If you care about animals and want to reduce their suffering, but aren’t sure how, Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) is an organization that may be able to help. The California-based nonprofit puts together an annual directory of recommended animal charities, and has just released its list for this year. (Disclosure: ACE helped fund some of Future Perfect’s business in 2020 and 2021.)
Two of the three largest charities focus on improving conditions on factory farms – which makes sense, given that they are sites of widespread suffering. It’s not just the death that occurs there – in the US alone, factory farming kills about 10 billion wild animals each year – but the suffering that the animals are forced to endure during their lives. Chickens, calves, and pigs are often locked in places too small to move around with difficulty, and conditions are so noisy that “ag-gag” laws are in place to hide the cruelty from the public.
When we hear about some of these cases—like the fact that chickens are forced to produce eggs at such a rapid rate that their intestines sometimes drop under stress—we might want to put a stop to it. But it can be hard to know which charities will use our money well.
ACE researches and promotes the most effective and effective ways to help animals. the group He uses three main criteria when deciding whether to recommend an organization, as my colleague Kelsey Piper previously explained:
- Charities should be “most likely to make the biggest gains for animals” – that is, they do high-impact work and have the evidence to back it up.
- Charities must “actively evaluate and improve their programs” – they are constantly trying to figure out the most effective way to defend animals (which may change over time) and adjust their programs accordingly.
- Charities must have a “clear need for more funding” – they actually need more money on hand in order to reach everyone who knows how to reach it (which is not the case for every charity).
With this in mind, ACE has selected its three big charities for 2021:
1) Faunalytics: This US-based nonprofit is a bit dead on its approach to animal advocacy: it conducts and publishes independent research, mostly related to farmed animals, in an effort to make animal advocates more impactful and evidence-based.
For example, it examines social psychology data on how to influence public opinion about animals in a way that actually leads to behavior change. ACE notes that advocacy research is a neglected intervention, as it writes, “Faunalytics programs” support the animal advocacy movement by examining effective advocacy strategies, problem areas, and tactics, and by providing advocates with a curated database of academic research summaries. “
2) Animal Welfare Association: Founded in 2005, this organization currently operates in the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Japan. She runs successful campaigns urging companies to adopt higher animal welfare standards. It has ended the use of battery cages internationally and improved conditions for chickens raised for meat. It also does legislative advocacy at the grassroots level. Most importantly, The Humane League has an evidence-based view, collecting and using data to guide its approach, and to test new ways to improve its programs.
3) wild animal initiative: As my colleague Dylan Matthews has documented, this group does something unique: find ways to help and advocate for wild animals. Rather than focusing on the welfare of animals on factory farms, it focuses on the welfare of free-range animals from birds to raccoons to insects. It examines questions such as: Which animals are capable of subjective experiences? What is their quality of life in the wild? How can we help them safely and sustainably?
ACE has also named some notable charities — organizations it says do a good job despite not being placed in the top three — such as xiaobuVEGAN, a Chinese organization that aims to reduce the suffering of farm animals and increase the availability of animal-free products in China, and the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations, which is pursuing similar goals in India. It’s good to see such groups not in the United States brought to the fore given that, as Mark Gunther explained in Vox, The vast majority of animals are farmed outside the United States and the European Union.
If you donate to one of the charities listed above, you can be reasonably confident that your money will be used effectively to reduce animal suffering. And if you’re not sure which one you’d like to donate to, you can donate to the recommended charitable fund and leave it to ACE to distribute the money based on what their research suggests was most effective at the time.
Is it wrong to worry about animals when so many people are suffering?
Americans are increasingly interested in taking care of animals. The very rapid adoption of plant-based meat products like Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat is partly due to a growing sense that we can and should inflict less suffering on animals.
A 2015 Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans said animals deserve some legal protections. Another 32 percent — nearly a third — expressed a stronger pro-animal stance, saying they believed animals should have the same rights as humans. In 2008, only 25 percent expressed this view.
It seems that more and more Americans are coming to see animals as part of our moral circle, the imaginary boundaries we draw around those we consider worthy of moral consideration.
However, some people react to this with a frenzy of “guardianship”: what about pressing human problems such as epidemic and poverty? The basis of this objection lies in the feeling that we cannot afford to “waste” sympathy for the suffering of animals, because every bit of the attention we devote to this cause means that we cannot devote much to human suffering.
But as Ezra Klein writes, research from Harvard University’s Yoon-Soo Park and Dartmouth’s Benjamin Valentino show that worrying about human suffering and worrying about animal suffering is not zero-sum — in fact, where you find one, you tend to find the other:
For half of the study, they used General Social Survey data to see if people who support animal rights are more likely to support a variety of human rights, a test to see if abstract empathy is zero-sum. They then compared the strength of individual states’ animal treatment laws to the strength of laws protecting humans, a test of whether political activism was zero-sum.
The answer, either way, is that empathy seems to generate empathy. The authors wrote that people who strongly favored government assistance to patients “were 80 percent more likely to support animal rights than those who strongly opposed them.” This discovery was made even after controlling for factors such as political ideology. Support for animal rights was also associated – although the effect size was smaller – with support for LGBT individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, unauthorized immigrants, and low-income people.
Likewise, the states that have done the most to protect animal rights have done the most to protect and expand human rights. Countries with strong laws that protect LGBTI people, strong protections against hate crimes, and comprehensive policies for undocumented immigrants were more likely to have strong protections for animals.
The question of why these associations exist is up for debate, but the bottom line is that we better hope our society will take action on animal suffering: if it does, we are more likely to see it take action on human suffering as well.