Farmed Animal Funders Custom Shallow Review: On Selecting Funding Strategies In General And On Focusing Funding On Open-Access Scientific Research For Plant-Based Alternatives

Some con­text: I cur­rently work as an An­a­lyst at Farmed An­i­mal Fun­ders. Farmed An­i­mal Fun­ders is a rel­a­tively re­cently formed group of fun­ders who each give $250,000 or more an­nu­ally to­wards char­i­ta­ble ini­ti­a­tives that sup­port end­ing fac­tory farm­ing and mov­ing to­wards a more sus­tain­able food sys­tem. One of the things that I do in my work is writ­ing ‘cus­tom shal­low re­views’ for fun­ders to help them make dona­tion de­ci­sions. The re­main­der of this piece is one of those cus­tom shal­low re­views with some iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion re­moved. I think that there is value in post­ing this type of anal­y­sis pub­li­cly so that it can re­ceive feed­back and be up­dated ac­cord­ingly, and so that it can po­ten­tially be used by other peo­ple fac­ing similar prob­le­mat­ics/​ques­tions. This shal­low re­view was mo­ti­vated by a fun­der ask­ing to what ex­tent they should pri­ori­tize fund­ing open-ac­cess re­search for plant-based al­ter­na­tives in their re­search.


Select­ing gen­eral ar­eas to pri­ori­tize for fund­ing and think­ing about how to se­lect them seems very com­pli­cated, and I feel un­cer­tain about the best way of do­ing this. I am try­ing to make progress on these is­sues in a way that is use­ful, and in a way that can be in­cre­men­tally built upon over time.

As always, please let me know if you would like me to go into more de­tail on any­thing in spe­cific or if you have any ques­tions.

Some Ini­tial Think­ing About Pri­ori­tiz­ing Differ­ent Areas

I think it would be use­ful to briefly high­light two key ap­proaches to fund­ing al­lo­ca­tion de­scribed by the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject:

  1. The “de­fault ap­proach”:

1a) There is a com­mon “set of crite­ria and pro­cesses” for all your fund­ing,

1b) We can es­ti­mate how differ­ent fund­ing op­tions perform on that com­mon
“set of crite­ria and pro­cesses,”

1c) Then pri­ori­tize the fund­ing op­tions that perform best.

2. The “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach”:

2a) There are some differ­ent “sets of crite­ria and pro­cesses” that some­how
can’t be com­pared on a com­mon met­ric,

2b) You as­sign weight to those differ­ent “sets of crite­ria and pro­cesses” to
vary­ing but sig­nifi­cant de­grees,

2c) You then rea­son to al­lo­cate fund­ing across those “differ­ent sets of crite­ria
and pro­cesses,”

2d) Each of those “sets of crite­ria and pro­cesses” then al­lo­cates fund­ing to
what’s best ac­cord­ing to them.

A way of think­ing about the “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach” that could be helpful is that if you were us­ing this fund­ing ap­proach you would al­lo­cate fund­ing to sev­eral differ­ent buck­ets, and then each bucket would use its own “set of crite­ria and pro­cesses” to de­cide how that fund­ing is al­lo­cated. I think I aim to use ‘sets of crite­ria and pro­cesses’ in the same way that the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject de­scribes wor­ld­views. Alter­na­tively, a “set of crite­ria and pro­cesses” might also be la­bel­led as some “set of cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tions.” It could also be helpful to think of differ­ent “sets of crite­ria and pro­cesses” as differ­ent mind­sets or differ­ent ways of think­ing about how to pri­ori­tize be­tween differ­ent fund­ing op­tions.

Some gen­eral “crite­ria and pro­cesses” (with ex­am­ples fur­ther speci­fied in end­notes)[1] that could differ be­tween the differ­ent buck­ets within Effec­tive An­i­mal Ad­vo­cacy (EAA) that you may want to al­lo­cate fund­ing across are:

  • Differ­ent buck­ets could have differ­ent pro­cesses for draw­ing in­fer­ences from ev­i­dence [2]

  • Differ­ent buck­ets could have slightly differ­ent val­ues that lead to large differ­ences in how they think fund­ing should be al­lo­cated [3]

  • Differ­ent buck­ets could have differ­ent ini­tial be­liefs about the effec­tive­ness of some class of in­ter­ven­tions4 [4]

My rea­son for high­light­ing the differ­ence be­tween the “de­fault ap­proach” and the di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach” is that I think a fund­ing strat­egy of heav­ily fund­ing (e.g., ≥80% of an­nual fund­ing) plant-based al­ter­na­tives can prob­a­bly only come about if one is largely us­ing the “de­fault ap­proach” and not the “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach.” If to a sig­nifi­cant ex­tent you think that the the op­ti­mal fund­ing strat­egy is the “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach”, then I think that this would prob­a­bly lead to a sig­nifi­cantly greater split of your fund­ing across differ­ent ar­eas within and be­sides plant-based al­ter­na­tives.

Fur­ther, I think that rel­a­tive to the fund­ing al­lo­ca­tions that you [the fun­der for whom this re­port was ini­tially writ­ten] seem to be con­sid­er­ing (i.e., largely pri­ori­tiz­ing plant-based al­ter­na­tives), al­though I do feel very un­cer­tain about this, would to a greater ex­tent fol­low the “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach”. I think this ap­proach would re­sult in split­ting fund­ing across a few differ­ent pri­ori­tiz­ing buck­ets to a greater ex­tent, af­ter which each of those buck­ets would al­lo­cate fund­ing ac­cord­ing to what seems best to them. At this stage, I seem to fa­vor the di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach to a greater ex­tent than you. This could be be­cause I may feel more sig­nifi­cantly un­cer­tain about how to pri­ori­tize fund­ing op­tions than you and/​or I may strug­gle more with how to com­pare pri­ori­ties sug­gested by differ­ent “sets of crite­ria and pro­cesses” to a greater ex­tent. To the de­gree that you’re cor­rectly con­fi­dent in some spe­cific “set of crite­ria and pro­cesses” for pri­ori­tiz­ing fund­ing op­tions, the “de­fault ap­proach” does seem cor­rect and I think that a plau­si­ble out­put of that ap­proach could be to heav­ily pri­ori­tize plant-based al­ter­na­tives with your fund­ing.

I would be happy to elab­o­rate on some of the rea­sons that might help ex­plain why I cur­rently tend to lean to­wards the “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach” to a greater ex­tent than you, or why I think that fol­low­ing that ap­proach to a non-triv­ial de­gree would lead to a sig­nifi­cantly greater split across differ­ent ar­eas than the one that you seem to be cur­rently con­sid­er­ing. How­ever, I am un­sure about how use­ful do­ing those things would be at the mo­ment. Please feel free to let me know if you would like me to do ei­ther or both of those things. In ad­di­tion, if you would like, I could fur­ther think about how you might like to ap­ply the “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach” and sug­gest some pos­si­ble “buck­ets” you may find ap­peal­ing to di­vide fund­ing be­tween.

Some Ini­tial Anal­y­sis Re­gard­ing Pri­ori­tiz­ing Fund­ing Open-Ac­cess Re­search For Plant-Based Alternatives

Plant-based op­tions already seem to be:

  1. (fairly) cost-com­pet­i­tive, though most still have sig­nifi­cant room for progress

  2. (fairly) taste-com­pet­i­tive, though most still have sig­nifi­cant room for progress

  3. stocked in some large su­per­mar­ket chains

  4. in­cluded in and sel­l­ing out in(!) some large fast-food chains

  5. com­par­ing fairly well nu­tri­tion­ally to an­i­mal based foods,

  6. are bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment than an­i­mal based foods.

My ba­sic un­der­stand­ing from re­view­ing the overviews of 10 analy­ses of the global plant-based food mar­ket is that the plant-based mar­ket is now a sev­eral billion dol­lars in size and and seems to be grow­ing at a rate of sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion an­nu­ally. For in­stance, The Plant-Based Food As­so­ci­a­tion’s es­ti­mate is that the US mar­ket is ~$3,3 billion, they es­ti­mated ~20% growth be­tween mid-2017 and mid-2018, and the es­ti­mates from the mar­ket re­ports for the likely growth rate seem to put it be­tween 5 and 10% CAGR [5] in next 5-10 years. Again ac­cord­ing to PBFA’s anal­y­sis, plant-based milks now ac­count for ~15% of to­tal US milk sales and grew by ~9% in the past 12 months. So, to give a sense of pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios in the fu­ture, I very roughly mod­el­led an op­ti­mistic sce­nario of the plant-based foods ex­clud­ing dairy, as­sum­ing that a growth rate of 20% per year un­til 2030 is main­tained. This would bring the plant-based meat mar­ket to 10% of the global meat and seafood mar­ket if the rest of that mar­ket were to grow at 2% per year over that time pe­riod.[6]

On the other hand, I think that there’s much rea­son to be skep­ti­cal of some re­ported timelines for cost-com­pet­i­tive cell-based meat. Some re­ports—such as the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject’s An­i­mal Product Alter­na­tives re­port and van der Weele & Tram­per (2014)—sug­gested that it is un­likely that cul­tured meat will be­come cost-com­pet­i­tive with con­ven­tional meat. [7], [8] I don’t think that New Har­vest has re­sponded well when asked about these con­cerns.[9] My im­pres­sion is that groups ini­tially give timelines that are too op­ti­mistic and then re­vise them to be more re­al­is­tic timelines as it be­comes clearer that those ini­tial timelines were op­ti­mistic. [10] The mar­ket re­ports an­a­lyz­ing the cell-based mar­ket all seem to sug­gest that this mar­ket will likely be much smaller than the plant-based mar­ket in the near term (e.g., es­ti­mates sug­gest­ing that the cell-based mar­ket will to­tal a few tens of mil­lions but that the plant-based mar­ket will be many times greater than that, at a to­tal closer to $10 billion). For those rea­sons, at the mo­ment I would at least lean to­wards fa­vor­ing the plant-based al­ter­na­tives over the cell-based al­ter­na­tives.

I think that it is rea­son­able to be­lieve that one of ei­ther plant-based or cell-based al­ter­na­tives would play a sig­nifi­cant part in any longer-term mas­sive de­crease in the large-scale suffer­ing from the in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture of an­i­mals. I think it is also fair to say that, for now, there is de­cent rea­son to pri­ori­tize sup­port­ing plant-based al­ter­na­tives over cell-based al­ter­na­tives. At this early stage in my re­search, the availa­bil­ity of taste and cost-com­pet­i­tive plant-based al­ter­na­tives seems to be at least one of, if not the most likely cred­ible longer-term av­enue to mas­sively de­creas­ing farmed an­i­mal suffer­ing.

I think in some ways, af­ter set­tling on plant-based al­ter­na­tives for an­i­mal prod­ucts as a pri­or­ity area, the case can be pretty quickly made for pri­ori­tiz­ing sup­port­ing open-ac­cess re­search to plant-based foods. For in­stance, ac­cord­ing to GFI:

The vast ma­jor­ity of com­mer­cially available plant-based pro­tein in­gre­di­ents comes from only 2 per­cent of the 150 plant species on which to­day’s global food sup­ply de­pends. A sig­nifi­cant pool of po­ten­tial plant pro­tein sources is thus available for ex­plo­ra­tion, and this does not even take into ac­count the al­most 250,000 ad­di­tional plant species not used in agri­cul­ture to­day. In­no­va­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties in this area in­clude ex­pand­ing and di­ver­sify­ing our use of plant pro­tein sources, de­ter­min­ing which sources are best suited to par­tic­u­lar plant-based meat prod­ucts, and en­sur­ing that the pro­teins from these novel sources are op­ti­mized speci­fi­cally for plant-based meat rather than plant-based foods in gen­eral.

That seems to me to pretty strongly sug­gest sig­nifi­cant knowl­edge gaps that could be ad­dressed by open-ac­cess re­search. My quite ba­sic un­der­stand­ing, based on very pre­limi­nary anal­y­sis, is also that some of the most sig­nifi­cant gains in mar­ket share that the plant-based meat mar­ket has made, seem to have pre­dom­i­nantly come from uti­liz­ing new pro­cesses or bring­ing differ­ent prod­ucts—not just in­cre­men­tally differ­ent, but quite differ­ent prod­ucts—to mar­ket. For in­stance, one ex­pla­na­tion that I have come across a cou­ple of times but not re­ally in­ves­ti­gated due to time con­straints is:

Origi­nat­ing from re­search in the 1990s, high-mois­ture cook­ing ex­tru­sion pro­cesses have en­abled, in one step, the tex­tur­ing of plant-based pro­teins into fibrous struc­tures that mimic mus­cle-meat-like struc­tures, giv­ing them a bite and mouth-feel closer to meat. Per­haps the lead­ing com­mer­cial ex­am­ple of this is the com­pany Beyond Meat, whose prod­ucts are fa­mously said to have fooled the taste buds of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and oth­ers, lead­ing to their in­vest­ment in the com­pany.[11]

That is, the pre­vailing in­ter­pre­ta­tion seems to be that some open-ac­cess re­search [12] from the 1990’s played an im­por­tant role in sig­nifi­cant ad­vance­ments in plant-based meats (this open-ac­cess de­vel­oped pro­cess then be­ing used in the Beyond Meat and Im­pos­si­ble Burger) around two decades later. If that is true, I think that could be sig­nifi­cant ev­i­dence in fa­vor of a fund­ing strat­egy that were to pri­ori­tize open-ac­cess re­search for plant-based al­ter­na­tives.

But to what ex­tent are oth­ers already ad­dress­ing this re­search gap? My rough im­pres­sion is that thus far, there has been lit­tle in­ter­est in open-ac­cess re­search to plant-based al­ter­na­tives. For in­stance, it was re­ported that GFI es­ti­mates that only about 0.3% of uni­ver­si­ties wor­ld­wide are do­ing re­search in the fields of plant-based and lab-grown meat. There seem to only be few pro­grams, labs, or fund­ing bod­ies that al­lo­cate funds to this is­sue. Based on a very pre­limi­nary search, the ones that do in­clude:

Through a very quick search (i.e., 10 min­utes) for sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles com­plet­ing re­search on plant-based meats I found ~7 (see end­note)[13] and then strug­gled to find more. So it seems like very lit­tle open-ac­cess re­search for plant-based al­ter­na­tives oc­curs. In fact, if giv­ing a few mil­lion to this area an­nu­ally, one might ac­tu­ally dou­ble (or more) the amount of open-ac­cess re­search on plant-based al­ter­na­tives within the next few years. This ac­tu­ally makes me some­what con­cerned that open-ac­cess re­search for plant-based al­ter­na­tives might not have ad­e­quate room for more fund­ing in the near fu­ture. The risk is that it might not be able to ab­sorb more than sev­eral mil­lion in fund­ing with­out there be­ing sig­nifi­cant diminish­ing marginal re­turns to al­lo­cat­ing fur­ther fund­ing to it. At that point some other area within plant-based al­ter­na­tives or EAA could emerge as the new op­tion(s) that you should pri­ori­tize.

Now, I do won­der if a lot of re­search is hap­pen­ing within plant-based food com­pa­nies. Plant-based food com­pa­nies have re­ceived in­vest­ment from sev­eral large fun­ders, ~tens of Ven­ture Cap­i­tal­ist firms, and a num­ber of large cor­po­rate part­ners. Over the past few years these com­pa­nies seem to have raised sev­eral-hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars in fund­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Pitch­book Data, US plant-based star­tups raised $296M in just the last year. [14] For what it is worth, this de­gree of strong in­vestor in­ter­est from oth­ers, I think, gives a lot of rea­son to be skep­ti­cal about the coun­ter­fac­tual value added by in­vest­ing in these com­pa­nies di­rectly. My cur­rent opinion is that in­vest­ing in plant-based food com­pa­nies prob­a­bly crowds out some other in­vestor. This seems sub­op­ti­mal be­cause most farmed an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy fun­ders oth­er­wise would likely use that fund­ing rel­a­tively more pro­duc­tively and other in­vestors seems less likely to do that.

I think it is fine to say—by a quick count there’s some­thing like 94 plant-based food com­pa­nies—that most of them are small-medium en­ter­prises that most likely aren’t re­ally al­lo­cat­ing re­sources to the type of foun­da­tional re­search that I think you’re con­sid­er­ing fund­ing. My very rough im­pres­sion would be that ba­si­cally all these small and medium en­ter­prise plant-based food com­pa­nies are not in­vest­ing much at all in re­search and de­vel­op­ment, and if they are, I would ex­pect that it would mainly fo­cus on in­cre­men­tal in­no­va­tions around ex­ist­ing prod­ucts and pro­cesses. [15] That type of re­search is likely quite differ­ent from open ac­cess re­search on new prod­ucts and pro­cesses.

I am a con­cerned that some large com­pa­nies would be com­plet­ing their own re­search and de­vel­op­ment efforts that would to an ex­tent be du­pli­cated by the open-ac­cess fund­ing. For in­stance, Quorn is re­port­edly spend­ing mil­lions of pounds on a new re­search fa­cil­ity and has a re­search team of more than 35 peo­ple. Beyond Meat’s re­search team is re­port­edly work­ing on new prod­ucts to fol­low up on the re­lease their re­cently re­leased sausage. Ac­cord­ing to GFI, JUST is now shar­ing a plat­form that is a “deep database of sus­tain­able, func­tional tools from the plant and an­i­mal king­doms” in or­der to launch a Food Tech­nol­ogy Ac­cel­er­a­tor. I imag­ine that Im­pos­si­ble Foods would also have sig­nifi­cant re­search plans. Other large food com­pa­nies prob­a­bly also have re­search and de­vel­op­ment, or product de­vel­op­ment that could be worth con­sid­er­ing. For in­stance this FAIRR re­port pro­files 16 of the largest global food com­pa­nies, each worth billions of dol­lars, and sev­eral com­pa­nies are refer­enced as hav­ing ded­i­cated in­ter­nal re­sources (R&D, product de­vel­op­ment, pro­cure­ment) that fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing and/​or ac­quiring plant-based prod­ucts and in­gre­di­ents. For in­stance, Tyson has re­port­edly been for­mu­lat­ing ve­gan pro­tein bowls that are set to hit stores in 2019. Some of these other large food com­pa­nies could be ac­quiring twin-screw ex­trud­ers to ad­vance their own analogue efforts. Nes­tle has now re­leased an “in­cred­ible” burger.

Un­for­tu­nately it seems these for-profit com­pa­nies are in­cen­tivized to keep a tight lid on their re­search and as such, their re­search is al­most always siloed within a com­pany. As a re­sult of that, I think it is rea­son­able to say that open-ac­cess re­search, even if it risks du­pli­cat­ing ex­ist­ing re­search in large pri­vate com­pa­nies, still has high ex­pected value be­cause oth­ers would be able to more quickly build upon it.

I think that a deeper anal­y­sis of whether or not to pri­ori­tize this area would:

  • Con­tinue to ex­am­ine this spe­cific area of fund­ing by look­ing at the ex­tent to which open-ac­cess re­search from the 1990’s seemed to ac­cel­er­ate the plant-based mar­ket gain­ing of mar­ket share around 20 to 25 years later.

  • At­tempt to iden­tify and do some ini­tial eval­u­a­tion of similar ini­ti­a­tives in com­pa­rable ar­eas.

    • E.g., per­haps there was or is an ini­ti­a­tive re­gard­ing open-ac­cess re­search in fields like biofuels or re­new­able en­ergy that would shed some light on the likely im­pacts of open-ac­cess re­search within plant-based al­ter­na­tives.

  • Think more about—and liter­ally ask­ing around about—what could in­cen­tivize some for-profit com­pa­nies to make some of their find­ings open-ac­cess.

  • Look in more de­tail into where would be best to al­lo­cate fund­ing to open-ac­cess al­ter­na­tives.

    • For in­stance, I think that de­cid­ing what re­search to fund is very im­por­tant. I would em­pha­sise the need to be aware that at times there could be a large dis­con­nect be­tween what aca­demics want to study and what would be use­ful for ac­tu­ally fur­ther­ing the plant-based food mar­ket. For this rea­son it seems like a good idea to have GFI or other peo­ple with enough do­main ex­per­tise in­volved in fund­ing al­lo­ca­tion. They would be able to tell when this seems to be par­tic­u­larly likely, in which case they could de­cide not to al­lo­cate fund­ing to those pro­pos­als. How­ever, I think that in ad­di­tion to do­main ex­perts re­view­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, what could be par­tic­u­larly use­ful is helping to set the pri­ori­ties of any re­search fund. For in­stance, en­sur­ing that re­search would ap­ply to the most nu­mer­ous and ne­glected farmed an­i­mals.

  • Some other things to con­sider could be the com­pli­cated liter­a­ture on the time-lag be­tween the mo­ment that open-ac­cess re­search and de­vel­op­ment is com­pleted and the mo­ment when it would pay-off. [16]

    • What could be in­ter­est­ing to think about are the strate­gic ram­ifi­ca­tions to EAA if there were a sig­nifi­cant in­flux in fund­ing to open-ac­cess plant-based al­ter­na­tives re­search now, and we would ex­pect the pay-off of that to be in, say, 10-30 years.

  • It could also be worth con­sid­er­ing the com­pli­cated liter­a­ture on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween uni­ver­sity re­search and pri­vate in­no­va­tion, that I haven’t en­gaged with here. What I would note though is that the re­search on this re­la­tion­ship in the food sec­tor seems to be scant.[17]

Ini­tial Broad Over­all Views of Pri­ori­ties within Plant-based Alternatives

The rea­son that I haven’t con­tinued to analyse open-ac­cess re­search to plant-based al­ter­na­tives in more de­tail is I think that do­ing so is un­likely to sig­nifi­cantly change my gen­eral over­all view of how to best al­lo­cate fund­ing within plant-based al­ter­na­tives. My cur­rent over­all view is that there are a num­ber of com­pet­i­tive pri­or­ity ar­eas within plant-based al­ter­na­tives, with the ini­tial list as some­thing like:

This link shows that same table with click­able links in­side it.

In ad­di­tion to fund­ing open-ac­cess re­search of plant-based al­ter­na­tives, other ar­eas I might pick as as the ones that I find par­tic­u­larly promis­ing:

  • Pro­vid­ing Strate­gic Sup­port for Com­pa­nies or the In­dus­try

    • E.g., GFI re­ports they aided in launch­ing Good Dot and DAO Foods In­ter­na­tional. In ad­di­tion to GFI, a num­ber of other non-prof­its are also look­ing to ex­pand into this space and offer strate­gic sup­port for plant-based al­ter­na­tive com­pa­nies. This type of work could in­clude helping raise funds for start-ups, con­nect­ing co-founders, and con­sult­ing on mar­ket­ing prac­tices.

    • Trade as­so­ci­a­tions could also mean­ingfully sup­port the en­tire in­dus­try.

  • Prevent­ing Un­fa­vor­able Reg­u­la­tion of Alternatives

  • Sup­port­ing plant-based al­ter­na­tives in im­por­tant lower and mid­dle in­come coun­tries.

    • The Asia Pa­cific re­gion has seem­ingly cre­ated few plant-based com­pa­nies but this is where the mar­ket is pre­dicted to have the great­est rel­a­tive growth in the near term. I won­der to what ex­tent GFI or oth­ers are plan­ning to ad­dress this, I may reach out to them about that.

    • It seems worth not­ing that the an­i­mal product al­ter­na­tives land­scape in these in lower and mid­dle in­come coun­tries is much more ne­glected and less de­vel­oped than it is in high in­come coun­tries.

  • Fur­ther con­sumer ac­cep­tance research

    • E.g., One re­port sug­gests that “plant-based” has no equiv­a­lent term in asian lan­guages. I won­der to what ex­tent GFI or oth­ers are plan­ning to ad­dress this, I may reach out to them about that.

  • Cam­paign­ing to Stock Plant-Based Op­tions in Ac­cessible Fash­ion at Ma­jor Sel­ling Points

I think that I would over­all de­scribe the cur­rent situ­a­tion of choos­ing which gen­eral ar­eas to pri­ori­tize in plant-based al­ter­na­tives as fol­lows:

  1. There are a num­ber (i.e., > 10) pos­si­ble gen­eral ar­eas

  2. There is much un­cer­tainty about those gen­eral areas

  3. Based on some ini­tial anal­y­sis some of the gen­eral ar­eas, in ex­pec­ta­tion, ap­pear much bet­ter than some other gen­eral ar­eas

  4. For me, within those gen­eral ar­eas, (i.e., those that seem bet­ter than some other gen­eral ar­eas and are listed in the above bul­lets), I cur­rently don’t think that I can say with high con­fi­dence which is best.

That is, when I spend time re­flect­ing on those the bul­let­ted ar­eas listed above, to me there don’t re­ally seem to be strong rea­sons to now think that, in gen­eral, sup­port­ing one of those op­tions with sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars or more an­nu­ally is bet­ter than sup­port­ing an­other with an equal amount. I think that I could be con­vinced that there are strong rea­sons to think that, but that would re­quire much fur­ther anal­y­sis. With the in­for­ma­tion that I have, I only re­ally lean to­wards some area as be­ing more effec­tive than an­other area in gen­eral. That is, if I do a head to head com­par­i­son be­tween any two op­tions from that bul­let listed above I am not sure that I can cur­rently as­sign more than, say, a 65% prob­a­bil­ity that fund­ing one of those op­tions with sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars an­nu­ally for the next two years is more effec­tive than fund­ing an­other op­tion with that amount of money over the same time pe­riod.

If pressed, at the mo­ment I am not sure that I would say that fund­ing open-ac­cess re­search to plant-based al­ter­na­tives is the top pri­or­ity area within plant-based al­ter­na­tives, but I don’t think other ar­eas are clearly bet­ter than fund­ing open-ac­cess re­search. Some­thing that makes se­lect­ing which gen­eral ar­eas to pri­ori­tize com­pli­cated for me is that the var­i­ance within any of the bul­leted pos­si­ble pri­or­ity ar­eas seems much greater than the var­i­ance be­tween them. So, for in­stance, some of the less-than-av­er­age fund­ing op­tions within the area that seems most promis­ing can be less promis­ing than some of the greater-than-av­er­age fund­ing op­tions in some other area. Sup­port­ing promis­ing cam­paigns to stock plant-based op­tions in ac­cessible fash­ion at ma­jor sel­l­ing points, or sup­port­ing plant-based al­ter­na­tives in im­por­tant LMIC are ar­eas that I think are now the most likely to out­perform open-ac­cess re­search to plant-based al­ter­na­tives. How­ever, I don’t have high con­fi­dence in that. More­over, there would be differ­ent ways of sup­port­ing those gen­eral ar­eas which are less promis­ing than the bet­ter ways of sup­port­ing a num­ber of other promis­ing gen­eral ar­eas within plant-based al­ter­na­tives. Please let me know if you would like me to ex­pand on the rea­sons for why I think this.

I think that would im­ply that if you are want­ing to fund the most promis­ing op­tions within plant-based al­ter­na­tives, then rather than heav­ily al­lo­cat­ing fund­ing to one spe­cific area, it seems that a bet­ter ap­proach would be to fund the out­stand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties from a few differ­ent pri­or­ity ar­eas. I think that if I were al­lo­cat­ing a few mil­lion dol­lars to sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars per year to plant-based al­ter­na­tives, I think that at this point and into the near fu­ture, it would be un­likely that I would al­lo­cate more than, say, 70% to open-ac­cess sci­en­tific re­search on de­vel­op­ing plant-based al­ter­na­tives. All that said though, I do want to stress that I have low con­fi­dence in my anal­y­sis at the mo­ment. I also sig­nifi­cantly up­dated about this area in the short time that I spent look­ing into to it, and if I were to look into it fur­ther I may con­tinue to sig­nifi­cantly up­date about it.

Main Ten­ta­tive Con­clu­sions And Sugges­tions From This Shal­low Review

  • I do feel un­cer­tain about this but I think I would ten­ta­tively sug­gest that you should con­sider im­ple­ment­ing, to a greater ex­tent, a “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach” to your fund­ing al­lo­ca­tion.

  • I think that if you were to im­ple­ment the “di­ver­sify­ing ap­proach” to any sig­nifi­cant ex­tent, it is likely you would al­lo­cate sig­nifi­cant fund­ing across at least two differ­ent gen­eral pri­or­ity ar­eas (e.g., plant-based al­ter­na­tives and at least one other area) and plant-based al­ter­na­tives prob­a­bly wouldn’t re­ceive >80% of your an­nual fund­ing al­lo­ca­tion.

  • If al­lo­cat­ing sig­nifi­cant fund­ing to plant-based al­ter­na­tives (e.g., 80% of your an­nual fund­ing amount) my cur­rent gen­eral im­pres­sion is that it would prob­a­bly be best to split that across mul­ti­ple out­stand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties within the plant-based al­ter­na­tives sphere rather than just fo­cus­ing that on open-ac­cess re­search to plant-based al­ter­na­tives.

  • My cur­rent weak and gen­eral im­pres­sion is that if us­ing sev­eral to a few mil­lion dol­lars to try and fund the best op­tions within the plant-based al­ter­na­tives sphere, I would say that the op­ti­mal an­nual al­lo­ca­tion is cur­rently un­likely to re­sult in more than, say, 70% of that fund­ing to open-ac­cess re­search on plant-based al­ter­na­tives.

Thank you Re­think Pri­ori­ties and Jay Quigley for pro­vid­ing feed­back on this piece.


[1] Please note that this is some of my ini­tial think­ing about this idea. My ex­am­ples given in the end­notes be­low are more like some plau­si­ble can­di­date buck­ets for split­ting fund­ing across rather than those I might sug­gest if I was to think about this more, and the per­centages as­signed to them are for now ba­si­cally just for illus­tra­tive pur­poses.

[2] When I think about this, a pos­si­ble ex­am­ple in our con­text could be that in ad­di­tion to the pri­mary bucket that could be al­lo­cat­ing most of your fund­ing to plant-based al­ter­na­tives there could be an­other bucket with, for in­stance, ~10% of your an­nual fund­ing. This other bucket re­quires a rel­a­tively large amount of pos­i­tive ev­i­dence about the effec­tive­ness of some fund­ing op­tion be­fore al­lo­cat­ing fund­ing to it, and if it can’t find such a fund­ing op­tion then it al­lo­cates its fund­ing to fur­ther re­search in or­der to de­ter­mine those fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in fu­ture. All other buck­ets may dis­agree with that ap­proach to han­dling un­cer­tainty or ev­i­dence and may be more com­fortable al­lo­cat­ing funds in light of more sig­nifi­cant un­cer­tainty about the effec­tive­ness of a fund­ing op­por­tu­nity.

[3] When I think about this, a pos­si­ble ex­am­ple in our con­text could be that in ad­di­tion to the pri­mary bucket that could be al­lo­cat­ing most of your to plant-based al­ter­na­tives there could be an­other bucket with, for in­stance, ~10% of your an­nual fund­ing. This other bucket could have val­ues that sug­gest that most wild an­i­mals have lives that are sig­nifi­cantly filled with suffer­ing. Those val­ues may then im­ply that donat­ing to groups that fo­cus on re­duc­ing wild-an­i­mal suffer­ing is the pri­or­ity and that bucket al­lo­cates its fund­ing to the best fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in that area. All other buck­ets may dis­agree with pri­ori­tiz­ing that area.

[4] When I think about this, a pos­si­ble ex­am­ple in our con­text could be that in ad­di­tion to the pri­mary bucket that could be al­lo­cat­ing most of your fund­ing to plant-based al­ter­na­tives there could be an­other bucket with, for in­stance, ~10% of your an­nual fund­ing. This other bucket could one bucket that has an over­all wor­ld­view that sug­gests that the set of in­ter­ven­tions that are say more tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with so­cial move­ments (e.g., the set of cor­po­rate cam­paigns, le­gal ini­ti­a­tives, and veg*n ad­vo­cacy) as op­posed to plant-based al­ter­na­tives will be the more effec­tive op­tion to fund. This bucket could then at­tempt to find the very best fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in that other set of in­ter­ven­tions and at­tempt to fund them. All other buck­ets could dis­agree that this set of in­ter­ven­tions is go­ing to be the most effec­tive.

[5] For in­stance, this es­ti­mate of 9.4% CAGR for Asia Pa­cific re­gion and a 7.7% CAGR for the en­tire plant-based mar­ket. The Asia Pa­cific mar­ket is re­port­edly less than $1 billion and so grow­ing at per­haps an es­ti­mate ~$60-70 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

[6] Please let me know if you would like to see the spread­sheet that I did this calcu­la­tion in. I would then tidy it up and share it with you.

[7] “We are highly un­cer­tain about the even­tual cost per kg of cul­tured meat, and have not closely ex­am­ined the above cost es­ti­mates. How­ever, none of these es­ti­mates sug­gest a cost com­pet­i­tive with that of con­ven­tional meat.”—The Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject (2015). An­i­mal Product Alter­na­tives. The Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject.

[8] “From an eco­nomic point of view, how­ever, com­pe­ti­tion with ‘nor­mal’ meat is a big challenge; pro­duc­tion cost emerges as the real prob­lem. For cul­tured meat to be­come com­pet­i­tive, the price of con­ven­tional meat must in­crease greatly.”—van der Weele, C., & Tram­per, J. (2014). Cul­tured meat: ev­ery village its own fac­tory? Trends in Biotech­nol­ogy, 32(6),294-296.

[9] “While it is pos­si­ble that cul­tured meat may never reach cost-com­pet­i­tive­ness, New Har­vest says that this doesn’t make the re­search they are sup­port­ing worth­less.29 New Har­vest likens the situ­a­tion to biofuels—biofuels aren’t cost-com­pet­i­tive to­day for many rea­sons but one largely be­ing that they com­pete with an ar­tifi­cially-priced com­mod­ity: fos­sil fuels. While we aren’t cur­rently us­ing biofuels ev­ery­day, in the event of a catas­tro­phe or grow­ing fuel prices, that tech­nol­ogy could be mo­bi­lized. They think this situ­a­tion is similar to that of cul­tured meat. New Har­vest also claims that they haven’t done enough re­search in the area to sug­gest that cost-com­pet­i­tive­ness is an im­pos­si­ble task. They do note that cost-com­pet­i­tive­ness is difficult, but they don’t yet know for sure that it’s im­pos­si­ble.”—ACE’s 2017 Re­view of New Harvest

[10] For in­stance, in Jan­uary 2016 New Har­vest re­ported that acel­lu­lar prod­ucts would be available within a few years. Now, a few years later, they say they have no for­mal pre­dic­tions about when prod­ucts will be­come available.

[11] This quote is from here. Another ex­am­ple of this could be found in this ar­ti­cle: “‘In the last 10-15 years, the qual­ity of the product has im­proved tremen­dously.’ Much of that im­prove­ment can be at­tributed to his adop­tion of twin-screw ex­tru­sion tech­nol­ogy and its abil­ity to al­ign the fibers in plant pro­teins.”

[12] This ar­ti­cle seems be the one of­ten cited as the re­search which lead to the ad­vance­ments.

[13] Here are the links:







[14] H/​t Lewis Bol­lard who cited this statis­tic in a 2018 newslet­ter.

[15] For in­stance, ’[t]he food in­dus­try is clas­sified as low-tech on the ba­sis of low R&D in­vest­ment and low lev­els of hu­man cap­i­tal. For this rea­son, it is be­lieved that these firms have low ca­pa­bil­ities of in­no­va­tion and that they mainly fo­cus upon in­cre­men­tal in­no­va­tions around ex­ist­ing prod­ucts and pro­cesses (Gal­izzi and Ven­tur­ini, 1996; Grunert et al, 1997).”

I also found that this 2018 tech­ni­cal re­port for the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was helpful in form­ing a rough im­pres­sion.

[16] See, for in­stance, Rals­ton (2010)

[17] For in­stance, “[t}he liter­a­ture on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween uni­ver­sity and in­no­va­tion is ex­ten­sive and rapidly grow­ing, but re­search on the food sec­tor is scant.”

[18] See pre­vi­ous shal­low re­view on Su­tardja Cen­ter for some fur­ther rea­son­ing about why to pri­ori­tize these uni­ver­si­ties and speci­fi­cally the pro­gram at Berkeley.