Factory farming

Recommendation

Recommended – second tier

Summary

Each year, 50 billion animals are raised and slaughtered in factory farms. Most experience extreme levels of suffering. This area is neglected relative to its scale — less than $20 million per year is spent on it. There are promising paths to improving the conditions of factory farmed animals and for reducing meat consumption. Options for working on this problem include: supporting the organisations recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators by taking a high earning job and donating to them or by working at them directly, working at companies developing plant-based alternatives to meat, and advocating for work on this problem as an academic, journalist or politician.

Scores

  • Scale: 10 – 50 billion animals are raised and killed in factory farms each year.
  • Neglectedness: 8 – Less than $20 million in annual funding; around 1,000 full time workers.
  • Solvability – 4 – Some plausible ways to make progress, with some expert support.

See what the scores mean here.

Level of depth of profile

Exploratory

What is the problem?

50 billion animals are raised and slaughtered in factory farms each year. Most experience extreme levels of suffering over the course of their lives. Relatively small improvements to their treatment could substantially improve their welfare.

Why is this problem pressing?

What is our recommendation based on?

We think this problem is pressing because it is a focus area of The Open Philanthropy Project. Read their report on the treatment of animals in factory farms and animal product alternatives.

Why is it pressing?

  • 50 billion animals are raised and killed in factory farms every year. Most experience extreme levels of suffering over the course of their lives. The meat industry is also one of the largest contributors to climate change, with 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • This area gets relatively little attention from major animal welfare groups. Less than $20 million is spent by non-profits on improving conditions of factory farmed animals or reducing meat consumption.
  • There appear to be reliable ways to persuade people to reduce their meat consumption by becoming vegetarian or vegan. Developing better meat substitutes could further drive down meat consumption. In the EU there has been some success with improving conditions in factory farms.

What are the major arguments against it being pressing?

  • You might think that the well-being of animals matters far less than the suffering of humans, and so think the scale isn’t as large as other problems.
  • You might think that the long-run benefits of improving animal welfare are significantly smaller than the long-run benefits of improving the welfare of humans. This is because increasing the well-being of humans lets them contribute more to the economic development of their society, but there is no obvious mechanism by which increasing animal welfare leads to comparable long-run benefits. Read more on this argument.

Key judgement calls made to prioritise this problem

  • Animals in factory farms experience real and extreme suffering.
  • If faced with a situation where you can prevent the suffering of vast amounts of animals or the suffering of a much smaller number of humans, you should prevent the suffering of the animals. This is because in the short run you’re preventing more suffering, and you either don’t care about the long-run effects, or you think there are long-run positive effects to preventing animal suffering, for example through increasing human empathy and improving society’s values.

What can you do about this problem?

What’s most needed to contribute to this problem?

  • Social advocacy to reduce meat consumption. This can be done through distributing leaflets, tv and online ads, campaigning large institutions (such as school districts or hospitals) to adopt “Meatless Mondays” to reduce meat consumption, and investigations that expose and publicise cruelty to animals in factory farms.
  • Political advocacy and lobbying for legislation for better conditions in factory farms.
  • Developing plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods.
  • Research to determine the most effective social and political advocacy methods for persuading people to reduce their meat consumption and passing legislation to improve conditions in factory farms.

What skill sets and resources are most needed?

  • People with strong leadership and fundraising skills to work in animal advocacy non-profits.
  • People with high earning potential who can donate to animal advocacy non-profits. Jon Bockman of Animal Charity Evaluators, told us that animal advocacy non-profits have lots of enthusiastic volunteers but not enough funds to hire them, meaning that funding is the greater bottleneck in this problem area (unless you have the potential to be a leader and innovator in the movement). because the space is largely funding-constrained.
  • Entrepreneurs and researchers working on meat substitutes.

Who is working on this problem?

What can you concretely do to help?

Further reading