Added 7/15/21: This blog post reflects the personal views of GiveWell’s co-founder in 2010; it does not represent GiveWell’s organizational view on animal welfare as a cause area. For more on why we don’t currently focus on animal welfare, see here.
We’ve gotten some questions about whether we plan to research charities working on animal welfare, so I wanted to share my thoughts on the cause.
- It’s easy for me to believe that animals often are treated horribly, and live in horrible conditions, relative to people (even people living under the international poverty line). I believe this applies both to animals in factory farms (one resource on this topic is The Way We Eat, co-authored by Peter Singer, (disclosure: Prof. Singer has actively promoted GiveWell)) and to stray animals, particularly in the developing world (such as those I saw throughout my recent stay in India).
- It is unclear to me whether charities are good at improving conditions for these animals. Much of what animal-welfare charities seem to focus on is political advocacy, which introduces a substantial set of complications.
- However, it seems likely to me that there are at least some groups that radically improve the condition of strays, such that if one valued the lives of animals equally to those of humans – or even in the same ballpark – these groups might be competitive with our best charities in terms of what you accomplish for your donation.
- I do value the lives of animals somewhat. I am very disturbed by what I’ve heard of their treatment in factory farms, and I’m interested in “ethical eating,” i.e., adjustments to eating habits that could create less incentive for this treatment.
- I do not value the lives of animals equally to those of humans – not even close. I couldn’t bring myself to give money to animal welfare charities that could be spent on global health instead, given what I understand as the realistic range of cost-effectiveness for the two.
- I recognize that there is a tension between the two points above. One could argue that if I spend more money – or even more time – on my food so that I can eat more ethically, this money or time could have been redirected to helping people in the developing world, and that it’s therefore inconsistent to be interested in “ethical eating” but not animal welfare charity. This argument might be correct, though I believe it is not, and may lay out my thoughts more thoroughly at a later point.
Those are my personal thoughts. For most of GiveWell’s history, the only full-time staff have been myself and Elie Hassenfeld, and Elie values the lives of animals far less than I do. We strongly prefer to research causes that we’re personally interested in, because it’s harder to ask a charity the right questions if you can’t really get behind what it does – so we haven’t given serious consideration to animal welfare charities.
However, we now have an employee who cares more about animal welfare, enough (in our judgment) to potentially do good work researching animal welfare charities. We aren’t yet ready to commit to researching this cause – we need to draw up our plan for next year, which we will be doing soon – but a report on animal welfare charities is a possibility in the next year, and very likely to happen eventually if GiveWell stays in existence.
It’s also possible that we will (eventually) produce content on “ethical eating,” which may be a way (aside from charity) that individuals can spend more money in order to accomplish good. Whether this content fits with our core mission is debatable; it won’t be happening under the GiveWell name in the short term.