Over 60 billion land-dwelling animals are killed each year. The overwhelming majority of these animals are raised in factory farms, where conditions can involve “intense confinement, inhibition of natural behaviors, untreated health issues, and numerous other causes of suffering”. It’s difficult to measure and quantify the welfare of farmed animals, but some have suggested that the lives of many farmed animals are net-negative—that is, their negative experiences outweigh their positive experiences.
There are a number of promising ways to improve farmed animal welfare. One approach is reduce the number of farm animals, by persuading the public to reduce consumption of animal products or by facilitating the development of animal product alternatives. Another approach is to reduce the suffering farm animals experience, by improving the conditions under which these animals live. Open Philanthropy estimates that corporate cage-free campaigns have spared about 250 hens a year of confinement in a cage per each dollar spent. They also claim that the cost-effectiveness of these campaigns is higher than any of the other approaches they have investigated.
MacAskill, William & Darius Meissner (2020) Cause prioritization: Farm animal welfare, in ‘Acting on utilitarianism’, Utilitarianism.
Whittlestone, Jess (2017) Animal welfare, Effective Altruism, November 16.
Reese, Jacy (2016) Why animals matter for effective altruism, Effective Altruism Forum, August 22.
Tomasik, Brian (2007) How much direct suffering is caused by various animal foods?, Essays on Reducing Suffering.
Norwood, F. Bailey & Jayson L. Lusk (2011) Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare, New York: Oxford University Press.
Open Philanthropy (2013) Treatment of animals in industrial agriculture, Open Philanthropy, September.
Open Philanthropy (2015) Animal product alternatives, Open Philanthropy, December.
Bollard, Lewis (2016) Initial grants to support corporate cage-free reforms, Open Philanthropy, March 31.