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Initial Grants to Support Corporate Cage-free Reforms

When I started as the Open Philanthropy Project’s Farm Animal Welfare Program Officer in October, I decided to prioritize investigating opportunities to speed up the corporate transition away from using eggs from caged hens. Based on that investigation, the Open Philanthropy Project recommended three grants, totaling $2.5 million over two years, to the Humane League, Mercy for Animals, and the Humane Society of the United States’ Farm Animal Protection Campaign. This post explains why I wanted to make our first farm animal welfare grants on corporate cage-free campaigns.

In brief:

  • Battery cages cause severe suffering, and cage-free systems are much better.
  • Corporate cage-free campaigns are tractable and high-impact, with a strong recent track record.
  • The cost-effectiveness of these campaigns, in terms of animal suffering averted per dollar, looks better than any alternatives I’m aware of.
  • I don’t see these campaigns as representing a “short-term-only” approach. I see them as a logical step along a long-term path toward greatly reduced farm animal suffering, and I think they’re competitive with other approaches when thought of in these terms.
  • I believe our funding has made and will continue to make a tangible difference to the success of these campaigns.

Details follow.

Battery cages cause severe suffering, and cage-free systems are much better

At any time, about 265 million U.S. egg-laying hens are confined in microwave oven-sized cages, typically with 4-11 hens per cage, and denied the space to perform their most basic instincts: to perch, lay their eggs in a nest, or flap their wings. Peter Singer has called these caged hens “the most closely confined, overcrowded and generally miserable animals in America.”

Cage-free systems aren’t perfect, but they’re much better than cages. In the most comprehensive review I know of, Dutch researchers ranked hen housing systems on a 0 to 10 welfare scale: battery cages got a zero and “enriched” cages got a 2.3, while all cage-free systems got at least a 5.8. The researchers found that, unlike battery cages, cage-free systems provide for six of hens’ top 10 welfare needs: adequate space, perches, nesting boxes, space to preen, scratching spaces, and litter for dust bathing (the other top needs, like food and water, are mostly common to all systems).

Most U.S. cage-free egg production is done under UEP and AHA standards, which require these enrichments plus more than twice the floor space per hen provided by battery cages (in addition to the much greater vertical space). These standards are enforced through annual audits, and are much better than UEP and AHA’s cage egg standards. But we don’t have faith in UEP or AHA, and hope that advocates will continue to push companies toward enforcement of their cage-free pledges through independent schemes like Global Animal Partnership.

I’m aware that some animal activists disagree with our view on the benefits of cage-free systems, but I haven’t found their counterarguments compelling. As an example, I’ll address a recent blog post by Direct Action Everywhere.

The piece identifies four welfare indicators that it thinks are worse in cage-free systems than in cages: mortality, air quality, stress, and overcrowding. It primarily supports these claims by citing studies conducted by the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply, a project funded by the egg industry and major food producers.

As an initial matter, it’s worth noting that the Coalition’s studies do not support the piece’s claims on stress or overcrowding. The Coalition found (PDF), “Overall, the physiological data were not suggestive of differences in long-term or short-term stress between the three housing systems.” And the Coalition said nothing about crowding – presumably because crowding is at least twice as bad in caged facilities as cage-free ones, per industry standards.

The Coalition’s findings on mortality and ammonia in cage-free systems are also flawed because the study’s design favored caged systems. One independent study concluded that “it is difficult to classify different housing systems for laying hens on the basis of mortality because mortality is influenced by … condition during the early rearing period, management during the laying period, and the type of laying hen strains used for production.” Yet the Coalition’s study confounded all three variables: its cage-free hens were reared partly in cages and hence ill-prepared for cage-free living, managed by a farm operator that had only ever managed caged systems, and of a breed seldom used in cage-free production.

More broadly, I think this shows the problems with relying on one industry-funded study to generalize about animal welfare. For instance, many studies contradict what the piece claims is “a consensus in the literature” that mortality rates are worse in cage-free systems (see, e.g., Ohh, et al., 2014, Singh, et al., 2009, Merle, et al., 2009), and the Dutch review found that air quality, which the piece focuses heavily on, is just the 21st most important welfare attribute for hens.

Corporate cage-free campaigns are tractable and high-impact

Since 2014, advocates have now secured cage-free pledges from over 100 major food companies, including McDonald’s, Costco, Subway, Safeway, and Kroger (of these, only McDonald’s pledge had been publicly announced at the time we were making grant decisions). My best guess is that these pledges, once implemented, will spare roughly 125 million hens annually from battery cage confinement – more than the number of beef cattle and dairy cows in the U.S. combined.

I’m confident that advocates were critical to almost all of these cage-free pledges based on the following evidence:

  • Extensive conversations with cage-free negotiators and subsequent comparisons between their narratives of change and public news reports. I also fact-checked these narratives with senior executives at two major companies that pledged to go cage-free.
  • Timing, e.g. in one case the Costco CEO refused to institute a cage-free policy, only for Costco to pledge to go cage-free months later following an intensifying advocacy campaign.
  • Joint advocacy group-company press releases, e.g. Taco Bell, Sodexo, Dunkin Donuts, Marriott, BJ’s Wholesale, Kraft Heinz, and Delhaize. I understand that these releases were the results of negotiations between the companies and advocacy groups.
  • A recent counterfactual in which, absent advocacy, a major company’s cage-free pledge did not lead other companies to follow suit. Burger King’s April 2012 cage-free pledge was overshadowed by McDonald’s gestation crate pledge the following month, leading advocates to focus on crates over cages. In the next two years, no other major food company pledged to go cage-free. But once advocates re-focused on battery cages in late 2014, the recent spate of major corporate pledges began.

I drew these observations from a list I compiled (.xlsx) of all the corporate pledges to date by talking to advocates in the field, independently researching the pledges, and estimating the numbers involved.

Corporate cage-free campaigns are extremely cost-effective

Counting just the ~$2.5 million spent on corporate cage-free campaigning over the last few years, and conservatively assuming that the campaigns only accelerated pledges by five years, these campaigns will spare about 250 hens a year of cage confinement per dollar spent. And even if you add the $1.5 million disbursement for the first year of our three grants, and the ~$12.5 million (at most) spent both on Prop 2 in 2008 and all egg undercover investigations ever done in the U.S., these campaigns will still spare about 38 hens a year of cage confinement per dollar spent.1 In my view, the assumption that these campaigns only accelerated pledges by five years is very conservative. It seems equally likely that these companies would never have dropped battery cages, or would have merely transitioned to “enriched” cages. For instance, as recently as March 2015, a coalition backed by McDonald’s, General Mills, and other major food companies issued a report which largely endorsed “enriched” cages as an alternative to cage-free systems.

In my opinion, this makes for a stronger case than the case that I’ve seen for the cost-effectiveness of online ads and vegan leafletting. For example, Animal Charity Evaluators estimates that leafletting and online ads spare animals about 1.1 years and 7.2 years respectively of life in factory farms per dollar spent. Admittedly, cage-free campaigns only spare hens from being caged – not from factory farming entirely. But I think it’s unlikely that sparing an animal from a year of factory farming entirely is 5X to 227X better than sparing an animal from a year of life in a cage.

And this is taking at face value ACE’s figures, which I think are likely too generous to interventions focused on individual diet change. I haven’t seen compelling evidence that these interventions work; I know of few examples of social movements achieving widespread changes in personal behavior as deeply ingrained as eating habits; and I believe that past evidence in favor of these interventions can be explained by social desirability bias. I think the best study so far on these interventions is the recent MFA online ad study, which did not find evidence that online ads reduce average animal product consumption (though the study may have merely been underpowered), and ACE has stated that it plans to substantially reduce its cost-effectiveness estimates for online ads based on this study.

The long-term significance of cage-free campaigns

So far, I’ve focused on the immediate suffering prevented by cage-free campaigns, which I think is sufficient to make the case for their cost-effectiveness. Some might have the mistaken impression, however, that the benefits of cage-free campaigns end here, and that cage-free campaigns represent a “short-term-only” approach compared to e.g. promoting veganism. By contrast, I see cage-free campaigns as a logical step along a long-term path toward greatly reduced farm animal suffering, and I think they’re competitive with other approaches when thought of in these terms.

My hope is that after cage-free eggs become near-universal, campaigners - having built both experience and credibility - will continue to work toward reforms of increasing significance. Eventually, this may involve working toward pledges to achieve certification via programs such as Global Animal Partnership. If certifiers continue to grow their capacity, improve their auditing abilities, and raise their standards, there is little conceptual limit to how much animal welfare can improve. And improvements on this dimension would have secondary effects as well, such as raising the price of factory-farmed meat relative to plant-based alternatives as well as cultured meat.

My impression is that past social movements have often built support, legitimacy, and attention - and made huge strides over time - as they’ve focused on steady streams of incremental but tangible and achievable wins. I see corporate campaigning as a promising way for farm animal welfare advocates to take this sort of approach - more so than other approaches that aim for dramatic long-term change but have relatively few meaningful signposts along the way.

Impact of additional funding

The apparent cost-effectiveness of corporate cage-free campaigns raises the question of why they haven’t received more support to date. Before our grants, advocacy groups were collectively devoting less than $1 million/year to battery cage campaigns, and fewer than seven advocates were working full time on the issue. I think that lack of attention had more to do with advocates’ and donors’ aversion to incremental work to improve farm conditions than to any rigorous assessment of the merits of cage-free campaigns. I think that our grants have filled the bulk of the current funding gap in U.S. cage free campaigns, and hope that they will lead advocates to think more about what other promising incremental approaches might be neglected.

My biggest worry about these grants now is that they may have been superfluous: advocates have been so successful in securing cage-free pledges that they might have done so without our financial support. Now that eight of the top ten U.S. restaurant chains and seven of the top ten U.S. food retailers have pledged to go cage-free, the battery cage’s demise in the U.S. looks likely. Certainly, I didn’t anticipate the speed of this progress when we recommended the grants in late December.

But I think it would be a mistake to conclude that advocates didn’t need additional financial support to achieve this progress. The recent cage-free wins were not self-actuating; they were the result of effective campaigns waged by THL, MFA, HSUS, and others. Although those groups were waging effective campaigns and winning major victories long before we supported them, our funding enabled them to scale up their campaigns to take on the grocers, which have historically been more obstinate than other food companies. Before we started talking with MFA about potentially supporting cage free campaigns, MFA’s work on the issue had consisted almost entirely of undercover investigations. But with our support, MFA launched a major campaign focused on Safeway in January, which succeeded at the start of this month and was a major catalyst for the recent set of wins with grocers.

Our funding is also needed for the cage-free campaigns to come. For starters, advocates still need to get the remaining U.S. food companies – accounting for over 100 million caged birds – to make cage-free pledges. Further down the line they need to ensure that companies follow through on their pledges. And then they need to launch international cage-free campaigns, as MFA and THL are both planning to do with some of our funds. We’re extremely excited by the rapid progress that THL, MFA, and HSUS have made in securing U.S. cage free pledges and are looking forward to seeing how further work on eliminating battery cages progresses.

  • 1.

    Dollar figures are my estimates based on conversations with the groups involved.


I have some questions about the recent grants for corporate cage-free campaigns. I realize this is a lot; I've sorted my questions in order of how much I care about them so you should prioritize the ones near the beginning, and if responding will be time-intensive for you then I'd prefer you answer them incrementally than spend a long time writing up a complete response.

1. A lot of people argue that animal liberation is much more important in the long term than welfare reforms, and reforms don't work toward this goal. You write that "past social movements have often built support [...] as they’ve focused on steady streams of incremental but tangible and achievable wins." What makes you confident that this is true, or that cage-free campaigns will be successful for the same reasons as past social movements?

1a. It's plausible that animal welfare reforms will make people feel that factory farming is not so bad, making it harder to eliminate and thus reducing the long-term value of these reforms. Are you concerned about this?

2. From the MFA page: "We were initially somewhat concerned that MFA did not view cage-free egg campaigns as a priority. Over the last year, MFA has prioritized other corporate campaigns, including broiler welfare campaigns, over cage-free campaigns, and just over a year ago ran a relatively negative blog post about cage-free conditions." Why was this a concern? I tend to think that the MFA people know what they're doing and set their priorities for good reason--in my experience, animal advocates (and MFA in particular) are unusually effectiveness-minded. Do you have reason to believe that you have better information than MFA?

2a. The grant page says MFA "plans to make cage-free egg campaigns a priority, both because of our support and because MFA is impressed by the traction that advocates have gained on this issue." I obviously can't infer much from this one sentence, but this could mean that MFA really believes other programs are more effective, and it's diverting attention away from plausibly more effective programs to secure this grant. Are you at all concerned about this?

3. These campaigns get companies to pledge to go cage-free at some future date. What makes you confident that they will follow through?

4. My understanding is that these campaigns get companies to pledge to go cage-free after a certain amount of time. Given that the actual beneficial effects of the campaigns take a while to kick in, is there good reason to assume that the companies wouldn't have gone cage-free by then anyway?

4a. The case for corporate campaigns over other types of advocacy relies on arbitrarily assuming that the campaigns accelerate the transition to cage-free by five years. The evidence for any sort of advocacy isn't great and requires some arbitrary assumptions; what makes you confident that this one is more robust than any others? Why do you believe five years is a conservative estimate?

5. Did you communicate with ACE about your grants, or make any efforts to avoid redundant work?

6. Especially for THL, these grants significantly expand the grantees' programs on cage-free campaigns. Did the organizations already want to expand here, and did they seek funding from you? Or did you specifically request that they expand in these areas? How much of the expansion plans was determined by you versus THL/the other orgs? Were the plans developed before or after you proposed the grant?

7. A few times, your writeups on cage-free campaigns say something along the lines of "animal advocacy organizations weren't prioritizing this and we're confused about why, but we've pushed them to prioritize it more." You seem pretty confident that their not prioritizing cage-free campaigns was irrational, and don't discuss the possibility that they have better information than you, or perhaps it's unclear what's best and you have reasonable differences of opinion. (I saw the same sort of reasoning on the Fed Up grant.) For this question I'm not too interested in the specifics of cage-free campaigns, but why do you take this general stance of assuming that reasonable people with good information who disagree with you must be wrong? Do they have worse information than I think, or do you have strong reason to believe that they're biased in ways that you're not?

8. How come your THL writeup claims that $1 will spare 120 or 20 hen-years, but this writeup uses the figures 250 and 38?

9. Why give grants to three different organizations for essentially the same activities? (I can think of why I'd do this but I am curious to hear your reasoning.)

Michael - thanks for the questions. As you note, there are a lot, so this is a quick response to each: 1. Some past social movements that make me think incremental reform works: the anti-torture movement, e.g. Amnesty Intl, which works to improve political prisoners’ conditions even when their imprisonment is unjust; the Red Cross and Geneva Convention, which reduce the horrors of war without stopping war; the anti-slavery/civil rights movement, which first imposed slave welfare laws, then banned the slave trade, then banned slavery, then sought political rights for freed slaves, and then sought equal civil rights for the descendants of slaves. In fact, I can’t think of any social movements that achieved sweeping reform without incremental steps toward that reform. And I think that all animal advocacy is actually incremental: the only question is whether we try to incrementally reduce the number of people eating animals, or incrementally reduce the suffering of the animals they’re eating. Finally, I’m also not sure though that we share the goal of “animal liberation”: our goal is simply to reduce farm animal suffering as much as possible. 1a. Absent any evidence that animal welfare reforms are making people feel factory farming is ok, I’m not concerned about this. It seems more intuitive to me that welfare reforms build attention and momentum that makes future reforms more likely. I’m uncomfortable sacrificing the prospect of near-term progress to reduce the suffering of animals to maybe aid the hypothetical future goal of eliminating factory farming. 2. Groups prioritize campaigns for many reasons, including what appeals to their membership and other large donors. In this case, MFA wanted funding to do cage-free work. We were most excited about funding these campaigns because we think the evidence is comparatively stronger for them than other tactics, like online ads. We also think we may be more numerically focused than other donors, which could explain why we’re more excited about funding the cage-free work MFA is doing over the work it’s also doing on dairy cows. 2a. I wouldn’t infer that MFA believes other programs are more effective than cage-free campaigns. I would infer that MFA wanted to do these cage-free campaigns, but needed additional financial support to do them (perhaps because its existing donor base is more excited about vegan advocacy). 3. I think enforcement of the cage-free pledges is a serious concern. We’re talking a lot with the groups about this, and they plan a couple of mechanisms to ensure the pledges are enforced. I don’t want to get deeply into their tactics here without their permission, but this will probably require some combination of constant engagement with companies and campaigns against those that drag their feet. 4. Yes, there is good reason to assume that companies wouldn’t have gone cage-free by 2025 absent these campaigns. Until at least early 2015, most major food companies had no plans to change their egg sourcing standards at all. Those that did, including McDonald’s and Walmart, were largely talking of moving to enriched cages. If they had adopted enriched cages, they could have prevented a cage-free transition for another 30 years, which is the typical depreciation lifecycle for the cages. 4a. The most common feedback we received from advocates in the field before we posted this blog was that the assumption that these campaigns only speed up progress by five years was too conservative. These advocates – who interact directly with the companies – don’t think these companies would have gone cage-free without external activist pressure anytime soon. They think it’s far more likely that the industry would have announced plans to move to enriched cages by 2025. Given the 30 year lifecycle of enriched cages, that could have delayed cage-free reforms until 2045-2055. 5. Yes, we talked with ACE about our grants. 6. Yes the organizations did already want to expand in cage-free campaigns, though we also made clear that we saw this as a particularly promising tactic. THL developed its plan to expand its cage-free campaign before we contacted them; we simply asked them to expand its size. HSUS and MFA did not have pre-existing expansion plans, but did have aspirations to expand their cage-free campaigns. All three groups proposed the specific budgets for their grants, which in two cases we accepted without any changes, and in a third worked with the grantee to revise. 7. There are two aspects to the question of whether we’re overriding advocates’ opinions on the merits of cage-free campaigns. First, these advocacy groups all saw the benefits of cage-free campaigns but hadn’t been able to secure the support of donors to expand their campaigns sufficiently. Second, we believe much of our disagreement with some advocates stems from the fact that we have a more quantitative, reduce-as-much-suffering-as-possible mindset, while other advocates appear to be motivated in part by more non-utilitarian impulses – that all killing or farming is wrong – leading them to rely overly on vegan advocacy tactics that remain unproven in our view. We think that leads to us being more excited by cage-free campaigns that have track records we see as stronger. We aren’t confident that others are misguided, but we also don’t see any particular reasons to think they have information and insight we don’t on the question of corporate campaigns vs. other approaches, and we are supporting what seems to us like the best work based on our read of the evidence. 8. The cost effectiveness numbers improved between the THL writeup and this blog because the advocates secured a number of major cage-free pledges in the time between when we wrote the two. These included major egg users like Albertsons/Safeway and Kroger. 9. We gave grants to three organizations for similar activities for two reasons: (a) we think there are limits on the room for more funding in each group due to management and recruitment constraints, and (b) we think these groups play different and complementary roles in cage-free campaigns.

Thanks for the response, Lewis! Some followup comments: 1. On “animal liberation”, I don’t believe liberty is a terminal value. I agree that the goal is to reduce suffering. What I meant to convey is that a world without factory farming is far better than a world with factory farms minus battery cages. 7. On the MFA grants page, it says > We were initially somewhat concerned that MFA did not view cage-free egg campaigns as a priority. Over the last year, MFA has prioritized other corporate campaigns, including broiler welfare campaigns, over cage-free campaigns, and just over a year ago ran a relatively negative blog post about cage-free conditions. […] MFA intends to continue working on broiler chicken welfare, but plans to make cage-free egg campaigns a priority, both because of our support and because MFA is impressed by the traction that advocates have gained on this issue. This suggests that MFA thought that other campaigns were more valuable than cage-free campaigns, but has re-prioritized because of Open Phil’s grant. I don’t know the details of their funding situation—are you saying MFA wanted to do cage-free campaigns, but donors were only willing to fund broiler welfare campaigns? Also: > we believe much of our disagreement with some advocates stems from the fact that we have a more quantitative, reduce-as-much-suffering-as-possible mindset, while other advocates appear to be motivated in part by more non-utilitarian impulses I probably don’t know as many people in these organizations as you do, but my impression from interacting with people at THL and MFA (e.g. Nick Cooney) is that they are highly quantitatvely-minded and utilitarian. So I wouldn’t expect this to be a source of disagreement. 9. I actually find your answer (a) here surprising. Since organizations typically enjoy economies of scale, in the long term wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to give one program enough money to scale up instead of having three separate programs? (This would of course be slower in the short term as the program spends time building capacity.)

More on 1: For the examples of Amnesty International and the Geneva Convention, I don’t know that these show that incremental reform “works” in the sense of leading to bigger changes the future. Political prisoners still exist and war still exists, and I don’t see how you could show that the Geneva Convention reduced war. Perhaps these “worked” in the sense of successfully implementing incremental reforms, but that’s not really the question at hand. I’m reasonably confident that cage-free campaigns cause egg suppliers to actually stop using battery cages. I just don’t see why we should expect this to help end factory farming. We share the goal of reducing animal suffering, but ending factory farming has a much bigger impact here than eliminating battery cages. The anti-slavery movement is the only example you cite where the end goal of the movement was achieved (i.e. slavery was ended, at least in America). I don’t have any prior knowledge about this, but I found one source[1] claiming that slave welfare laws were unsuccessful. I don’t expect that finding good evidence on this would be easy, and you may not think it’s worth it to put a lot of time into this. But I do believe this is the biggest concern with cage-free campaigns. The direct effects of campaigns are relatively clear, which is nice, but if something like leafleting or humane education has substantially bigger flow-through effects than cage-free reforms, that may make it a better investment. [1] Sunstein, Cass R., and Martha C. Nussbaum. Animal rights: Current debates and new directions. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Thanks for engaging Michael, and for narrowing the terms of debate in this reply. I’m glad you share our goal of reducing farm animal suffering, and I think you make important points. Here are a few quick responses: A) You’re right that MFA re-prioritized its corporate campaigns to focus on cage-free in part because of our support. The shift was actually more away from dairy welfare than from broiler welfare, which MFA continues to work on. I don’t know why MFA was focused on dairy over layer hens and I don’t want to speculate on MFA’s thinking. So if you have questions about why they weren’t previously prioritizing cage free, I suggest you reach out to them directly. B) I’m not sure I agree with you that “organizations typically enjoy economies of scale” in corporate campaigns. But even if they did, I think the costs to rapidly scaling up an organization beyond its ability to scale would outweigh those benefits. In this regard we took the group’s advice: THL thought it could sustainably triple the size of its corporate campaign team, so we funded it to triple the team. That doesn’t rule out more funding to the top performing groups later if they show they can absorb more resources sustainably. C) You’re right that Amnesty International and the Geneva Convention have not abolished political prisoners and war entirely. But numbers of both political prisoners and wars have fallen, and I suspect (though can’t prove) that Amnesty International and the Geneva Convention have played a role in that progress. More importantly, I think both groups have reduced the suffering of numerous prisoners and victims of war. Similarly, I expect that that cage-free campaigns may only contribute marginally to ending factory farming, but will significantly reduce the suffering of hens in factory farms. While I agree that the end of factory farming would end more suffering than cage-free reforms, I think the former is currently impractical while the latter is not. D) I don’t think the success of slave welfare laws is super relevant to the prospects of cage-free reforms to spur further debate, but if you’re interested in the topic, I recommend this paper:

This isn’t a direct response to your comment here but: This article (h/t Jacy) illustrates why I’m concerned that cage-free reforms won’t be that beneficial in the long term. See especially the quote > Matt O’Hayer, the founder and CEO of Vital Farms, which specializes in pasture-raised eggs, says that most cage-free facilities “are not what people perceive them to be.” Two years ago he hired a survey firm that found that when 700 respondents were asked to define “cage-free eggs,” the vast majority described the characteristics of pasture-raised: fresh air, open fields, eating insects, and roaming free. This suggests that people could be much less on board with pushing for welfare improvements because they already believe that cage-free hens have good conditions. I expect that cage-free campaigns are net positive (and probably better than anything else Open Phil has ever done for that matter), but I believe the case for them is weaker relative to other forms of animal advocacy than Open Phil says it is.

Hi Michael, yep I agree that this is a risk, but I think that on balance progress on welfare reforms is more likely to accelerate than prevent further progress. This doesn’t change my view.

Why give $500,000 to HSUS when it sent over $55 million to Cayman Islands hedge funds in 2014 alone? I guess no one bothered to consider whether an organization that applies for money (every day) deserves and needs it. HSUS and it’s “corporate affiliate” the Fund for Animals paid over $15 million to settle a ridiculous loser of a lawsuit against Feld Entertainment. That and the Caribbean “investments” info can be found on the HSUS tax returns. The more mismanaged and greedy charities are rewarded with cash, the less likely they will make any effort to reform in terms of their own “worst abuses.” Too bad Lewis Bollard is in bed with Mr. Wonderful, CEO of the scandal-tainted HSUS.

We don’t think these claims are accurate or relevant to our grants. Readers who are interested in seeing HSUS’s replies to some of these claims should check this website:

Tax returns don’t lie. Page 38 of the 2014 HSUS 900’s lists over $55 million sent to the Caribbean for investments. Tiny sums of money are listed as grants to other parts of the world. The 2012 and 2013 returns (pages 32 and 33) show another $52 million total and the 990-T supplement lists the hedge funds. So you are lying about accuracy about this and the RICO settlements, which are also on the returns. LYING. The whoattacks us site is deranged in tone, especially the attack on the Humane Farming Association. HFA agrees - I have spoken to a couple of people there and as a longtime supporter, they trust me. Gail Eisnitz, author of the classic animal rights investigative study “Slaughterhouse” devotes a page or two to her brief time working for the fraud artists at HSUS and how happy she was to join HFA, where she has stayed for 20 years. So many women have driven the most important campaigns in animal rights, including a woman (I read her book) who coined the term “factory farming” many decades ago. It is tougher than ever to be a female of any intellect or character at HSUS and that is why so many have been headed out the door, especially in the past two years. Of course it is relevant to review any grant recipient’s record in terms of resources and uses of money, among other issues. How arrogant for you to say otherwise. Sounds like you were one of the “white male elite” at HSUS that is causing dozens of people to leave. Yikes.

Hi Robert, I continue to strenuously disagree with your characterizations, but I don’t think it’s very worthwhile to engage. We considered deleting these comments because they seriously misrepresent the facts; we will leave them up in this case, but don’t plan to discuss further.

Reposted from elsewhere:

Glad to see this post, and as I've told Lewis Bollard personally, I am very impressed with his approach to thinking about problems -- even if we disagree on this issue. A few initial thoughts:

1. DxE's memorandum cites over a dozen studies, most of which are not part of the CSES, so contrary to OPP, our conclusion is not based on a single report.

For example, the 2011 Social Sustainability of Egg Production Symposium (which, with Laywel and CSES, is probably one of the 3 best sources for evidence on hen housing):

"Mortality is generally lower in furnished cages when compared with conventional cages, and mortality can reach unacceptably high levels in noncage systems"

Having said that, the CSES study is widely seen as the best study done to date -- better than Laywel or SSEP. It was funded by folks who ultimately went cage-free. And it was the only study to date that actually studied hens as they are raised in modern US farms. (This is most obvious by sample size -- most other studies look at a few hundred hens. CSES had tens of thousands. You will not find a modern US egg farm with a few hundred hens.)

2. The Dutch paper cited as comprehensive by OPP has a number of problems:

- Outdated (10 years old)
- Not based on US systems
- Mostly arbitrary rating systems -- with behavioral opportunities arbitrarily weighted much higher than indications of suffering or poor environmental conditions (which will naturally cause you to favor cage-free)
- Not cited whatsoever in modern literature on hen housing systems (Neither the 2011 symposium report or the 2014 CSES study even mention the Dutch review... I don't think Laywel does either but I don't recall), which indicates its continuing significance is low.

Most important, the paper is not a "review." It is a proposed theoretical model for assessing hen welfare. There are pros and cons of computational models of this sort, but they don't answer the substantive empirical question of how the hens are actually doing. To do that, you have to perform experiments -- experiments like the CSES study that OPP is discounting.

3. A brief scan of the OPP's sources appears to show some errors?

E.g. the 2014 study cited for the proposition that cage-free does not have higher mortality in fact shows aviary facilities having nearly double the mortality of conventional cages. (This is despite the fact that the aviary systems studied are giving twice the amount of space of standard aviaries in the United States.) The barn facility that actually has lower mortality is not a modern aviary (and also gives massively more space than standard cage-free systems).

The second (2009) study does not actually look at cage-free but rather looks at a floor penning system that has fewer hens confined per cage (24 compared to 60) than modern enriched cage systems but gives them massively more space -- 6000 cm squared rather than 1000 in a traditional enriched cage system. Again, I don't think anyone disagrees that more space = less mortality, but that's true whether you have cages or not.

The third (2009) study provides no details on the nature of the cage-free system studied, but also indicates that their finding is the lowest mortality rate that has ever been reported. It's also unclear to me if this study has been published or peer-reviewed. (It's the only one of the three studies I haven't seen before.)

Finally, all three studies appear to be significantly less credible, just by institutional affiliation and journal quality, than the studies we cite in our memo (which includes journals affiliated with Oxford University).

4. On the rest -- causality, etc. I don't see any evidence or studies cited by OPP, so I don't think there's a need to respond. People are just going to have to rely on their intuitions, to a certain extent, but I would just point out that there are case studies in other contexts, e.g. fair trade coffee (, that show how voluntary standards often don't actually lead to meaningful change (in the short or long term). They just lead to cooptation of the movement as part of a deliberate strategy by industry to undermine progress.

That seems to me what is happening here -- e.g. with animal advocates aggressively defending Whole Foods and GAP, despite the fact that we have proven that they are engaged in mass consumer fraud (e.g. raising chickens and turkeys in industrial sheds despite marketing them as free range). GAP's proposed audits and standards are far more aggressive than any of the cage-free commitments -- which have, effectively, no audits or standards that I have been able to ascertain -- so I don't think we can expect any better from recent commitments than we can expect from GAP.

Wayne - I really appreciate the detailed engagement with our arguments. It seems clear that we have some significant disagreements about which studies to put the most weight on, and particularly about how to view De Mol et al. (which we consider the best available resource on the welfare impacts of different hen housing systems, and which you question on multiple fronts) and the CSES study (which you see as the best study done to date, and which we see as having very limited value). I think there are a lot of issues worth discussing here, and I plan to write a future post in which I lay out our take on the different major studies. I’ll just note a few points for now, and plan on a more comprehensive discussion later:

  • De Mol et al. is not, as you imply, merely a “proposed theoretical model.” I think the paper does itself a disservice by presenting itself as a “computer model” when in fact it is the fullest attempt I know of to aggregate information from studies on a variety of different welfare outcomes (rather than taking a single one, such as mortality, as definitive). It is less clear and transparent than I wish it were, but it follows the methodology of Bracke, et al., 2002, which relied on 12 reviews containing 211 references on pig welfare.
  • I believe CSES study is problematic on several fronts. Among other things, I stand by the claim that the funders were biased against cage-free systems. You dismiss this criticism of the study because some of the funders ultimately went cage-free. But at the time of the study, none of the funders had gone cage-free, and many — like the United Egg Producers, Egg Farmers of Canada, Sparboe Farms, Burnbae Farms, and Tyson Foods — were outspoken defenders of battery cages. It’s hard for me to see how the fact that a minority of the study’s funders were later forced to go cage-free by advocacy campaigns would show that they did not have an initial bias. The study was also led by scientists who had endorsed enriched cages before the study began.
  • I agree that the LayWel project is one of the best available sources for mortality data, but I think you misread it. You cite LayWel, 2006 as evidence of higher mortality rates in cage-free systems, but it notes that (a) the difference between conventional and cage free systems is “not fully significant (p<0.10)” and (b) beak trimming reduces mortality rates. Though the paper you link to does not report a multivariate regression that controls separately for beak trimming and cage/non-cage system, it is only one of many component reviews that went into LayWel’s total hen welfare assessment. That overall assessment did run a multivariate regression of different housing types and beak trimming on mortality and concluded that “[i]t is interesting and important that there was no significant main effect of housing system, only an interaction with whether the system was run under truly commercial conditions or within a scientific institute.” Later, comparing only the “three systems with substantial data obtained from commercial farms” — specific models of enriched cages, floor cage-free, and aviary cage-free (see figure 7.2) — LayWel actually found that the two cage-free systems both had lower mortality rates than the cage system (though it’s not clear to me whether the differences were statistically significant). I believe, though I am not certain, that the main reason the component paper you’re pointing to and the overall results I’m pointing to reach somewhat different conclusions is that the overall results control for a confounding association between beak trimming and housing type.
  • We don’t want to put too much weight on any one of the studies feeding into the reviews, and I agree there are serious limitations to the individual studies I cited. That said, it is not the case that most of the studies we’re considering “look at a few hundred hens.” And I also disagree with your implication that they should be disregarded when they look at barn/floor penning systems. Cage-free systems can include these types of systems.
  • I concede that cage-free systems appear to have lower air quality, and I believe that there is higher variance in mortality in cage-free systems (and more sensitivity to quality of management generally), but I don’t agree with your memorandum’s claim that there is a “consensus in the literature” that mortality rates are multiples higher in cage-free systems. I think these considerations are outweighed by other factors and that even relatively poorly-managed cage-free systems are likely significantly better than cage systems.

Separately, I would like to give a bit more info in response to your comment “On the rest – causality, etc. I don’t see any evidence or studies cited by OPP” and some of the claims on the likely long-term impacts of cage-free campaigns in your memo:

  • The memo states, “Cage-free is making a violent industry more profitable… and bigger… most cage-free farming is new production that has not reduced the number of ‘conventional’ eggs. Rather, cage-free is being added on top of it.” But higher egg prices should reduce demand. The reason total hen numbers are increasing is that the egg industry is repopulating following last year’s avian flu — something they would have done regardless.
  • The memo states, “Corporate campaigns against fur in the 80s, 90s and against vivisection in the 90s, 00s did not lead to appreciable long term shifts in industry.” Yet these campaigns did not take an incremental approach and they did not result in pledges: they typically demanded corporations stop stocking fur or conducting animal tests entirely. I see them as having much more in common with DxE’s corporate campaigns (e.g. demands that Whole Foods and Chipotle stop serving animal products entirely), than with the modern cage-free campaigns.
  • The memo states, “Commitments may very well slow the progression towards cage-free by reducing pressure on the industry – and, more importantly, interfere with transitions toward actually superior systems (e.g. pasture-raised or other systems with materially lower stocking density) or reduced egg production.” But the industry sources you cite in opposition to cage-free are even more opposed to pasture-raised production (e.g. the American Veterinary Medical Association report on welfare). And, while I agree the evidence both ways is less than ideal, the limited evidence to date suggests incremental reform begets more reform, rather than stifling it. (E.g. Compass Group first went partially cage-free, then adopted Hampton Creek products, reducing its egg use; Aramark first went crate-free, then went cage-free, and then adopted a comprehensive animal welfare policy.) And it’s extremely hard for me to see how getting Walmart to commit to going cage free will actually reduce the likelihood of cage free happening.

If you had known then what you know now (e.g., that the dominoes are falling more than one a day re: cage-free commitments well before the end of March), would you still have thought $2.5 million to that campaign would be the most impactful use of the funds? I'm sure your commitment accelerated the process, but I wonder if it is possible not $2.5 million worth. (Not second guessing you, but wondering how this will impact your calculations and plans going forward.)

Thanks Matt – that’s a good question of whether we would have given the same grants with the advantage of hindsight, knowing how rapidly these campaigns would succeed. I think we likely would have because I think our grants were likely important to speeding up these successes. I also am confident that the remainder of these grants will be put to very effective uses, both launching international cage-free campaigns and beginning to address broiler chicken welfare issues.

Adding to my 4a above, if cage-free commitments are happening faster than you expected, is that a reason to revise your estimate of expected time until companies would have pledged anyway? Or is the progress coming largely from THL/MFA/etc?

Also, a few of my previous questions came across as kind of confrontational, I apologize about that. I do disagree with you about some things and I wanted to express that, but I have tons of respect for what you're doing and have a high opinion of Open Phil.

I don’t think the rapid rate of cage-free commitments should lead us to revise our estimate of the expected time until companies would have pledged anyway. HSUS, THL, and MFA’s campaigns were integral to the recent successes. It’s certainly possible that this progress would have happened without our grants, but I don’t think it’s possible it would have happened so swiftly without these advocates’ campaigns.

Great post! I'm impressed by the thoroughness of your reading on this topic.

I would reduce your cost-effectiveness estimates somewhat because of
1. Selection effect: Cage-free campaigns seem to have been particularly effective, but this could partly have been due to chance, and we might expect some regression to the mean for future work on the issue. Plus, as you say, a lot of the momentum in the US is already in place, so the marginal impact of future work per dollar may be lower.
2. Employee-talent costs: Your cost-effectiveness estimates presumably only count the _budgets_ of animal organizations(?), but another component of the overall cost is human talent. Some of the best animal advocates, if they weren't working for MFA or THL, might be earning to give in a higher-paying job. Hence, the cost of hiring such people is not just their salaries but also how much they would have donated counterfactually.

I'm somewhat more agnostic about the studies of cage-free welfare than you are, but I haven't read the literature in depth, and some relatively impartial people like Bailey Norwood endorse cage-free (

I appreciate the focus on welfare reforms because they have fewer complications regarding wild-animal suffering ( Unlike others, I tend to see the memetic side-effects of welfare reforms as potentially better than those of abolition relative to my hedonistic-utilitarian values, but there seems to be a lot of room for reasonable disagreement here.

Thanks for the kind words Brian! I agree with you that our cost effectiveness estimates are missing some important considerations, and that accordingly it would be a mistake to interpret them at face value. I think that’s almost always the case with our cost-effectiveness estimates for Open Phil, and in this case, I don’t think it would change the bottom line that I see cage free campaigns as considerably more cost-effective than other opportunities I know of in this space.

What percentage of these grants can be considered as “research”? By “research” I mean work such as: - gathering and building a pool of reliable data, information, and evidence to guide the grantees’ corporate cage-free eggs efforts/campaigns (and which, ideally, will be shared widely so that this pool of new evidence can benefit others doing similar work) - evaluation of effectiveness (preferably done by independent parties rather than the grantees themselves) My understanding and experience as a donor is that funders supporting social and environmental issues increasingly recognize the centrality of excellent research in advocacy work and campaigns. They budget/ allocate a percentage of their grants specifically for research, and they make sure that research is built into and forms an integral part of programs and campaigns. Impeccable research data can be a powerful tool in countering opponents’ unsubstantiated claims, and a timely evaluation of a campaign’s effectiveness enables campaigners to course-correct swiftly so they won’t keep heading down an inferior path. (For example, a new report of the Peace and Security Funders Group finds that “research and evaluation” takes up 20% of total peace and security funding by the 288 grant makers surveyed.) Given OPP’s commitment to openness, knowledge-sharing, evidence-based and effective work, it seems reasonable to expect that a percentage of the grants or the budget of the programs receiving the grants goes towards research purposes. And I am very interested in hearing more about that. Thank you!

Thanks for the question about research Carmen. I agree with you on the value of research, but I think this may actually be an interesting counter-example of groups achieving success without much research. While all three groups did and do engage in pre-campaign research, I think this research is typically relatively light. Yet in spite of this they’ve nearly achieved their goal – of securing cage-free pledges to cover the whole US egg industry – and they have done this much more rapidly than we expected. We certainly plan to monitor the implementation of those pledges, but otherwise anticipate little additional research for US cage-free campaigns. More broadly, I’m inclined to defer to groups on the value of research to a specific project. We are very conscious about deferring to groups’ judgment when we don’t have clear reasons not to. In this case, the groups’ proposed budgets didn’t call for research and in two out of three cases we completely deferred to those budgets. That said, I could see us funding research directly in other areas in the future or encouraging groups to consider adding more research to their proposals. Much of my job is also spent researching.

I read about these grants today on The Abolitionist Approach website. I greatly respect Gary F. and more or less agree with his views on cage-free campaigns. I do respect many people at Mercy for Animals and believe they will use the generous grants wisely and effectively. They appear to be a rapidly expanding and diversifying organization, with many women in high level positions. MFA is definitely not about the publicity and the money. HSUS, on the other hand? I know you once worked there so you have to know about the scandals and the harsh criticism by so many in the animal welfare and animal rights communities. You are way too intelligent to buy the sham defense that it is all a conspiracy by animal abuse industries to harm the so-called most effective animal organization in the world. A $500,000 grant would pay for part of the lawsuit settlement HSUS is facing from the World Dog Alliance. Wayne Pacelle and others signed a detailed contract with WDA to promote a film on the dog meat industry and lobby for related legislation. I have read the full lawsuit and the e-mails and they are shocking. Pacelle promised to help, demanded $1 million to do something HSUS should have done for free or not at all, and then completely reneged on the commitment. Pacelle responded to the suit by basically saying that HSUS has the biggest greatest anti dog meat campaign ever and WDA isn’t worth a minute of their time. Neither HSUS nor HSI have a meaningful campaign against the dog meat industry in Asia. Unlike the corporate cage-free agreements, the HSUS-WDA deal is a legal contract and the work was to be conducted over two years (not by 2025). HSUS received $500,000 upfront. And now Open Philanthropy has rewarded HSUS with a grant they never should have applied for because they don’t need and don’t deserve the money. In terms of the dog meat campaigns, HSUS and HSI are all over the media and internet exploiting the work of others and the suffering of dogs as huge fundraising vehicles. HSI is based in DC and the Asia expert lives in America. HSUS sends one of it’s tag team rescue dudes, Adam Pascarandola, to Asia to “visit” rescue operations, videotaping everything and providing minimal help, financially and otherwise. The other rescue dude, Rowdy Shaw, is known for womanizing in every city and bar, and bragging that wearing the HSUS T shirt gets him better lap dances. That’s part of the reason the entire Emergency Response Team resigned several years ago. All that remains is the two tattooed opportunists, willing to follow the Wayne protocol that caused everyone else to quit. What a charity. I have been active in animal welfare for 16 years and loved reading Animal People for their coverage of international animal welfare. I know which groups have been on the ground overseas - for decades - saving dogs and cats, sheltering them, and doing meaningful educational and legal advocacy work. I have met one of them at a fundraiser in NY and have donated to others. HSUS has a very long history of credit theft and exploitation of these types of issues. It’s called “press agentry fundraising” - saturating the media with highly charged, urgent pleas for donations. It is based on emotional manipulation. Truth is not essential. I studied nonprofit management and know about this kind of mass appeal, the P.T. Barnum style “lowest form of fundraising.” There are 3 more ethical models, where there is an information-based dialogue with donors, who are provided with accurate information and figures. I donate to those groups. Mercy for Animals would fit into an ethical fundraising model. Wounded Warrior Project, which just had to fire it’s top two Gordon Gekkos, is definitely press agentry. HSUS is much worse. I have been a member of the Humane Farming Association ever since I saw their NY Times full page ad for the veal campaign. I agree 100% with HFA’s critiques of HSUS’s legislative debacles. When the motivation is publicity, power, money, and besting the competition, you get legislative and legal debacles. As far as their corporate campaigns, there are no sturdy commitments, just agreements, some far in the future, and potential supply problems and economic issues can easily sabotage whatever goals HSUS actually has. There are no inspections, ramifications, or regulatory authority. Undercover investigations have turned up horrible conditions in many “humane farming” operations. And the images I have seen of “cage-free” look grim. I wouldn’t be here with the “humane myth” argument if HSUS were not one of the grant recipients. I won’t pretend otherwise. But HSUS in 2016 is a cesspool of corruption and abuse. The reviews by female staffers over the past 2 years are shocking and disturbing. I cannot say for sure that they are all women, but I’d bet that 95% are. The treatment of women is unforgivable in any organization - corporate, governmental, and especially nonprofit. Women are overworked, underpaid, bullied, exposed to donors with histories of rape (Arthur Benjamin, disgraced CEO of now-shuttered for profit college empire ATI Enterprises, and ordered not to contact the Board of Directors. Among other things. They talk of diversion of designated funds to the CEO’s “pet projects.” That has been going on for years, especially under Pacelle, with tens of millions in donations intended for Hurricane Katrina and Sandy animals, Michael Vick’s dogs, stray dogs all over the world, and meat dogs all over Asia. The newest scam involves a very misleading and racist “Pets for Life” program that is one of their biggest cash cow profit centers ever. If the Open Philanthropy Project chooses HSUS as a recipient of a large sum of money that should go to an ethical and moral charity, I choose to let you and others there know where Humane Society Donations Really Go. And do not go. Two final gems: 1. HSUS paid $15 million to Feld Entertainment to settle that RICO case after a lengthy lawsuit that was misguided from day one, according to Animal People and other genuine animal advocates and watchdogs. Pacelle pretended that HSUS just inherited the case from the Fund for Animals, but he did not mention that HSUS joined in the lawsuit in 2007, with Wayne himself writing a check for $2000 to the front group/middleman. And he lied when he said the settlement would be covered by insurance. The carriers rejected the claims once, and then on appeal. The 2013 and 2014 tax returns for both the Fund and HSUS show settlement figures totalling $15 million. Labeled “program expenses.” 2. In late 2012, HSUS funneled over $25 million to Bermuda and Cayman Islands hedge funds. I think it was unreported Hurricane Sandy donations, but I could be (partly) wrong. In 2013, it was an even $26,000,000. After this was exposed, I thought HSUS would knock it off in 2014. Except HSUS chose to send nearly half it’s budget - over $55 million to Caribbean “investments.” Meanwhile, many of the Real Ladies of Glassdoor state that HSUS pays very low salaries and doesn’t replace those that quit so people are expected to do the work of 2 or more women. By all means, keep rewarding Pacelle and the “white male elite” arrogant bullies running HSUS today. I will spare you the details about the HSUS money laundering operation that was exposed a couple of years ago. Pacelle had to acknowledge guilt for the first time in his life and promise the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance that HSUS would cut the cord with the fundraising companies that funneled money through the HSUS branch called the Humane Society of Hong Kong, Ltd. Since the fake branch was listed on the HSUS tax returns for 14 years as an “animal welfare’ affiliate of HSUS, we are talking criminality. No loopholes for charities. And one of their money laundering mail mill partners, Quadriga Art, was busted by CNN and successfully sued for fraud by the NY AG. I know ALL the details about ALL the players from HSUS and the mail mills and I will spare you those. Maybe that’s why Wayne has gone from jerk to abuser to corporate psychopath these days. Acknowledging wrongdoing pushed him over the edge. Oh, and by the way, I run an inhumane slaughterhouse and a puppy mill and like to hunt swans while they are mating. And I work for “Dr. Evil.” And HSUS needs half a million dollars in order to conduct it’s advocacy work for farm animals.

We don’t think these claims are accurate or relevant to our grants. Readers who are interested in seeing HSUS’s replies to some of these claims should check this website:

Who Attacks HSUS? Just people like Ric O’Barry (“To Free a Dolphin” chapter 8 and elsewhere in the book and online); Captain Paul Watson (most recently “Sea World Finds It’s Judas”); HFA’s Gail Eisnitz “Slaughterhouse” - HSUS has always been cruel and brutal to women when it comes to females with brains and independent minds); Gary Franscione, as kind and genuine as Pacelle is nasty and plastic (not to men like you of course); and many others I could mention. Of course Foundations should do an independent evaluation of any charity that gets a large grant. In this case, the $500,000 could be added to the 2 other recipients grants. Rewarding your friends is fine but not if the organization has a history of documented fraud and abuse. DOCUMENTED. Giving the HSUS scripted ventriloquist dummy defense via whoattackshsus is pathetic for someone of your intellect. It’s a discredited sham of a defense. I can’t imagine other senior staff members at Open Philanthropy and it’s affiliates would take such a cavalier attitude towards charity accountability. That applies to all charities - large and small - applying for grants from Open Philanthropy and other foundations.

Hi Robert, I continue to strenuously disagree with your characterizations, but I don’t think it’s very worthwhile to engage. We considered deleting these comments because they seriously misrepresent the facts; we will leave them up in this case, but don’t plan to discuss further.

Hi Lewis, Thank you for writing this impressive blog post. I’m having trouble reproducing the figures you quote here: >For example, Animal Charity Evaluators estimates that leafletting and online ads spare animals about 1.1 years and 7.2 years respectively of life in factory farms per dollar spent. ACE’s Impact Calculator generates different estimates, no matter what parameters I use.

Thanks Pablo. ACE has updated its impact calculator since the blog post, resulting in different numbers.

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