Epistemic Status: This is uncertain and not deeply researched, but I could not find a simple way to come to a different conclusion.
How do you compare human and non-human animal suffering and interventions?
With the vast numbers of factory farmed animals raised and killed every year (~60 billion), I find it hard to imagine that this is not a more promising cause area than any short to medium-term human interventions.
It seems to me that factory farming is a worse atrocity than anything currently harming humans. There seems to be far greater suffering for far greater numbers than in humans although there may be a longtermist argument against this? Still, wouldn’t there be a case for ensuring a permanent end to factory farming over the likelihood of improving or extended future human well-being, because a future where we are committing an on-going moral atrocity is not a good one?
I also find it hard to discount the negative impact of factory farming because if animals are worthy of moral status, we are causing immense suffering that would not have happened otherwise (as opposed to wild animal welfare where we have a less direct role).
To discount factory farming to the extent that would make it similar in importance to short-term human based interventions (like GiveWell’s recommendations), it seems to me that you would have to believe at least one of the following:
- animals are not conscious or less conscious than humans
- animals suffer less than humans
- animal suffering matters less than human suffering
- we can’t know how much we are improving animal suffering
But I can’t find a serious case for thinking any of these things—at the very least with greater than 50% certainty—and even then the amount of animal suffering would vastly outweigh that of human suffering.
Regarding tractability, I can’t currently find any dollar estimates for “years of factory farmed animal suffering prevented” or a similar metric (if you know of these, please send them!). It does seem likely to me that direct interventions or investing in alternative animal protein would likely reduce more suffering per dollar than we could for humans.
My other intuition here is that with whatever limited consciousness or pain an animal can feel, it seems that being a factory farmed animal would be significantly worse than not being alive at all. I’m significantly less confident about this regarding, for example, the 10% least fortunate people alive today.
But I doubt I’m accurately representing the good arguments that discount animal suffering, so please let me know what you think! How does the scale and intensity of suffering in factory farming not outweigh the scale and intensity of human suffering?