested in working on it. And animal advocacy is somewhat like that. There’s not a lot of funding, but there’s quite a lot of young people who are concerned about the problem and perhaps competing over the roles that are available. If someone is struggling to get their first job in the sector, are there any places they can apply that where it’s somewhat less competitive, where they might be able to start to build up their sitting?
Lewis Bollard: Well, so I think one thing is being open to multiple kinds of roles. So, I think for instance, if you look at the Humane League or Mercy for Animals, they’re often recruiting for a number of different roles, some of which are kind of less sexy than others. So, there are the campaigner roles or the manager roles that people want, and then there are roles that might be more administrative or more logistical or otherwise sort of back office roles.
And I would say to just be very open to those kind of roles. For one thing, they’re essential to these organisations, and so, I think you can often have as big an impact, perhaps a greater impact, because the counterfactual is greater. There are more people who want the campaigner role who are good and want it. No one really wants the administrative role even probably the fundraising role. So, I’d be very open to those different types of roles. Both ’cause you make an impact, but also because they can be, I think, a really useful stepping stone across to the programmatic role you might be most excited about.
I would also say that people should consider working for animal advocacy groups that they don’t think are as effective. I mean, if you can’t get a job at one of the most effective ones, then think about working at one of the less effective ones. And A, see if you can make it more effective, and if not, then at least you’ll have learned some interesting lessons about how it operates and what it’s limitations
Lewis Bollard: At least you’ll have learned some interesting lessons about how it operates, and what its limitations are, and just about advocacy in general before moving on to another group.
I guess on the research side, I would say going to work for a larger food company. If you can’t get a role at one of these companies then go work at a large food company, get some experience in food technology and research, and that will be useful down the line.
Robert Wiblin: I guess there’s always the indirect path of just going into a corporate job or consulting like you did, and then building your skills there, and then trying to use that … leverage that to get a role. But, I guess you thought that, that was not too necessary in your case as it turned out.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t think it was essential in my case, but it certainly was an option.
Robert Wiblin: Those were the relatively easier positions to get. What if someone is a real gun and they want to do the absolute best that they can, and they’re thinking, “What should be my ideal aspiration for where to end up in ten or twenty or thirty years later in my career?” Who do you think is doing the absolute best work, just the best few places?
Lewis Bollard: I wouldn’t want to just say one or two groups. I think they’re a lot of people doing really exceptional work in the space, but you can certainly take an indication from who our largest grantees are, which groups we’re most excited about.
Robert Wiblin: I’ll stick up a link to the grants page.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, exactly. I can tell you that our biggest grantees right now include The Humane League, Mercy For Animals, Compassion World Farming, The Humane Society International and The Human Society in the United States, and Animal Equality, and The Good Food Institute. And, I think those are all great places to start. They’re certainly not the only places, and we have other grantees and other groups we haven’t given grants to yet that I think are definitely worth considering, and I’d be excited for people to start working for.
Robert Wiblin: One reservation that some people have about working on farm animal welfare is that they are concerned that they won’t develop as much career capital as they might in another path, and that concern can come in various different forms.
One might be that they think that the organisations they can work for perhaps just aren’t as exceptional in terms of implementation or organisation as perhaps some corporate places that they could go in.
Another might be just that the credentials and the skills, and the knowledge that they’ll be booting up won’t be transferable if they decide later on that they want to work on a problem other than farm animal welfare.
What do you say to these kind of concerns?
Lewis Bollard: I think it’s certainly a fair concern that if someone’s not yet sure that this is the issue they want to work on, then perhaps they should find a more generalist role.
I think that insofar as someone is sure they want to work on this issue, then I think it definitely makes sense to start getting involved now. The only thing I would say is that if the uncertainty about whether they want to work on this issue is, for instance, uncertainty between working on multiple different EA courses, my suspicion is that if you’ve worked for an EA animal welfare group, other EA groups are going to be pretty receptive to hiring you. If you are talented that will still look good for you that you’ve been doing so many EA course.
I think too, that if you’re pursuing work on the technology-side, those are really transferable skills, so you could work for Impossible Food’s for five years, and I suspect you’d be in a really good position to get a job for another food company after that if you decided you made the wrong choice.
Robert Wiblin: Are there any other risks to getting involved in this problem area. I suppose some people don’t like vegans, and they don’t like animal welfare campaigners. Is it possible that it could limit your career options just because people will dislike the work that you’ve done in the past?
Lewis Bollard: I think certainly some groups in this space are controversial. I think it is unlikely that people are not going to hire you because they don’t like animal welfare. I think if you worked at a group that is perceived as more radical or confrontational or more explicitly vegan, that could limit you, particularity if you might want to go into a very conservative career path in the future.
But, I generally think that people worry a bit too much about that. I actually think one good example is Jason Matheny, who is probably familiar to many of your listeners as the head of IARPA.
Robert Wiblin: I’m planning to speak with him in the next month.
Lewis Bollard: Oh, great, cool. So he wrote a lot of great stuff about animal welfare over the last decade or more, and including some things that people might consider controversial, and this really doesn’t seem to have limited his ability even within the relatively conservative environment of government agency. So-
Robert Wiblin: Or an intelligence agency.
Lewis Bollard: …An intelligence agency. So I think-
Robert Wiblin: I think they might be very cautious who they hire.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so I think that if you can … if he can publish all these pieces, I think that other people shouldn’t worry too much about it.
Robert Wiblin: At 80,000 Hours [03:04:42] we’re all about prioritisation. It would be useful if you could describe, maybe the most ideal kind of two or three people, maybe in their late twenties, who you’d be most excited to meet. What kind of skills would they have and how would they be able to apply them to animal welfare?
Lewis Bollard: Sure. I think the first person is a scientist straight out of a programme in cellular biology or something similar, and excited to start working on either clean meat research, or plant-based meat research, looking to work either in an academic programme or to go straight to a startup. And really, there I think the most important thing is just that they have really strong scientistic aptitude in their field and, obviously, a strong motivation.
The second person is a really competent generalist. So, they’re someone who could be a really effective corporate campaigner. They could be an effective online campaigner, or in another role for an advocacy group, and they could be really a good manager down the line. I think that there are a couple of skills they would have. They would be, first of all, really good at communication. So, they would be really good at communicating both internally with others, and externally, written and verbally. I think they would have some analytical ability to understand … to quickly grasp issues. But, I think [03:06:14] more than anything else, they would be pragmatic … really open to learning from trial and error. I think some of the most exciting improvements I’ve seen in animal advocacy have just come from trial and error, and people who are really open to learning based on that. There’s not necessarily this particular skill set, but it’s a mindset to foster, that I think is most useful and probably useful at the management level to.
Perhaps the third person would be a researcher of either effective advocacy or someone who could work in a similar role to what I do as a programme officer at a foundation. Someone who’s heavily analytical, more focused on research, and is interested in stepping back and looking either at individual interventions or big-picture strategy and thinking really hard about how we can improve those and shape the future of the farm animal movement better.
Robert Wiblin: What do you think about the value of the career capital that people get doing farm animal welfare work in general? Do you think it’s very positive or a bit weak compared to other options?
Lewis Bollard: Well, I think it’s very positive for future farm animal work. I think the most useful career capital for long-term farm animal work is farm animal work. I think as far as it goes for other fields, it probably depends a lot on what you want to do next.
If your long term ambition is to earn to give, then I think you’re better off not going into animal welfare work. It’s not going to provide useful career capital for anyone to give.
I think if your long-term ambition is to be fully agnostic between a number of EA causes such that you have skills that are easily transferable depending on what you [inaudible 03:07:56] thinking is the most important cause, I think it is quite likely that working in animal welfare, as working in other EA cause now, could be pretty transferable. Certainly, I think a lot of the skills that animal welfare non-profits need to thrive ad succeed are similar to the skills that other EA groups need to thrive and succeed, in terms of thinking about good management, good community building, good recruiting, good analysis, all … good communication … all those things that are really positive, central skills. I think too, some of the more unlikely animal welfare careers down the road, it could also be quite useful working in animal work and not necessarily preclude you from working, whether it’s a government agency, whether it’s a company … I think particularly if you don’t work at an animal group that’s perceived to be radical, then you leave a lot of doors open.
Robert Wiblin: My impression is that fa …. animal welfare organisations, at least the ones that I’m aware of, they are associated with Effective Altruism are often among the most funding constrained. That they often feel like they’re most limited by access to money. Does this suggest that people who are concerned with animal welfare should be more inclined to do earning to give and, perhaps, rather than work in the area, instead make money and give it away?
Lewis Bollard: I don’t think so. I think that that was true until two years ago, or it was true until eighteen months ago when we started ground making in this field. I think the situation has dramatically improved in terms of funding largely because of Open Phil. Entering this field, but also because there are a number of other very generous donors who’ve either entered the field or significantly increased their giving in the last two years.
Right now I think there is a bigger talent gap than financial gap for farm animal welfare groups. That’s not to say it will always be that way, and I certainly do think that someone whose aptitude or inclination is heavily toward earning to give, it could still well make sense. If someone has great quantitative skills and enjoys working at a hedge fund, then I would say earn to give. That could be still a really powerful way and we will more and more funders over time to continue scaling up the movement, but all things equal, I would encourage someone to focus more on the talent piece now because I do think that things have really flipped in the last few years, and I’m pretty optimistic that the funding will continue to grow in this space for animal welfare.
Robert Wiblin: What makes you confident about that? You don’t expect to be fired in the next few years?
Lewis Bollard: First, I hope I won’t be fired, but I think there’s a deep commitment from the Open Philanthropy Project to continue strong funding in this space, to continue funding on at least the level we’re funding currently and hopefully more.
I’ve also just seen a number of new large-ish funders coming online. Just in the last two years I would say the number of funders giving more than two hundred thousand dollars a year has doubled, and I’ve started to see real interest from some other major potential funders.
I think it’s natural that, as this issue has gained public prominence, so were there a lot of potential donors, or people who have great wealth, have realised that this is something important and this is something that they can make a great difference.
Robert Wiblin: I guess in your case it’s pretty clear that it’s fortunate you didn’t go out earning to give, so you’re enabling Open Phil to probably dispense millions more dollars each year, and you probably couldn’t have made anything like that amount of money.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, that’s right. I mean obviously the counterfactual is, who else would have this job. I am not the reason why Open Phil’s working on this issue. If I wasn’t in this role there would be someone else in it, and I don’t have a sense … it’s quite possible they’d be as good as me, it’s quite possible they’d be better than me. In that case perhaps I should have done something else, but-
Robert Wiblin: Although, then they wouldn’t be doing whatever they’re doing now.
Lewis Bollard: That’s true-
Robert Wiblin: Probably providing things that you can fund.
Lewis Bollard: That’s true, that’s true. I think that I’m very happy that things have turned out as they have, and I certainly very seriously considered earning to give. That was a major potential career path for me, both coming out of college and then again coming out of law school. When I think, particularly the kind of cautious careers that I was considering, the low-risk career of consulting or lawyering, there’s … I’m confident I could have ended up giving at least a million dollars a year, but I’m not confident that it would have ever become a lot more than that. Certainly, I think the potential to better influence how twenty-five million dollars a year is spent, is a greater influence.
Robert Wiblin: Something that could really help advance people’s career is finding a good mentor, a sponsor, to help them learn what they need to know and get the introductions they need. I imagine you’re too busy to do that for dozens of people all at once. Are there any other people who you might be able to nominate who can be good at pushing people’s careers forward?
Lewis Bollard: Sure, yeah. I think this a great reason for people to start getting involved with animal groups in college, whether it’s in their college group, whether it’s going to conferences, or whether it’s getting involved for a group.
I wouldn’t want to volunteer anyone’s services by name because I don’t know their schedule, but I would say that I think there are a lot of very impressive people at groups like the Humane League, Mercy For Animals, The Humane Society, Compassion In World Farming, and The Good Food Institute, Animal Equality, and I think that a lot of those people would be very receptive to becoming mentors. In fact, I think it would be a great idea for there to be a more organised mentorship programme within the movement and I think there is a little bit of that within the campus programmes that have been started by The Humane League and Mercy For Animals. But, I do think the best thing is to just get connected to one of these groups, find who it is within that organisation that you either really respect or really click with, and then just ask them to be a mentor.
Robert Wiblin: Creating better mentorship networks is something that 80,000 Hours has considered doing, but unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to get to it in the short term. But, prob … there’s a decent chance we will in the medium term.
Lewis Bollard: I can say on this too, actually, that two mentorships essentially that were never framed quite as such, but have really functioned that way and have been very important to me, being firstly, Paul Shapiro at the Humane Society of the United States, who ran the farm animal programme and also Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of The Human Society of the United States. I think that both of them, I’ve learned a huge amount. I never explicitly asked them to mentor me, but I tried to stay in touch, and, where possible, to get their advice and get their wisdom, and that has been tremendously helpful.
Robert Wiblin: What’s the biggest downside of going into animal advocacy or I guess also food research?
Lewis Bollard: I think first of all, it can be emotionally draining work. So, less the food research, but on the animal advocacy side, it can be hard for people who aren’t resilient. It can be hard if seeing footage of animal cruelty really breaks you down, and makes you despondent or hopeless, then it can be really hard because a lot of this work involves trying to get that footage to other people, and involves trying to grapple with that imagery. So there needs to be a resiliency or strength you have in the face of that. So-
Robert Wiblin: I guess that rules me out. I’ve just wasted the last three hours.
Lewis Bollard: Yeah, so I think that’s a downside. Another downside is that, typically, animal advocacy groups have not paid anything comparable to, not just the private sector, but even other nonprofits. I think that’s getting better. I think that we’ve been encouraging and animal advocacy groups have independently been trying to raise salaries, and reward talent better, but it is still certainly the case that the nonprofit side salaries are low. And I think that is less so on the for-profit food companies. So I think that if that is an important factor to some people that is worth considering. And frankly, I think too, there has often been a disdain for people even considering that factor, as if that is a betrayal of animals to even [inaudible 03:15:56] think that your salary matters, but I think it does to some people. So I think that to be-
Robert Wiblin: Well, especially if they have families
Lewis Bollard: Especially if you have a families, exactly. So, I think for people to be honest with themselves about their circumstances, and about whether it is sustainable for them to earn whatever salary is on offer, I think that is a really important question and a potential downside of a lot of roles.
Robert Wiblin: Well, I’ve taken up an enormous amount of your time. We have been recording for over 3 hours. So, we should probably finish up and let you get to your work. Do you want to give a final, motivating pitch [03:16:27] to people to get involved?
Lewis Bollard: Sure. Well, thank you for your time too. This has been a really, really fun podcast. I think that, I would encourage people to consider an active career in animal welfare. I think that there is a huge need for talent, but I think the flip side to that is that there is amazing opportunity for talent. It’s a very young movement. There’s still a huge potential for upward mobility within groups, and there is a huge potential to make a major difference within the issue because there are still so few people working on it, and it’s still so early in the movement, and there’s still such a huge problem we are trying to affect, and we are really gaining traction. I think it is an exciting time for people who have an interest in this to get involved and to take up a full-time job in animal welfare.
Robert Wiblin: My guest today has been Lewis Bollard. Thanks for coming on the 80,000 Hours podcast Lewis.
Lewis Bollard: Thanks Rob.
Robert Wiblin: I hope you enjoyed that episode. Congrats for making it all the way.
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