Lewis Bollard: Lessons Learned in Farm Animal Welfare

Open Philan­thropy has recom­mended over $90 mil­lion in grants for farm an­i­mal welfare work around the world. What have they learned? In this talk, Lewis Bol­lard, who heads Open Phil’s work on farm an­i­mal welfare , shares les­sons on cor­po­rate re­forms, plant-based meat, and the global scope of available fund­ing.

Below is a tran­script of the talk, which we’ve lightly ed­ited for clar­ity. You can also watch it on YouTube or read it on effec­tivealtru­ism.org.

The Talk

As ad­vo­cates, we try to an­swer the ques­tion of how we can do the most good for farm an­i­mals. I think one of the most pow­er­ful forms of ev­i­dence we can look at, par­tic­u­larly in a space with such limited ev­i­dence, is what has and hasn’t worked re­cently.

Over nearly four years, [the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject] has made over 160 grants, to­tal­ling al­most $100 mil­lion for farm an­i­mal welfare. I’m go­ing to share a few of the les­sons that we’ve learned about:

1. Se­cur­ing and im­ple­ment­ing cor­po­rate re­forms.
2. The plant-based meat sec­tor’s po­ten­tial and ob­sta­cles.
3. Where money goes in the move­ment — and where the an­i­mals are.


Se­cur­ing and im­ple­ment­ing cor­po­rate re­form­s

The first les­son is about cor­po­rate cam­paigns. The key take­away here is that im­ple­men­ta­tion is just as im­por­tant, if not more im­por­tant, than se­cur­ing ini­tial pledges.


First, I’ll give you some back­ground on how we reached the point we’re at to­day. Back in late 2014, ad­vo­cates started cam­paign­ing on cage-free re­forms, seek­ing to get com­pa­nies to com­mit to tran­si­tion­ing away from bat­tery cages in their sup­ply chains by spe­cific dates.


This is a photo of some par­tic­u­larly cool ac­tivists from the Hu­mane League . It shows a com­mon tac­tic of pre­sent­ing a com­pany and its cus­tomers with the very stark choice of fac­ing an ag­gres­sive and on­go­ing cam­paign or mak­ing a com­mit­ment [to cage-free food].


This slide tells the story of how these cam­paigns went. The blue line shows the progress on the num­ber of mil­lions of hens who will be cage-free in the United States once these pledges are im­ple­mented. In red, you see the progress of in­ter­na­tional cage-free cam­paigns.

Prior to 2014, very few com­pa­nies had made these pledges — only com­pa­nies like Whole Foods. In 2015, as these cam­paigns stepped up, the ma­jor food ser­vice com­pa­nies, led by Sodexo, made com­mit­ments. McDon­ald’s then set off a flurry of ac­tivity among fast food com­pa­nies. Costco was the first ma­jor con­ven­tional re­tailer to come through. We then saw a cas­cade effect across all of the other re­tailers, in­clud­ing, ul­ti­mately, the biggest one: Wal­mart.

We’ve seen a similar phe­nomenon since these cam­paigns went global in 2016. Re­tailers like Tesco and Car­refour, food man­u­fac­tur­ers like Nes­tle and Star­bucks, and hos­pi­tal­ity com­pa­nies like Hil­ton have made par­tial or com­plete global cage-free com­mit­ments.


Ini­tially, we thought the les­son was just that this had been re­ally easy; we viewed it as “case closed.” As of 2016, the egg in­dus­try had con­ceded defeat. They seemed to rec­og­nize that there was no fu­ture for cages. They said things like “We’re go­ing to get rid of our cages — it’s go­ing to take some time and it’s go­ing to cost $7 to $10 billion.” All of the ma­jor egg pro­duc­ers made a pub­lic com­mit­ment and started to build up cage-free [sup­ply chains].

In the last few years, though, that started to change. We started see­ing head­lines like [the one be­low] from the Amer­i­can Farm Bureau.


Egg pro­duc­ers were say­ing, “We’re not see­ing any of these com­pa­nies buy­ing cage-free eggs, so we’re scal­ing back our cage-free tran­si­tions. We’re not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to see them through.” We saw a sur­vey re­cently from the egg in­dus­try in­di­cat­ing that egg pro­duc­ers don’t think most hens will be cage-free by 2025. This re­ac­tion has [spurred] the ques­tion of how we’ll en­sure the im­ple­men­ta­tion of cage-free pledges.


[The slide above re­flects] the state we’re in cur­rently. This graph shows one mil­lion hens who are cur­rently cage-free in the United States — that’s the black line. The red line is the num­ber who need to be cage-free for these pledges to be fulfilled on time. We’ve had pretty sub­stan­tial progress. As of [sum­mer 2019], about 67 mil­lion hens were cage-free in the United States. That’s more than four times as many hens as were cage-free be­fore these cam­paigns started in 2014. But we still need for more than 250 mil­lion hens to be­come cage-free. That re­quires a quick­en­ing of the pace. What can we do to en­sure that this pace of con­ver­sion picks up, and that com­pa­nies ac­tu­ally fol­low through on these pledges?

The first thing we can do is [fo­cus on] leg­is­la­tion.


Last year, Cal­ifor­nia passed a land­mark bal­lot ini­ti­a­tive ban­ning not just cages, but also the sale of eggs from caged hens any­where in the state as of 2022. This law is im­por­tant not just be­cause of its di­rect im­pacts on up to 40 mil­lion hens, but also for its effect on cor­po­rate sup­ply chains. Most na­tional cor­po­ra­tions op­er­ate in Cal­ifor­nia, so for at least that por­tion of their sup­ply chain, they’ll have to start im­ple­ment­ing on an ear­lier timeline. We think that is crit­i­cal — get­ting com­pa­nies to start im­ple­ment­ing ear­lier, so that they’re not all wait­ing un­til 2025 to go 100% cage-free.

The sec­ond thing [we can fo­cus on] is pub­lic re­port­ing of progress.


In 2019, McDon­ald’s said they’re one-third of the way to­ward be­ing cage-free. [That rep­re­sents] about two mil­lion hens in McDon­ald’s sup­ply chain. That puts them perfectly on track to fulfill their pledge on time. But un­for­tu­nately, many other com­pa­nies are not yet pub­li­cly re­port­ing their progress. Ad­vo­cates need to pres­sure com­pa­nies to trans­par­ently re­port — to their share­hold­ers and cus­tomers — where they’re at in terms of fulfilling these pub­lic pledges.


The third thing we need [to fo­cus on] is par­tial-im­ple­men­ta­tion progress. On the left [of this slide], you can see that the higher a com­pany is, the more progress they’ve made on be­com­ing cage-free. On the bot­tom, the X axis [mea­sures] how much of the mar­ket the com­pany [has cap­tured]. And the size of each bub­ble rep­re­sents how many hens are cage-free as a re­sult of the com­pany’s progress to date. We can see that McDon­ald’s is im­pres­sive with two mil­lion hens.

But it’s re­ally dwar­fed by the power of some re­tailers to effect ma­jor change. In par­tic­u­lar, I would point to Costco, which is now 89% cage-free. My es­ti­mate is that’s about 8.3 mil­lion hens who are cage-free in Costco’s sup­ply chain [alone]. Wal­mart is only 15% cage-free, but be­cause of its mas­sive size, already ac­counts for about six mil­lion hens be­ing cage-free.

Just be­tween those two re­tailers, that’s about one-quar­ter of the hens that are cage-free in the United States to­day. It shows the im­por­tance of fo­cus­ing on the biggest play­ers — the huge gro­cery chains that con­trol the ma­jor­ity of [egg sales] in Amer­ica.


To re­cap: I think we need to fo­cus more on leg­is­la­tion to en­sure that cor­po­rate pledges are en­shrined into law. We need to push com­pa­nies to pub­li­cly re­port [their progress on cage-free sup­ply chains]. And third, in seek­ing these mile­stones, it’s not enough to pub­li­cly re­port that you’ll even­tu­ally reach 0%; com­pa­nies need to re­port [the spe­cific dates by when] they will reach [cer­tain mile­stones].

The plant-based meat sec­tor’s po­ten­tial and ob­sta­cles

The sec­ond les­son I want to share is around the growth of plant-based meat and the re­main­ing challenges to the in­dus­try.


The main up­date here is that we’ve been re­ally sur­prised at how quickly this field has grown. I think if you’d asked me [years ago] what was go­ing to be the most suc­cess­ful IPO in 2019, I definitely would not have guessed it would be Beyond Meat.


We’re see­ing huge ex­cite­ment and growth around that. [We’re now] all able to have Im­pos­si­ble Whop­pers — also some­thing I would not have pre­dicted a few years ago.


To give you a sense of [the con­text be­hind that growth surge], this chart shows meat al­ter­na­tives as a cat­e­gory in terms of sales. Up un­til mid-2017, it was a stag­nant cat­e­gory. Th­ese prod­ucts were rel­e­gated to a par­tic­u­lar sec­tion of the su­per­mar­ket, and brands like Morn­ingS­tar that had been around for a long time weren’t sub­stan­tially in­creas­ing their sales. It’s only in the last two years that we’ve seen a ma­jor change in this trend. That’s due to many fac­tors, but par­tic­u­larly Beyond Meat and Im­pos­si­ble Foods com­ing out with new and more ap­peal­ing prod­ucts, do­ing a much bet­ter job of mar­ket­ing those prod­ucts, and set­ting a much higher bench­mark for other plant-based com­pa­nies.

The challenge, how­ever, is with the pric­ing.


[In this slide] I’ve col­lected av­er­age re­tail prices, where pos­si­ble, of [plant-based meat and an­i­mal-based prod­ucts] in the United States. This shows dol­lars per pound. The prod­ucts in red are the an­i­mal-based prod­ucts, and the prod­ucts in green are the plant-based prod­ucts. We’re still quite a long way away from price com­pet­i­tive­ness. Morn­ingS­tar Farms’ chicken nuggets were the cheap­est item I could find. This [price re­flects] buy­ing them in bulk from a Wal­mart store in Cen­tral Cal­ifor­nia. Even there, they’re only slightly cheaper than ba­con or steak, and sold at three times the na­tion’s av­er­age price for [real] chicken pieces. Although we’ve made a lot of progress, and al­though the sec­tor has grown, we’re still a long way away from be­ing price-com­pet­i­tive.


In this chart, I’ve sought to break down what’s hold­ing us back from be­ing price-com­pet­i­tive. I’ve taken the cheap­est plant-based meat I could find on the mar­ket, Morn­ingS­tar chicken nuggets, and com­pared that to the av­er­age price of chicken, na­tion­ally, in the United States. What’s as­tound­ing here is just how in­sanely cheap chicken is. You see the USDA pro­vides not just the over­all re­tail price, but breaks it down on the whole­sale side, too. Pro­duc­ers are pro­duc­ing chicken for less than $1 per pound. When you break down the costs, it’s al­most en­tirely feed, [leav­ing] 30% for ev­ery­thing else: the la­bor, barns, chicks. The feed they’re get­ting is in­cred­ibly cheap. They’re con­vert­ing it, in the case of chick­ens, at about a 3:1 ra­tio from feed to us­able meat.

Con­trary to [the com­mon be­lief] that an­i­mal agri­cul­ture is in­her­ently in­effi­cient, this par­tic­u­lar part of an­i­mal agri­cul­ture is pretty effi­cient. We of­ten lose sight of [the fact that] it’s one thing for plant-based meat to com­pete with burg­ers and red meat. It’s [quite an­other] to com­pete with the effi­ciency of the broiler-chicken ma­chine.

Here’s [a re­cap of my take­aways] about plant-based meats:


1. The product ac­tu­ally mat­ters. [This is ev­i­dent in] the growth that Beyond Meat and Im­pos­si­ble Meat have brought to the mar­ket, whether that’s been due to taste or mar­ket­ing.
2. Chicken is go­ing to be a much harder mar­ket to en­ter than beef. It’s one thing to com­pete with beef. Com­pet­ing with chicken is a differ­ent [mat­ter], and chicken is, of course, where the vast ma­jor­ity of an­i­mals are in the sup­ply chain.
3. We need to be able to con­vert feed into plant-based pro­tein more effi­ciently than a broiler chicken does. A broiler chicken does it at about a 3:1 ra­tio of feed to us­able meat, so we need to beat that ra­tio to be price-com­pet­i­tive with chicken.

Where money goes in the move­ment — and where the an­i­mals are

[Open Philan­thropy has] pul­led to­gether a new anal­y­sis of not only where the money goes in the farm an­i­mal welfare move­ment, but also where the an­i­mals are.


Th­ese are sub­jects that, un­til re­cently, we didn’t have good data on. This chart shows my best es­ti­mate of where money cur­rently goes in the farm an­i­mal move­ment:


Th­ese num­bers might seem big; this is a fairly liberal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of farm an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy. I’m in­clud­ing the bud­gets of groups like PETA — at least in­so­far as they’re di­rected fund­ing to­ward farm an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy or ve­g­anism — and other large or­ga­ni­za­tions that you might not think of as part of the effec­tive al­tru­ism (EA) an­i­mal move­ment, but that are nonethe­less work­ing on [im­prov­ing the lives of] farm an­i­mals.

There has been huge growth in the amount of money [in the move­ment, rel­a­tive to what was available] just a few years ago. At that time, it would have been per­haps one-third this amount. But that money is still over­whelm­ingly be­ing di­rected to­ward the United States and Western Europe.

In con­trast, my col­league Per­sis Eskan­der pul­led to­gether all of the un­der­ly­ing data from the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions (FAO) and ar­rived at an es­ti­mate that roughly 25 billion land-based farm an­i­mals are [al­ive, some­where in the world, at any given time]. About 5.5 billion of those are in Amer­ica and Western Europe. All of the rest are el­se­where, and pre­dom­i­nantly in Asia.


Per­sis [also con­ducted] an anal­y­sis pul­ling to­gether data on the ton­nage of farmed fish at any given point in time. The good news is we think there are fewer farmed fish al­ive — about 55 billion — than we pre­vi­ously thought.


But again, there’s a huge im­bal­ance be­tween where the money is be­ing spent and where the an­i­mals are. About three billion of those an­i­mals are in the United States and Western Europe, where the vast bulk of money is be­ing spent. The vast ma­jor­ity are in China, South­east Asia, and South Asia.

What can we take away from this?


First, money is grow­ing in the move­ment, which is great. It’s still a lot less than we see in many other move­ments that are com­bat­ing prob­lems on a similar scale, but it’s an im­pres­sive level of re­sources.

Se­cond, it’s use­ful to know that there are about 25 billion land-based farm an­i­mals and about 55 billion farmed fish.

Third, we should fo­cus on Asia, and we need to di­rect more re­sources there.

Moder­a­tor: Thanks very much, Lewis. It seems like we thought the [cage-free] cam­paigns were a great suc­cess, and ac­tu­ally, it was a bit more com­pli­cated than that. But the bal­lot in Cal­ifor­nia seems to have made a big differ­ence. Has that made you think about push­ing more fund­ing to­ward get­ting [is­sues] on the bal­lot?

Lewis: Yeah, we’re cer­tainly think­ing about po­ten­tial bal­lot mea­sures. A lot of ad­vo­cacy groups are.

There are con­straints on the bal­lot mea­sure as a form of ad­vo­cacy. Only 24 states al­low cit­i­zens to ini­ti­ate bal­lot mea­sures. Of those states, many are huge agri­cul­ture states, where we don’t face much of a prospect of win­ning. Bal­lot mea­sures are also ex­pen­sive, and so there’s always a ques­tion of whether they’re worth [pur­su­ing], or whether [we could achieve our goals] by other means.

But there are some states where we could still [make progress] us­ing bal­lot mea­sures, and they are definitely on the table.

Moder­a­tor: What is the state of cam­paigns, aware­ness, and ad­vo­cacy out­side of the United States and Western Europe?

Lewis: I think we’re at a much bet­ter point than we were a few years ago. We’re see­ing a lot of ex­cit­ing ad­vo­cacy go­ing on, for in­stance, in China and In­dia.

In In­dia right now, there’s a na­tional mora­to­rium on bat­tery cages, with bet­ter cages be­ing in­stalled thanks to an­i­mal ad­vo­cates’ efforts in the courts. It will prob­a­bly be un­done by the gov­ern­ment, but it’s still a sign of the move­ment’s strength there. Also, there are a lot of groups across South­east Asia that con­sisted of a sin­gle vol­un­teer a few years ago and now have one or [paid] two staff mem­bers. I think that’s a re­ally ex­cit­ing trend for peo­ple who want to sup­port or get in­volved with these groups in an effort to build up their move­ment fur­ther.

Moder­a­tor: Switch­ing to the is­sue of meat al­ter­na­tives and the price com­par­i­son you did, what is the 3:1 ra­tio? Is that differ­ence in calories?

Lewis: Oh, sorry — yeah. The 3:1 ra­tio is the weight of grain to the weight of meat. The ra­tio de­pends on how you define the weight. Calories and pro­tein each pro­duce a slightly differ­ent ra­tio, but it’s still in the same bal­l­park.

Moder­a­tor: Okay. That seems like a very difficult thresh­old to over­come. Do you have any broad sense of when [plant-based meat] might be­come price-com­pet­i­tive?

Lewis: I don’t know. I think you’d be bet­ter off ask­ing some­one in the plant-based meat in­dus­try.

There’s ob­vi­ously a ton of in­no­va­tion go­ing on — and also a ton of pri­vate-sec­tor money go­ing into the space. The one thing I’ll say is that it’s im­por­tant to di­rect fund­ing to­ward price com­pet­i­tive­ness, not just to­ward the big brands, but to­ward [smaller] com­pa­nies like Re­bel­ly­ous Foods, which is fo­cus­ing on mak­ing chicken al­ter­na­tives sub­stan­tially cheaper. That’s one of the most ex­cit­ing things go­ing on in the space.

Moder­a­tor: Great. We also have some ques­tions from our au­di­ence. How much room is there for get­ting more of our sup­port­ers to or­ga­nize around new ini­ti­a­tives?

Lewis: Hope­fully, there’s a lot of room for that. At least among EA an­i­mal ad­vo­cates, I think there’s a re­ally ex­cit­ing de­sire to do new things, and to work out what the most effec­tive way to do those things is. We see that across the an­i­mal move­ment in gen­eral.

The move­ment has changed tremen­dously from where it was five years ago. The fo­cus on cor­po­rate cam­paigns and on in­ter­na­tional work re­flect peo­ple’s ex­cite­ment about do­ing new things.

Moder­a­tor: I’m not sure if the state­ment within this ques­tion from the au­di­ence is true, but since fish ac­count for about 99% of the an­i­mals kil­led for food, how much time, and how many re­sources, should we di­rect to­wards fish ad­vo­cacy?

Lewis: If you in­clude wild-caught fish, and if you just look at ver­te­brates, then farm fish do ac­count for about 99%, or more, of an­i­mals kil­led for food. I think we should have a lot more fo­cus on fish than we do cur­rently. Ob­vi­ously, it’s harder to mo­bi­lize sup­port­ers around [helping fish], but I also think that ul­ti­mately, a huge por­tion of our suc­cess will be gov­erned by whether or not we make progress on fish.

Moder­a­tor: Do you think we need more col­lab­o­ra­tion in the move­ment? I mean, it’s un­likely that we need less, but …

Lewis: I think col­lab­o­ra­tion is always good where pos­si­ble. And I think that EA groups [within the farm an­i­mal welfare move­ment] do work well to­gether. I don’t think we want to im­pose [the idea] that ev­ery­one needs to do the same thing. There’s ac­tu­ally a lot of value to tak­ing di­verse ap­proaches in the move­ment.

Hope­fully, we can con­tinue the trend [of EA or­ga­ni­za­tions in an­i­mal welfare col­lab­o­rat­ing effec­tively].

Moder­a­tor: What grants has the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject made for com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing and clean meat?

Lewis: On the clean meat side, we haven’t made any grants, but we have been fund­ing a chem­i­cal en­g­ineer­ing con­trac­tor to look into [that area], who will hope­fully pub­lish a pa­per on it. That will in­form our fund­ing go­ing for­ward.

On the com­mu­nity-build­ing side, most of the work we’ve been do­ing has been out­side of the United States and Western Europe. We’re try­ing to help build the move­ment through or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Fed­er­a­tion of In­dian An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion Or­gani­sa­tions, which com­bines over 100 grass­roots groups. We’ve been fund­ing them to hold work­shops that sup­port move­ment-build­ing in In­dia.

Moder­a­tor: You men­tioned Re­bel­ly­ous Foods. One au­di­ence mem­ber claims that they’ve heard that Re­bel­ly­ous Foods, formerly Seat­tle Food Tech, in­vested in new in­dus­trial equip­ment for ex­tract­ing pro­tein from plants. Are there other ways to try to re­duce the cost of chicken al­ter­na­tives?

Lewis: I’m not up-to-date on the tech­ni­cal ways that we could re­duce the price of plant-based chicken. But I do think that, un­der­stand­ably, a lot of the com­pa­nies that con­ven­tional in­vestors are most ex­cited about are those aiming for the top end of the mar­ket [that is, plant-based ver­sions of more ex­pen­sive meats like beef]. There’s a big­ger profit mar­gin there.

For peo­ple in the EA move­ment or those who want to be im­pact in­vestors, per­haps fo­cus­ing on the bot­tom end of the mar­ket [would be im­pact­ful]. We could try much harder to com­pete on price than we are cur­rently.

Moder­a­tor: That makes sense. Why did you choose cage-free cam­paigns and plant-based meats as top­ics for this talk ver­sus other in­ter­ven­tions? Are they the ar­eas that you’ve been spend­ing the most time on?

Lewis: No, I had a list of about 15 les­sons learned. [Be­fore my talk, I got to meet] with a pub­lic speak­ing coach and she told me that it was awful [to have that many les­sons], and that I needed to fo­cus on three things. [Laughs]

Moder­a­tor: How much are you grow­ing the [farm an­i­mal welfare] team at the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject?

Lewis: Per­sis joined us in the last year. We now have a team of three work­ing on farm an­i­mal welfare. I doubt we’re go­ing to ex­pand the team much be­yond that in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

One thing I am re­ally ex­cited about is that there are a lot more EA an­i­mal re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions pop­ping up. Re­think Pri­ori­ties is an ex­am­ple. That type of re­search ca­pac­ity for an­swer­ing ques­tions helps us do our job well.

Moder­a­tor: It seems like a lot of peo­ple you’re speak­ing with are Amer­i­can. How do Amer­i­cans ad­dress an­i­mal suffer­ing in Asia with­out hav­ing the cul­tural com­pe­tence that they might need?

Lewis: I think that’s a real challenge. There are a lot of peo­ple who want to do things to help an­i­mals in Asia, but many Amer­i­cans don’t have a lot of con­tact with the re­gion.

One of the things we can do is di­rect more fund­ing to­ward ad­vo­cates who are in those coun­tries. Also, a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, as they’ve ex­panded, have re­cruited staff in those coun­tries. Of­ten­times, an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion can provide the ad­minis­tra­tive [in­fras­truc­ture] and per­haps the ex­pe­rience of know­ing what worked in one part of the world, and then can hire lo­cally to po­si­tion peo­ple there who can do things bet­ter.

Moder­a­tor: That’s fan­tas­tic. Thank you, Lewis, for your time.

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