This page surveys work done by animal charities and the evidence that it works. It also sketches some rough estimates of cost-effectiveness. We focus on the areas that we find most promising (the food industry and suffering in the wild).

What do animal charities do?[edit | edit source]

Animal charities work in a wide variety of areas, but often focus on abandoned or abused pets. Other popular areas are animals used in labs, the fur industry, entertainment, and factory farms.

Which are the most important areas?[edit | edit source]

At this early stage of analysis, we find the food industry and suffering in the wild to be especially promising, from the perspective of doing as much good for animals for the resources used.

The vast majority of all animal suffering likely occurs "naturally" in the wild (animals eating each other, etc.), while the food industry probably accounts for the bulk of animal suffering caused by humans.

Factory-farmed animals[edit | edit source]

The number of animals killed in the food industry (even excluding seafood) dwarfs the number killed in shelters, for fur, and in labs combined; and the vast majority of these are raised in factory farms.[1] So what's the quality of life of farm animals? People disagree but the table below shows an estimate by Bailey Norwood, a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University.

Norwood's estimates of US farm animal welfare (-10 is worst, 10 is best)[2]
Product (animal raised conventionally unless otherwise noted) Welfare of one breeder animal Welfare of one market (non-breeder) animal
Beef (animals raised for beef, not beef from dairy cows) 8 6
Chicken meat -4 3
Milk Not relevant 4
Veal Not relevant -8
Pork -7 -2
Crate-free pork[3] -5 -2
Shelter-pasture pork[4] 4 4
Egg from cage system 3 -8
Egg from cage-free system 3 2

It is unclear whether Norwood's estimates take into account slaughter and transportation to slaughter, and they probably disregard killing of male chicks in the egg industry. Either way, the welfare of veal calves, cage hens, and sows in gestation crates are well below a life worth living.

Brian believes these numbers are far too positive. He would rather not exist than live as any factory-farmed animal. In any event, Brian feels that even if beef cows have positive lives -- implausible given how brutal their slaughter can be -- their happiness can't be as intense as the suffering of battery hens and veal calves.

Cage hens (and perhaps meat chickens) probably account for the bulk of the suffering in farming. For each slaughtered cow, three pigs and 250 chickens are slaughtered (in the US).[5] Laying hens in standard cages suffer greatly (based on Norwood's estimates) and, unfortunately, around 95% of all US eggs are cage eggs.[6] In addition, chickens are not covered under the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and some fraction of chickens are not properly stunned, leading them to drown in boiling water in defeathering tanks while still conscious.

Seafood industry[edit | edit source]

The number of animals killed by the seafood industry probably dwarfs the numbers in other industries, such as farms, labs, and fur;[7] and the time from catch to death involves great suffering for the individual animal. This, combined with the opportunity to make catch and killing methods more humane, make the seafood industry a promising area. A counterargument could be that the sea animal would have died a death at least as painful under natural conditions, so the seafood industry does not cause extra suffering; it merely shortens the sea animal's life. But even if that is correct, we could still reduce a lot of suffering by improving the seafood industry's methods for catching, handling, and killing the sea animals -- for example, by using electric methods to stun before killing.

Some have also argued that fishing may lead, in the long run, to larger numbers of smaller fish rather than fewer larger fish. If wild fish don't have lives worth living on account of short livespans, then increasing populations through overfishing would be bad.[8]

Wild-animal suffering[edit | edit source]

Natural wild-animal suffering[edit | edit source]

Most animal suffering is not caused by humans but instead occurs "naturally" in the wild (animals killing each other, diseases, etc.).[9] The number of animals in the wild is much larger than those killed or kept by humans,[10] and it's widely agreed that all vertebrates can suffer, including most likely, fish. The suffering they endure (e.g. being eaten alive) seems on a par with the worst things humans do to animals.

Besides wild mammals, fish, and the like, the suffering among insects and other invertebrates is a potentially important area that is often overlooked (given how many insects there are, and some likelihood that they suffer).[11]

Wild-animal suffering caused by humans[edit | edit source]

Wildlife and pest control (e.g., rodents in crop fields) may be one of the areas where humans cause the most animal suffering. We are not aware of any information on the number of animals killed, but we guess it could be huge. Adopting humane control methods is a promising intervention, especially since (in contrast to vegetarianism or veganism) only farmers would have to change their behavior, and one would probably not fight against as strong corporate interests as in the food industry. [These are hypotheses, need analysis]

What do charities do in the priority areas?[edit | edit source]

What do charities do about the food industry?[edit | edit source]

Examples of animal charity activities about the food industry
Direct action Politics & law Persuade companies and the like Public awareness Research
Rescue farm animals[12] Gather signatures Online video games against KFC[13] Create animal welfare food labels[14] Develop lab meat[15]
Send letters/email Demonstrate outside store Undercover investigations (e.g. farm visits)[16] Publish own research & organize conferences[17]
Talk to politicians Lawsuits[18] Promote animal law courses in law school[19] Research animal activism effectiveness (database & surveys)[20]
Hand out paper leaflets[21] Fund humane-slaughter research[22]
Online ads linking to farm videos[23]

What do charities do about wild-animal suffering?[edit | edit source]

Natural wild-animal suffering[edit | edit source]

The closest we have seen to a charities that work on reducing suffering that occurs naturally in the wild, are charities that take in sick, injured, or orphaned wild animals, provide care, and return them to the wild when they are ready.[24]. However, we would guess that this is not cost-effective.

Wildlife and pest control[edit | edit source]

PETA does some work on cruel wildlife control (drowning, trapping, bird poison, and glue traps),[25] but there may be better interventions.

One fairly concrete intervention would be to directly subsidize humane pest control so that it's in people's self-interest to buy it.

[To be researched more]

Does it work?[edit | edit source]

This section lists the most impressive achievements that we are aware of in the food industry. We have generally not vetted the achievements, just taken them from the charities themselves. If these achievements are correct, several of them seem to entail great reductions in animal suffering. For example, several achievements involve banning or stopping purchase of standard US cage eggs. Assuming this means a shift to cage-free production, laying hens would go from a minus 8 quality of life in the cage system to a plus 2 in the cage-free (according to Prof. Norwood's welfare estimates).

Politics & law[edit | edit source]

  • HSUS has maybe the strongest list of achievements in politics that we have seen, listing achievements for each year 2006-2011.[26] For example, it sounds like HSUS helps pass around 90 animal laws per year. Achievements include California's 2008 Proposition 2, which bans veal crates, battery cages, and sow gestation crates by 2015.[27] Another achievement is a 2010 agreement with Ohio Gov. and agriculture industry that e.g. banned new sow gestation crates after 2010 and put a moratorium on new battery cage permits for laying hens.[28]
  • Anonymous for Animal Rights says it has stopped several practices in Israel: force-feeding of geese and ducks, water deprivation and isolation of veal calves, dehorning of cows without anesthetics, vivisection in schools, etc.[29]
  • ALDF, an animal charity founded by attorneys, regularly does lawsuits to stop animal abuse and expand animal law. For example, in 2012, ADLF (in cooperation with another charity COK) sued a chicken hatchery in Santa Cruz for abuse, which led to the hatchery closing down.[30]
  • ALDF also drafted a ballot initiative in 2001 to outlaw gestation crates, which became law in 2002 (according to ALDF).[31]
  • AWI prompted the US National Organic Standards Board to increase the minimum space for pigs in USDA's organic program (in 2011).[32]

Influence companies and the like[edit | edit source]

  • PETA implies it was a cause of these changes: Burger King and Wendy's adopt animal welfare standards.[33] McDonald's makes basic animal welfare improvements.[34] Safeway demands higher animal welfare from its suppliers (Safeway agreed to e.g. increase the amount of pig from suppliers that don't use gestation crates by 5 percent over each of the next three years).[35] Puerto Rico's largest poultry company switches to gas killing.[36] Online grocer FreshDirect to stop selling foie gras.[37]
  • MFA caused Costco to stop selling veal from producers using crate-and-chain method,[38] and Giant Eagle grocers to boycott egg from producers who force molt their hens (depriving them of light and food to shock them into a laying cycle).[39] Also, after talks with MFA, Costco and Kmart agreed to phase out gestation crates from their pork suppliers.[40]
  • HSUS has led the nationwide campaign for cage-free eggs. It says it has, along with sister organizations, convinced over 300 colleges/universities to use cage-free eggs in their dining halls[41].
  • The Humane League says that it has made 60 institutions (colleges etc.) go cage-free.[42]

Consumer behavior[edit | edit source]

  • The Humane League did a survey of Facebook ads linking to a video of the animal industry. Visitors can "like" the video and/or order a "vegetarian starter kit." Some of those who pressed the like button or ordered a kit where contacted by the charity and asked about changed food consumption after visiting the video web site. The majority of respondents said that they had reduced their consumption of animal products, and around 3% said that they had increased their consumption.[43]
  • The Humane League did a survey in 2010(?) of people who ordered a Vegetarian Starter Pack in response to online postings (people were contacted 3-6 months after their order). The study found that 40-80% reduced their animal consumption (depending on which animal product) and that around 5% increased their consumption.[44]

Cost-effectiveness[edit | edit source]

We are not aware of any information on how much was spent to create changes in legislation and organizations' behavior (e.g. McDonald's and colleges). One would likely need to ask the charities, or alternatively, list what important achivements a charity makes in a typical year and put that in relation to the charity's annual budget.

We are aware of some information on how much it cost to do online veg ads from a study made by Nick Cooney at The Humane League (which includes follow-up survey to measure results). Brian used it to make a rough cost-effectiveness estimate below.

California's Proposition 2[edit | edit source]

Prop 2 (described above) bans veal crates, battery cages, and sow gestation crates by 2015. HSUS says it "drove passage of" the prop. According to the Wikipedia entry, $10.6 million was donated to pass it.[45]

Veg ads[edit | edit source]

According to Brian, veg ads are probably the most efficient way to promote vegetarianism, because unlike leaflet distribution, there's almost no human time cost. Brian's piece "Donating toward Efficient Online Veg Ads" goes into details about veg ads being run by The Humane League. It includes the survey described above from The Humane League's Nick Cooney assessing changes in people's meat consumption upon seeing the landing page for the ads. Toward the end, the piece estimates that $1 donated to veg ads conservatively buys

  • 123 days of suffering on a factory farm avoided
  • 20 fish not painfully slaughtered
  • "return on investment effects" by creating people who will later donate to more veg outreach
  • increased concern for animal suffering, which may eventually extend to wild animals

Brian's view[edit | edit source]

This section contains Brian's views that Simon diagrees with.

Brian's stack rank for cost-effectiveness[edit | edit source]

1. The Humane League -- veg ads + follow-up research

2. VegFund -- veg ads

3. Vegan Outreach -- paper leaflets

4. Mercy for Animals -- investigations


Humane Slaughter Association -- supporting humane-slaughter research

Humane Society of the United States -- lobbying for humane slaughter, cage-free eggs


PETA -- investigations, lobbying for humane slaughter

(other groups)

HSUS has a $100 million annual budget. HSUS also spends a fair fraction of money on pets and other less effective causes, so it's probably not the best donation choice per dollar.

Brian's view on animal charities vs human charities[edit | edit source]

Animals can suffer in similar ways as humans, but people have fewer natural inclinations to help animals than to help other humans. Animals cannot vote, trade, or fight for their own interests. In addition, there are orders of magnitude more animals than humans on earth. These factors imply that charity to reduce animal suffering should have far more low-hanging fruit than charity to help humans.

Remaining questions[edit | edit source]

  • Are there any promising interventions that charities do on humane wildlife and pest control, does it work, and what's the cost-effectiveness? Simon would guess that cost-effective areas include pest control in agriculture, e.g. that crop farmers switch to a humane method to keep rodents away. But there could be other areas and Simon doesn't know if any charity is working on this.
  • Are there any promising direct actions that charities do in the food industry and to reduce wild-animal suffering? (And as usual, if so, do they work, what's the cost-effectiveness?) To clarify: examples of direct action in the food industry could be to rescue chickens or to physically obstruct whale hunters. This question is important because direct actions are usually easier to evaluate than e.g. trying to pass legislation or changing consumer behavior, but Simon is not aware of many direct actions in the food industri and to reduce wild-animal suffering, and not of any that seem cost-effective.
  • Are there other areas that we have missed with likely cost-effectiveness competitive with those on the page (food industry, natural suffering in the wild, and wildlife and pest control)? Simon has in mind tangible areas like those on the page, or more tangible.
  • What was the concrete result of interventions generally? For example, if a college switched to cage-free eggs, what was the new production system, and what's the difference for animals between the old and the new situation? And what welfare changes did McDonald's etc. end up doing as a result of PETA's work?
  • What information is available on how much resources it took to cause the changes?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "On The Farm: 56 billion animals (not including fish) are slaughtered globally each year in the meat, dairy, and egg industries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Animals raised for food comprise about 98% of all animals used by humans in various industries. The vast majority of farm animals are raised in conventional, industrial agriculture systems known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs (often referred to as “factory farms”)." (accessed June 3, 2012, archived here) The number of farm animals killed vastly outnumber those killed in labs, for fur, and in shelters. According to a chart by Vegan Outreach (archived here), the number of animals killed for human use (in the US each year) are:
    • ~20 million in shelters
    • ~20 million for fur
    • ~40 million in labs
    • ~10 billion for food
    The numbers exclude fish, lobsters, shrimp, etc. (Wikipedia confirms that at least 17-22 million lab animals are killed in the US, although the numbers worldwide could be at least 100 million, and these figures don't count small animals like shrimp and fruit flies.)
  2. The table is from Norwood and Lusk's book from 2011, Compassion by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare, p. 229. Oxford University Press. The table can be found on the book's website and it is also backed up here.
  3. "Pork produced in the absence of gestation crates; farrowing crates are still permissible." This system is also called 'confinement-pen system.' Norwood and Lusk 2011, p. 229.
  4. This system "provides pigs with both shelter and pasture, and in many cases could be sold under the private label Animal Welfare Approved, developed be the Animal Welfare Institute." Norwood and Lusk 2011, p. 229.
  5. Also, "In 2010, the average number of egg-type laying hens in the United States was 281 million. Flock size for October 1, 2011, was 281 million layers, decreasing from last year's 279."
  6. "Approximately 95 percent of all US eggs are produced under the cage system". Norwood and Lusk 2011, Compassion by the Pound, p. 117.
  7. The number of fish killed for food worldwide may be 1 to 3 trillion.
  8. "On eating wild-caught fish," Felicifia, 2011-2012.
  9. For more on the importance of wild-animal suffering see this piece by Brian.
  10. Another piece by Brian estimates the number of wild mammals and birds at around 100 billion and reptiles/amphibians possibly into the trillions. Fish are estimated to be at least in the tens of trillions.
  11. Brian estimates the number of insects and other invertebrates number 10^18 to 10^19 -- between a billion billion and ten billion billion. It's not known whether invertebrates can suffer (although some, like octopi, almost certainly can).
  13. PETA
  16. Several groups, like HSUS and PETA, regularly do undercover investigations. Another group that does them is Mercy for Animals. In fact, MFA was responsible for compiling the "Farm to Fridge" documentary that serves as the landing-page video for most veg ads at the moment. MFA also does veg outreach, and unlike HSUS/PETA, it doesn't spend money on less effective non-farm-animal projects. One minor complaint with MFA is that they seem to focus a lot on milk, which Brian thinks is trivial by comparison with fish/chicken/eggs. (Indeed, if milk helps people stay off the other animal products, Brian would prefer people to consume it.)
  20. Humane Research Council,
  21. Vegan Outreach currently focuses on printing and distributing paper brochures. Over 17 million Vegan Outreach booklets have been distributed in the last 10 years.
  22. The UK-based Humane Slaughter Association does provide research grants and awards to promising projects, and it holds a yearly conference on the latest research in the field.
  23. The Humane League ( and VegFund ( have done veg ads (and are perhaps still doing them). Farm Sanctuary will be getting into it as well, and Vegan Outreach will do $24K worth of them in 2012 at Brian's request.
  24. Elephants:, archived at Badgers:, archived at
  25., archived at
  26. * 2011: Archived at
  27. "We drove passage of Proposition 2, a California ballot initiative mandating more humane treatment of some 20 million animals on state factory farms." Archived at According to Brian, the law has had other spill-over effects, including building momentum among egg producers in favor of H.R. 3798, which would double cage space for laying hens nationwide.
  28. "2010 HSUS Accomplishments.... Agreement in Ohio The HSUS worked with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and agriculture industry leaders in the state to negotiate an agreement that will lead to major animal welfare improvements in Ohio, including a ban on veal crates by 2017, a ban on new gestation crates in the state after Dec. 31, 2010, and a moratorium on permits for new battery cage confinement facilities for laying hens. The agreement will also lead to improvements in the state's approach to dealing with puppy mills, cockfighting, and some wild animals kept as pets." (accessed July 21, 2012), archived at
  29. "Some of Anonymous' Achievements Our successful campaigns include: Stopping the force-feeding of geese and ducks (over 800,000 annually); Stopping the water deprivation and isolation of veal calves; Banning the dehorning of cows without anesthetics; Stopping vivisection in schools...", accessed May 11, 2012. Archived at
  30. (accessed July 28, 2012). Archived at More info at, archived at
  31. "2001: A groundbreaking ballot initiative to outlaw cruel “gestation crates” for pigs in factory farms is drafted by ALDF counsel. The initiative becomes law in 2002." Archived at
  32. "With the exception of vague references to “access to the outdoors” and “opportunity to exercise,” the regulations of the USDA’s National Organic Program do not address animal welfare. That may be changing, though, as the National Organic Standards Board moves forward in establishing standards for animal housing, handling, transport and slaughter. After learning that the Board’s proposed minimum space allowances for pigs were actually worse than common industry standards, AWI—with the assistance of its members and supporters across the country—generated hundreds of comments critical of the proposal, prompting the Board to significantly increase the space allotted to pigs." Annual Report 2011, p. 11
  33. Burger King: "April 2007 In 2001, PETA ended its "Murder King" campaign against fast-food giant Burger King after the company agreed to adopt a series of animal welfare guidelines. Since then, PETA has continued to hold behind-the-scenes discussions with Burger King about how the company could further improve its animal welfare requirements. In March 2007, after nearly six years of discussions with PETA, Burger King announced a groundbreaking new plan, placing it at the forefront of the fast-food industry with regard to animal welfare." (archived here). Wendy's: "October 2001 After securing victory over Burger King in June 2001, PETA launched a campaign against Wendy's. In the first demonstration of the campaign, actor James Cromwell and others were arrested inside a Wendy's restaurant in McLean, Virginia, after asking customers to eat elsewhere while Wendy's still permits the worst animal welfare abuses. Our campaign lasted three months and included dozens of arrests at Wendy's restaurants nationwide. In September 2001, PETA declared victory over Wendy's after the company agreed to adopt the same farmed-animal welfare standards as Burger King, including immediate adoption of standards in Canada." (archived here)
  34. "October 2000 In 1997, PETA called on McDonald's to make improvements for animals before they become Big Macs and McNuggets, holding news conferences and demonstrations around the country. After a 'Day of Action' in October generated dozens of protests around the country, McDonald's invited PETA into negotiations. Negotiations proved fruitless, so PETA launched a campaign against McDonald's in 1999 that lasted 11 months and included more than 400 demonstrations at McDonald's restaurants in more than 23 countries, as well as advertising and celebrity involvement. In September 2000, McDonald's agreed to make basic but important animal-welfare improvements, which are the only protection for chickens in factory farms because the Animal Welfare and Humane Slaughter acts do not cover birds. For more information and a complete campaign chronology, please visit" (archived here),more info (archived here.
  35. April 2002 ... In February 2002, PETA launched a campaign against Safeway and its subsidiaries in the U.S. and Canada. Our campaign included more than 100 demonstrations in 20 states and four Canadian provinces, as well as powerful advertisements and celebrity involvement.... In May 2002, Safeway announced that it would immediately begin auditing one of its pig suppliers and would implement new minimum animal welfare standards that would initially mirror those of the fast-food giants but quickly surpass them." (archived here. More info here (archived here)
  36. "January 2002 After viewing a videotape of workers bludgeoning "unusable" chickens with baseball bats and later breaking their necks, PETA sent information to the president of Puerto Rico's largest poultry company about using gas killing as a more humane alternative. We also provided contacts who could help establish a gassing system. After several months of correspondence and discussions, the company agreed to switch to gas killing for about 100,000. Poultry welfare experts agree that gas killing is far more humane than cervical dislocation, bludgeoning, or decapitation on a mass scale." (archived here)
  37. "September 2011 After hearing from PETA, online grocer FreshDirect pulled foie gras from its website and agreed no longer to sell the product." (archived here)
  38. "After the Buckeye Veal Farm exposé, Costco Wholesale committed to ending the sale of veal from producers who use a crate-and-chain production method. This policy will spare months-old calves from being chained by their necks inside individual two-feet-wide crates so small that the calves are unable to turn around, walk, lie down comfortably or clean themselves." (Accessed July 14, 2012). Archived at
  39. "Following our first two egg farm exposés, Giant Eagle grocers pledged to boycott eggs from producers who "force molt" their hens – the practice of shocking hens into a laying cycle by depriving them of light and food." (Accessed July 14, 2012). Archived at ht
  40. "Today [July 18, 2012], after eleventh hour behind-the-scenes discussions with Mercy For Animals, both Costco Wholesale, the second largest retailer in the US, and Sears Holdings Corporation's subsidiary Kmart, the third-largest discount store in the world, announced that they would eliminate gestation crates from their pork supply chains." (accessed July 21, 2012), archived at Sears' announcement: (accessed July 21, 2012), archived at
  41. Brian's personal communication
  42. "Since 2008 the Humane League has succeeded in getting over 60 institutions (primarily colleges and universities but also high schools, corporate cafeterias, and hospitals) to go cage-free." The Humane League (accessed on May 1, 2012). Archived at
  43. The video site was and the survey results can be found at (PDF).
  44. Archived at
  45. Wiki article archived at


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