Hi Jamie! Thanks for engaging with the research.
On flock size, yes you are understanding this correctly. You make a good point, although the model doesn’t rely much on this factor so I wouldn’t expect it to greatly alter the endline cost-effectiveness. But to double-check, I went back to our model and replaced the current estimate of flock size in 2019 with a range from 25,500 to 59,000 hens (capturing the possibility that flock sizes remained the same as in 2007 and all hens were placed in new farms, as well as the possibility that no new farms were built and existing flock sizes increased). With this adjusted flock size, we get an updated cost-effectiveness of 32 WP/$ and 1.4 chickens helped/$, so the intervention still looks promising. It is likely the endline cost-effectiveness isn’t greatly affected by this change to the flock size number as subsidization costs play a big part in the cost-effectiveness of this intervention. Although a smaller flock size will mean fewer chickens helped per farm, it will also mean less money spent per farm.
On the “humane-washing”, this advocate’s concern applied to all welfare-focused interventions that aim to improve the conditions on the farms e.g. cage-free, broiler campaigns and fish welfare campaigns. As with those, a similar long-term strategy will apply to the feed fortification organization. The end goal is a change of law to establish mandatory regulation on optimal nutrition for hens (similarly to cage-free asks, which aim at a complete ban on cages for hens. We’ve done some research into policy change for feed fortification in India and concluded that because of problems with enforcement and other barriers we would like to provide a proof of concept and transition part of the industry to production with optimal feed first. But in the long term, we would like to see legal requirements that hens are in cage-free systems with optimal feed.
Thanks for the response Karolina. Great that you’ve looked at the policy change route and that legislation would be the long-term goal of this.
In relation to your second response point: Looking at the published conversation notes from the interview with the animal advocate who raised the concern, they do not appear to be concerned about cage-free in the same way that they are about this intervention. These quotes show that the advocate thinks that cage-free does not suffer from the same concerns as the feed fortification intervention:
“Feed fortification would not increase prices to the same extent that fundamental infrastructure change, such as cage-free would”
“Although the animal advocate understands that these problems could also be problems for the cage-free campaigns, they think that cage-free is a better ask because it tackles one of the underlying issues of intensive factory farming (confinement), where feed fortification doesn’t.”
I think the second quote identifies my main concern with the feed fortification intervention. It seems likely that it would increase profits in the Indian egg industry by paying for something (at an estimated cost of $27,000 per farm according to the model) which will likely increase the overall profitability of farms. This leads to concerns with increased egg production and more overall hen suffering. My worry would be that this intervention seems to clearly benefit factory farms without imposing any particular costs on them. It would be interesting to see some discussion of whether the downside of this outweighs the upside of the welfare benefits provided by feed fortification.
Obviously, if improved feed fortification can eventually become adopted in legislation due to the work of this proposed charity then the intervention seems more promising. However, I couldn’t see any mention in the report of how the initial work with individual farms could be translated into policy change. I’d be interested to see this sketched out somewhere in a report if this is the main route to impact for the charity.
One point that I feel that we haven’t communicated well enough on is that cost of $27,000 per farm we have in the CEA doesn’t literally mean that we will pay the farm $27,000. As mentioned in the post, “this aims to set a conservative minimal threshold for cost-effectiveness. A high-scale, lower cost strategy (e.g. outreach through farmers associations) could further increase cost-effectiveness.”. We want to test in our CEA the worst possible scenario and it doesn’t mean that this will be the strategy. I will make a note to structure our reports differently in the future to avoid the confusion that what we test under “charity report” is literally also an implementation that the organization is going to go with.
“However, I couldn’t see any mention in the report of how the initial work with individual farms could be translated into policy change.”
Sorry if we don’t include the details about the implementation in the charity ideas report. We usually follow up those reports with an “implementation report” to discuss long-term strategy, etc. Those are shared with co-founders who often contribute to them. Still, we prefer not to share them publicly for two reasons i) we don’t want the details of the strategy to potentially negatively affect the campaign ii) the strategy outlines the uncertainties that co-founders have to test at the beginning and how they should adopt the strategy to that, so because the plans are to some extend flexible they could change so we don’t want to create confusion. More specifically to your point,
“It seems likely that it would increase profits in the Indian egg industry by paying for something (at an estimated cost of $27,000 per farm according to the model) which will likely increase the overall profitability of farms”.
The approach that charity will take is to first try to achieve success for cage-free and feed fort through multiple means that don’t require any support from us and put costs on the producers (e.g., outreach through farmers’ associations and partnership building ). If that would be unsuccessful (e.g., because there is no proof of concept), then try to subsidize an additional cost that farmer would have to take to have a higher level of nutrients in the feed (e.g., if low-nutrient feed would cost 1$, and high-nutrient feed would cost $3, we would subsidize the $2 difference between them). That way, the new situation is that producers’ costs are the same as before the intervention, and hens have a higher nutrient feed at the same time. No change in costs = no change in price = no major change in long-term profitability. If there is still resistance to fortification, only then would we consider a higher level of subsidization to achieve proof of concept and then when more widely adopted. That would be the case only until enough farmers operate like that to push for more systemic change, e.g., new mandatory feed standards in state regulations that are not subsidized at scale. What we model in the CEA is the absolute worst-case scenario, not the scenario that is most likely.
I agree with this advocate’s opinion that behavioral restrictions (like foraging and movement deprivation) caused by conventional cages and enriched cages are the biggest welfare problem, as you can see on the graph we linked from Cynthia Schuck-Paim and Wladimir Alonso’s forthcoming book, Quantifying Pain in Laying Hens. But keel bone fractures are the second biggest issue in conventional and enriched cages and the biggest in cage-free/aviary systems.
That’s why in places where there is no cage-free production (e.g., in India), we would recommend a focus on cage-free and feed fort, and in places where the shift to cage-free already happened, we want to work on feed fortification to avert keel bone fracture.
When speaking with advocates about it, we only spoke about feed fort in India, instead of cage-free + feed fort in India, so maybe that created confusion.