Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 31 August 2017 09:03:31PM *  9 points [-]

Hi, I'm on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators and participated in some of the charity evaluation process. Here's a few of my own opinions. Note that this is not an official ACE response.

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The idea that a group with no discernible track record would ascend to top charity status seemed an unlikely proposition. However, the decision itself seemed to have some basis in GFI arising out of Mercy for Animals*, a group which is a regular beneficiary of top ACE status.

It's not truly the case that GFI has no track record. They have had a strong start and have had a few notable early successes, though unfortunately I believe some of their successes are not public information. For more, see the relevant section in the GFI review.

That being said, it is true that GFI has a weaker track record than other organizations. The seven criteria were meant to help us rank charities, they were never meant to be a "pass all seven or no recommendation" gate. Moreover, the criteria are not binary... it's possible that exceptional performance on some of the criteria could make up for weaknesses on other criteria.

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Some of the main considerations for making a funding decision about GFI would probably include factoring in such issues as diminishing returns, the funding gap (presently likely negligible),

ACE's analysis is that the Good Food Institute could productively use $3M to $3.5M in 2017 fundraising. That being said, this is not an exact science and productively using funding is also not a binary, so they certainly could excel with more.

My understanding was as of the time of the recommendation, there still was a gap of $500K-$1M, even after the $1M grant by OpenPhil. I do not believe this has been fully filled. Thus, I still think GFI represents a good use of funds.

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and the scenario of the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil) as the donor of last resort (unlikely to allow GFI to fall short when GFI likely advocate on behalf of investments for philanthropists who also support Open Phil).

I don't think OpenPhil operates that way, where they fully fund 100% of the organization to the point where the organization has no use of additional funds. They have written at length about how they balance their grants to specifically avoid being a donor of last resort (see here, here, and here).

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If we choose to work outside EA Funds and Open Phil, then it is reasonably the case that we need to find alternatives to GFI, so we could start to look at other groups that might fit our criteria.

You could consider other ACE top charities or standout charities. :) I think Mercy for Animals has the largest remaining funding gap right now (though that is my personal impression, not a careful or official analysis) among top charities.

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As part of this process, if we accept the claims made by GFI, then I would suggest there is little value to be found elsewhere in the ‘mainstream’ (ideologically reducetarian) animal movement.

I don't think this is true, as you do need to also build the demand for replacement meat products in addition to creating the supply.

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For a starting point, I would be most interested in the Food Empowerment Project, perhaps Encompass (new), and Better Eating International (also new). These groups wouldn’t represent a large funding opportunity, though a degree of funding will be required to help some of them develop further.

I'd be interested in more analysis here. I personally donated $10K to Better Eating International and have privately and personally analyzed their operations and found them to be a great start-up organization to support. I believe they still have room for more funding and could productively use more funds, and I'd personally encourage other people to donate to them. That being said, donating to them is more risky than donating to ACE top charities, as they've received less overall vetting and have much less of a track record.

I may personally write more about their activities in the future. It's also possible ACE may review them in the future, after they develop more of a track record.

I do not yet have opinions about the Food Empowerment Project or Encompass. I'd be curious to hear more. It's possible these organizations may be reviewed by ACE (I don't personally know).

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There is also a further option, that we consider whether EAs could prioritise meta-evaluation projects for ACE and other EA related groups.

I think this would also be a great idea. Donations to ACE could certainly be used for this purpose.

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Mercy for Animals has the appearance of a one stop shop for interventions. Where various interventions are constructed without a corresponding assessment of how they fit (or don’t fit) together.

MFA does do a lot of things, but from personal conversations with MFA staff I think they do have a very coherent and well-thought strategy for how they integrate all the different interventions.

Comment author: AviN 31 August 2017 09:43:47PM 2 points [-]

I don't think OpenPhil operates that way, where they fully fund 100% of the organization to the point where the organization has no use of additional funds. They have written at length about how they balance their grants to specifically avoid being a donor of last resort (see here, here, and here).

Here's some information I found a few months ago when trying to figure out the approach Open Phil takes with its recommendations to Good Ventures regarding funding gaps of its grant recipients. It's somewhat different than the approach that Open Phil / GiveWell takes with recommendations regarding funding gaps of GiveWell top charities.

In December 2015, Open Phil wrote regarding Open Phil grants: "In many cases, we find a funding gap we’d like to fill, and then we recommend filling the entire funding gap with a single grant. That doesn’t leave much scope for making a recommendation to individuals."

In March 2017, however, Open Phil wrote: "We typically avoid situations in which we provide >50% of an organization’s funding, so as to avoid creating a situation in which an organization’s total funding is 'fragile' as a result of being overly dependent on us. To avoid such situations, one approach we’ve sometimes taken is to fill the organization’s funding gap up to the point where we are matching all their other donors combined."

Similarly, in December 2016, Lewis Bollard, Farm Animal Welfare Program Officer at Open Phil wrote: "In April, we made a two-year $550K grant to CIWF, which filled much of its room for more funding at the time. I think it’s now likely ready to absorb more funds, and we’re limited in our ability to provide all of them by the public support test and a desire to avoid being the overwhelming funder of any group."

Comment author: Larks 08 January 2017 06:25:09PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for this.

Is chickens not going outside a major problem? Their having the option to go outside but choosing not to seems to suggest they prefer inside, and would be worse off if forced to go outside.

Comment author: AviN 11 January 2017 04:58:32PM 0 points [-]

It's probably a relatively minor problem. I've read that the chickens often don't go outside because they are afraid of predators and do not like the small barren lots provided, but are more likely to go outside into areas with tall grass and bushes to hide in. I've also heard an anecdote from a friend with pet chickens (rescued egg-laying hens) that the chickens would go outside to a balcony to dustbathe for a few minutes and then quickly come back indoors. (Though in this case, the indoor alternative was a comfortable apartment rather than an uncomfortable shed.)

Comment author: Larks 05 January 2017 03:48:19AM 1 point [-]

"Organic" in the US probably means at least somewhat improved welfare in some animal products (eggs, pork, dairy), and not in others (chicken, beef).

Could you explain why the same factors don't apply to chicken?

Comment author: AviN 07 January 2017 04:55:46AM *  1 point [-]

Organic prohibits extreme confinement such as battery cages, but all broiler chickens (raised for meat) in the US are free to roam around in a shed. The main welfare issues come from rapid growth, poor lighting, poor air quality, overcrowding, transport, and slaughter. Organic broiler chickens must have outdoor access, but this is probably less important than the other welfare issues, and there are no requirements regarding the size of the outdoor area or that the chickens must use it.

Comment author: AlexMennen 01 January 2017 02:05:42AM 4 points [-]

Do any animal welfare EAs have anything to say on animal products from ethically raised animals, and how to identify such animal products? It seems plausible to me that consumption of such animal products could even be morally positive on net, if the animals are treated well enough to have lives worth living, and raising them does not reduce wild animal populations much more than the production of non-animal-product substitutes. Most animal welfare EAs seem confident that almost all animals raised for the production of animal products do not live lives worth living, and that most claims by producers that their animals are treated well are false. However, there are independent organizations (e.g. the Cornucopia Institute's egg and dairy scorecards) that agree that such claims are often false, but also claim to be able to identify producers that do treat their animals well. Thoughts?

Comment author: AviN 01 January 2017 07:38:22PM *  2 points [-]

I believe funding work on corporate engagement to improve farm animal welfare probably has much higher expected value than any personal decisions about diet. There are limitations in this area regarding room for more funding, but Compassion in World Farming USA is an effective organization that seems to have room for funding in corporate engagement:

http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/suggestions-individual-donors-open-philanthropy-project-staff-2016#Compassion_in_World_Farming_USA_

That being said, I personally find these questions interesting, and here are some thoughts.

I believe the average beef cattle in the US has net positive welfare. So in terms of direct effects on farm animal welfare, I believe eating beef increases welfare. There are indirect effects though, and some are presumably negative, including climate change, and mice and birds killed in fields for feed production. Other indirect effects might be positive (i.e. reducing insect suffering). There are other reasons why people might want to avoid beef though, such as the view that killing animals for food is inherently wrong, or the view that unnecessary harm to an animal (i.e. castration without anesthesia) cannot be offset by X number of happy days on pasture.

Beef cattle might be alone in this regard. I thought that the average dairy cow in the US might have net positive welfare but I did some more investigation and now believe their welfare is somewhat net negative. Other potential candidates for animals in the US with net positive welfare may be other small ruminants (sheep, goats) but I couldn't find much evidence on the welfare of these animals.

The overwhelming majority eggs in the US come from hens raised in battery cages, which I believe experience strongly net negative welfare. Moving from conventional eggs to cage-free eggs probably substantially reduces suffering. I believe avoiding eggs completely would eliminate suffering even further though, because cage-free has its own animal welfare problems.

"Organic" in the US probably means at least somewhat improved welfare in some animal products (eggs, pork, dairy), and not in others (chicken, beef). Generally organic in the US prohibits extreme confinement, which is relevant for egg-laying hens (bans battery cages), the mothers of pigs raised for pork (bans gestation crates), and dairy cows (bans tie-stalls which ~10% of dairy cows are housed in). Organic dairy also requires that the cows spend some time on pasture.

I haven't spend much time looking at other animal welfare certifications, but I'm skeptical of most of these. I'd note though that Open Philanthropy has issued a grant to the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) which suggests to me that GAP certifications are meaningful. That doesn't mean, however, that GAP certified animal products are from animals with net positive welfare.

http://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/farm-animal-welfare/global-animal-partnership-general-support

I should note that farmed fish probably have net negative welfare, and eating farmed fish is probably particularly harmful because of how long they live (~20x as long as chickens raised for meat). I believe wild fish is probably similarly harmful, because supply of wild fish seems to be constrained and so demand for wild fish probably mostly just increases supply of farmed fish. I mention this because many people have the impression that eating less meat and more fish would reduce farm animal suffering, and I believe this view is likely very wrong.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 16 November 2016 03:35:01AM 2 points [-]

The title of the conference was Second International Conference on Cultured Meat.

Related article: https://www.clearlyveg.com/blog/2016/11/13/reflections-the-second-international-conference-cultured-meat

Comment author: AviN 18 November 2016 01:58:29PM 0 points [-]

Thanks.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 15 November 2016 03:23:26AM 0 points [-]

Video is not available, although I heard it might be at some point in the future.

Comment author: AviN 15 November 2016 06:21:46PM 0 points [-]

Cool, can you give me the conference name? That way I can follow-up with a Google search in a few weeks or months.

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 05 November 2016 11:04:06PM *  2 points [-]

Researchers have in fact provided accounts that were satisfactory to either private donors with access to the information or VC funds backing private ventures in the space.

OpenPhil has given a million dollars to GFI.

I would hope that in future this information will reach OpenPhil, as it is spending in the 8-figure range on factory farming (given a good account, it seems like an exceptionally high-return fundraising thing to do, for example), and look forward to seeing what happens with that.

I have proposed betting above. If you believe clean meat has low odds of succeeding.

I'm trying to create a meeting of the minds or such between OpenPhil and those who disagree with its perception of the cost feasibility. Ideally I would like to see agreements or quantified disagreement along those lines.

I'm raising the issue to see what is offered up, and because there is a clear inefficiency (at least one party is wrong and lots of money would change allocation either way), so addressing that looks disproportionately valuable (and cheap VOI generally comes ahead of implementation).

After I see the back-and-forth I may make a forecast myself.

[Writing only for myself.]

Comment author: AviN 14 November 2016 05:20:47PM 0 points [-]

Carl, I'd be really interested in seeing any content originating from these discussions.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 05 November 2016 03:45:04AM 2 points [-]

From speaking to individuals involved in the field, I believe the people Open Phil spoke to did not offer enough information to form a full vision toward near-term cost reduction. This is likely the result of a combination of three things:

  1. Some of the people who they spoke to did not have in-depth technical familiarity with the particular technological advancements required to bring the cost down.
  2. Some of the people who they spoke to may have had access to such information but were unwilling to share it in-depth with the Open Phil researchers for obvious reasons (namely, they work at companies with proprietary information).
  3. There are a number of individuals with such in-depth knowledge who Open Phil did not speak to, whether because they did not reach out to them or for other reasons.

Researchers have in fact provided accounts that were satisfactory to either private donors with access to the information or VC funds backing private ventures in the space. These accounts are usually not public; however, GFI has begun to and will continue to explain publicly exactly how cost reduction can happen. For example, at a recent conference, two GFI scientists each gave a presentation explaining exactly how we are going to bring the cost of media down and detailing the other plausible technical advances necessary to bring costs down over the coming years. GFI will likely continue to publish such materials moving forward.

I have proposed betting above. If you believe clean meat has low odds of succeeding, perhaps you can make some money off of me.

Comment author: AviN 14 November 2016 05:09:12PM 0 points [-]

Michael, Which conference is this? Are there any videos available for these talks?

Comment author: AviN 02 November 2016 12:37:00PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for this post. I took the "Try Giving" pledge last year but have decided not taken the lifetime pledge for now. I do not make want to make promises unnecessarily that I may plausibly break, and I do plan to suspend or stop giving if unexpected circumstances require it. The reality is that I'm more selfish than altruistic, and will prioritize the basic needs of myself and the people I care about before prioritizing the welfare of strangers.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 21 September 2016 02:32:52PM 8 points [-]

My guess is that after 4 years of the main event being in the Bay, it's worth mixing it up and moving it to either Boston, NY or the UK next year. Then someone can organise an unusually large EAGx in the Bay.

Comment author: AviN 22 September 2016 04:00:15PM 0 points [-]

+1 for NY! :)

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