Thinking behind 2017 donations to reduce animal use

We decided to give primarily to New Harvest this year and to watch and wait for other opportunities. Below are some of my quick thoughts on some of the giving opportunities we considered.

New Harvest

I believe that improving animal product alternatives on the dimensions of cost, convenience, and taste has the most potential for major reductions in animal use. New Harvest seems especially well positioned to do this with marginal donations at the scale they’re requesting — this year $1 million. I was happy to see they hit this threshold.

New Harvest has focused their efforts over the past year or so into promoting cellular agriculture research and has developed a nice program for efficiently getting money to research opportunities and researchers. I’m impressed by their focus on figuring out what they are best positioned to do to advance the field of cellular agriculture faster, and I’m also impressed by their candor about their process and inevitable missteps along the way as they figure things out. I’m always impressed by my interactions with NH staff.

Contrary to Animal Charity Evaluators’ assessment, I think New Harvest has a nice track record to show for the few years they’ve been funding research fellows. Also, my own inquiries into the culture of the research fellow program suggest to me that ACE made an unfortunate generalization from a limited case in suggesting the research fellow culture is competitive and insufficiently supportive. My own conversations with people affiliated with NH research have led me to the conclusion that the research fellows program is both supportive and especially sensitive to participants’ needs.

Finally, this last summer at the Effective Altruism Boston conference, I was able to briefly ask Jason Matheny (NH founder and board member) about his thoughts on NH. He said he sees room for NH funded research to make a big impact. As someone who himself oversees massive amounts of government funding intended to advance knowledge in a number of futuristic, scientific domains, I respect his opinion on this a lot.

Good Food Institute

GFI has impressed me a lot in their ability to quickly build an organization of top notch people. Given the potential for animal product alternatives to reduce animal use, it makes sense to me to make our biggest bets on organizations seeking to exactly what GFI is doing.

There are a few reasons I didn’t think of GFI has a great target for our donations this year:

  • They’ve done so incredibly well raising money from others. NH has also done well, but I didn’t expect NH to raise as much.
  • We did pledge to contribute to funding some GFI-facilitated pea-protein research early in the year, which seemed very promising. The research wasn’t approved for an academic grant and so didn’t proceed, and I haven’t heard more about GFI funding plant-based research, though I believe it’s on their roadmap.
  • I did see that GFI is now funding some clean/cultured meat research. I am curious to see how they continue with this and if in the future they’ll identify research groups and researchers to fund who weren’t already known to the community.
  • GFI reports they’ve helped launch two startups, which is great. This is less than the 4–6 number I’d heard predicted in November 2016, which suggests to me GFI has underestimated how difficult it is to motivate startups — what I take to be a key part of their mission.

The above is intended to explain why I wasn’t so eager to donate to GFI as I was to NH. I want to emphasize that I think GFI has done a lot of impressive work preparing foundational materials for entrepreneurs and getting publicity for animal product alternative development. I’m eager to see how what they’re setting up translates to startups getting started and growing in the coming year, and especially what they can get going regarding funding of plant-based research, an area which seems sorely neglected.

Plant Based Foods Association

The Plant Based Foods Association has done a nice job of building up a trade association to represent the interests of plant-based food companies. They seem particularly well positioned to lobby on these organizations’ behalf, as they have done with the Dairy Pride Act. They’ve done this work as part of their 501c6 membership organization, and with only a limited staff of one full-time employee and some part-time assistance.

They have plans to grow and support a 501c3 arm of their operation called the Plant Based Foods Association Research and Education Fund to determine how best to engage retailers in carrying and promoting plant-based foods, to educate companies on how to work with distributors, and to establish a plant-based certification.

I fully expect that the sorts of things the PBFA wants to do with their research and education fund could help improve sales of plant-based foods. My hesitation in donating now to support the work is that it seems like GFI is well-positioned to do the same sorts of work (similar connections to companies, bigger staff). I plan to keep an eye on the PBFA’s 501c3 this coming year to see what they accomplish and also to see if they publish any research they conduct publicly, because it’s plausible they’ll end up being (if they aren’t already) a neglected giving opportunity.

I haven’t seen others consider the PBFA as a giving opportunity. I hope to see other donors consider PBFA and share any of their thoughts as well.

Wild Animal Suffering Research

WAS research strikes me as potentially high impact, and I’m impressed by the research the group has done in the last year.

I made a donation to Sentience Politics last year and wasn’t impressed by the lack of communication I received around the donation, especially when Sentience Politics restructured. It left me less confident in the organizational capacity of WASR going forward. Recent communications with WASR/EAF suggest that things have changed for the better, so I’m interested in watching how they fare in the coming year.

I’m most interested in what WASR can do to promote interest in wild animal suffering research among academics — or understanding better why they haven’t prioritized that. They seem to have focused on direct research as opposed to academic outreach, so before considering further donations, I’m eager to see what they plan for academic outreach in the coming year. I understand they will consult with Animal Ethics as they make such plans.

Animal Ethics

I’ve previously donated to Animal Ethics because I liked their interest in wild animal suffering research. I haven’t seen any indication of recent outreach to the academic community. As with WASR, I’ll be interested in seeing more related to that before considering future donations.

Edit: When I first posted this, I had forgotten about Animal Ethics’ essay prize and speaking engagements. I’d be interested to know more about the effects of those and if and how AE plans to update their academic outreach plan for the future.

Other things we’ll be sure to watch in thinking about donations in the coming year

  • What ACE accomplishes with their new experimental research fund. (Aside: I’m curious why Humane League Labs stopped publishing experimental results.)
  • What the Animal Advocacy Research Fund accomplishes with its funds, and whether it makes sense to fund similar research as the fund winds down.
  • Where Faunalytics heads with its research program.
  • Where Sentience Institute heads with its research program. I haven’t spent enough time yet reviewing their recently published research to develop an opinion.