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May 2021: Animal Welfare Fund Grants

Payout Date: April 2, 2021

Total grants: $1,518,000

Number of grantees: 17

Discussion: EA Forum comments



Notable grants for this round included:

  • A $360,000 grant to Wild Animal Initiative (WAI).

    • WAI is researching how we might best help wild animals and attempting to build an academic field around wild animal welfare.

    • We're excited about work on wild animal welfare because most animals on earth live in the wild, humans impact the lives of wild animals in many ways, and hardly anyone is currently researching their welfare or how we might help them.

    • Other major funders aren't funding WAI, which presents a unique opportunity for the AWF.

    • We think WAI is a thoughtful and well-run organization that may build a successful research community focused on helping wild animals.   

  • A $165,000 grant to Sinergia Animal.

    • Sinergia Animal advocates for better conditions for farmed animals in neglected regions, such as Southeast Asia. 

    • With this grant, they'll expand corporate engagement efforts into Malaysia, and work on cage-free movement building in Thailand.

    • Barely any organizations are currently operating in those regions, even though they're quite important because those countries have many farmed animals, and rapidly growing animal product consumption.

  • A $40,000 grant to the Coalition of African Animal Welfare Organizations.

    • This will support a relatively new African group to expand to include farmed fish welfare. 

    • With this grant, they'll seize a unique window to lobby the South African government to improve farmed fish welfare standards. 

    • This could impact several million fish every year.

Grant recipients

See below for a list of grantees' names, grant amounts, and brief grant descriptions:

  • Wild Animal Initiative ($360,000): Research and advocacy for wild animal welfare
  • Rethink Priorities ($225,000): Research to inform effective animal advocacy
  • Sinergia Animal ($165,000): Farmed animal welfare initiatives in Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil
  • Insect Welfare Project ($135,000): Mitigating problems associated with insect farming
  • The Humane League UK ($120,000): Corporate campaign work on broilers and layer hens
  • Global Food Partners ($75,000): Expediting the shift to cage-free egg production in China
  • Fish Welfare Initiative ($70,000): Improving the lives of farmed fish in India
  • Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations ($50,000): Policy work on aquaculture regulations in India
  • OBRAZ ($50,000): General support for a promising farmed animal group in Czechia
  • Vegans of Shanghai/xiaobuVEGAN ($50,000): Restaurant outreach and vegan challenges in mainland China
  • Animal Rights Center Japan ($45,000): Cage-free work in Japan
  • Coalition of African Animal Welfare Organizations ($40,000): Influencing South African farmed fish legislation
  • Institute of Animal Law of Asia ($30,000): Supporting a new group focused on Asian farmed animal law
  • Modern Agriculture Foundation ($30,000): Promoting the establishment of a co-manufacturing site for plant-based alternatives
  • Education for Africa Animal Welfare ($26,000): Expanding the cage-free movement in Tanzania
  • Jah Ying Chung ($20,000): Assessing the viability of an industry tracker for alt-proteins in China
  • WellBeing International ($15,000): Improving our understanding of invertebrates’ capacities for suffering
  • Daniel Grimwade & Mark Borthwick ($12,000): Researching how to reduce the number of fish and insects killed for fish feed

The following summaries briefly explain some of the key considerations behind our grant decisions. As with previous rounds, these summaries are not meant to be read as complete or exhaustive. They are based on a combination of internal conversations between the fund managers, calls with the grantees, written evaluations of grantees' submissions, and the incorporation of the experience, knowledge, and judgment of the fund's managers. 

While risks and reservations for these organizations have been taken into account, we usually prefer not to extensively discuss them publicly, including within these payout reports. It takes a lot of work to publicly and extensively communicate our views on the risks and reservations of the various grants. We don't think that work adds much value to our primary output: it's not a big part of how we make grant decisions, and donors rarely ask about it. So we usually prefer to focus our time on other parts of grant reporting, as well all the other work the Fund requires.

That said, if you have any questions about any of the decisions we've made, please feel free to contact us.

Wild Animal Initiative: $360,000

Research and advocacy for wild animal welfare

This is a larger grant than what we have given in past rounds because it's for a longer granting cycle (all of 2021), whereas previous grants were for only part of a year. We're now moving to consider frequent grant recipients only once a year, and so don't plan to grant to the Wild Animal Initiative (WAI) again in 2021. As this was a larger single grant, we have given a bit more detail here than we have for other grants.

Our judgment for this grant is heavily informed by our reasoning that (a) wild animals may have many very negative experiences throughout their lives, and (b) there seems to be on the order of trillions or more wild vertebrates and quintillions or more wild invertebrates, leading to our inference that (c) the welfare of wild animals is a highly important issue. Despite this, there are only a handful of organizations working in this area. We believe WAI is presently a strong candidate for being the most impactful organization in this space.

To us, WAI's accomplishments seem quite promising, albeit still preliminary. Their main public outputs have been research pieces. Last year, they published their first paper in an academic journal on how wild animal welfare and restoration ecology could mutually benefit each other. Other research includes white papers and posts on persistence and reversibility, optimal population density, humane insect management, and a report on biomarkers of aging. Their new research strategy is more focused on collaborating with external researchers and institutions to grow the pool of scientists working on wild animal welfare. It seems relatively non-controversial to think that having a strong research base will play an important role in improving the welfare of wild animals. It's encouraging to us that building up this research ecosystem is WAI's stated highest priority, and their overall approach to building up this research ecosystem strikes us as quite reasonable.

So far, WAI hasn't received much support from major individual donors focused on animal suffering. As they are a quite promising and relatively established group that major donors such as the Open Philanthropy Project don't yet fund (though they recommend others do), that creates somewhat of a unique comparative advantage for the AWF, and results in our presently being the major wild animal welfare funder. Given this, we feel comfortable filling roughly 50% of WAI's budget, as we did in each of the past two years. This amount also corresponds with us disbursing a similar fraction of the overall fund's portfolio to this group as we have in 2019 and 2020.

The very large scale and large degree of neglect of wild animals means there's potential for even small investments to generate enormous positive impact for animals, and WAI's role as a catalyst for a research ecosystem seems both promising and uncontentious to us. Combining those factors with the fund seemingly having a strong comparative advantage over other major funders here, as well as our shifting to a longer granting cycle, we are quite excited to provide $360,000 to support WAI. We believe that supporting WAI at this early stage offers serious potential for massive impact.

Note: Marcus A. Davis recused himself from this grant evaluation.

Rethink Priorities: $225,000

Research to inform effective animal advocacy

This is a larger figure than what we have given in past rounds because it's for a longer granting cycle (all of 2021), whereas previous grants were only for only part of a year. We're now moving to consider frequent grant recipients only once a year, and so don't plan to grant to Rethink Priorities again in 2021. As this was a larger single grant, we have given a bit more detail here than that we have other grants.

Rethink Priorities is an EA research organization whose largest project involves examining the most important, neglected, and tractable questions for cost-effectively improving animal welfare. Following up on our previous grants to the organization, we are continuing to provide funding for their animal welfare-focused research. This specific grant will primarily support its work on wild animal welfare and invertebrate welfare, though we view this as somewhat fungible with its other animal-focused research.

We've been impressed by the organization's animal-focused research over the last few years, especially on neglected farmed animal welfare problems and strategies (e.g., fish stocking), and on invertebrate welfare and sentience. We see the latter as the best research being conducted on the subject anywhere, and we see the organization as a leader in building out that field through projects such as their invertebrate sentience project, their insect welfare project (mentioned in more detail below), and their shallow reviews on different farmed invertebrate species (including crustaceans, honey bees, and snails). So far, their wild animal welfare work feels more unproven, but we look forward to seeing their further output in that area over the next year. That work should also help to diversify efforts within that space, and complement Wild Animal Initiative's academic field-building efforts.

Rethink Priorities attempts to directly track the impact they are having (in a way we think is reasonably well-calibrated), and we are excited to see further analysis of the expected impact that this work will have on both organizations and funders. Perhaps most importantly, we're excited to continue to support what we now view as clearly one of the most exciting research organizations in our space.

Note: Marcus A. Davis recused himself from this grant evaluation.

Sinergia Animal: $165,000

Farmed animal welfare initiatives in Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil

This is a larger figure than what we have given in past rounds because it’s for a longer granting cycle (all of 2021), whereas previous grants were only for only part of a year. We’re now moving to consider frequent grant recipients only once a year, and so don’t plan to grant to Sinergia Animal again in 2021.

Sinergia Animal is an international farmed animal welfare organization focusing on corporate campaigns to improve the lives of laying hens, pigs, and dairy cows, as well as undercover investigations and institutional meat reduction campaigns. This grant will fund several staff positions that will enable the production of new investigations, support the expansion of corporate engagement efforts into Malaysia, and facilitate cage-free movement building in Thailand.

Sinergia Animal has been the recipient of six AWF Fund grants since 2017, including two grants per year in 2019 and 2020. Recently, these funds contributed to the success of new cage-free commitments in Thailand, Indonesia, and throughout Latin America, the release of four new investigations, and institutional meat reduction initiatives in Colombia that the organization expects will replace animal products with vegan alternatives in ~1.1 million meals each year. We're excited to continue supporting the organization's interventions in countries where farmed animal welfare is largely neglected.

Insect Welfare Project: $135,000

Mitigating problems associated with insect farming

This new initiative (fiscally sponsored by Rethink Priorities) seeks to mitigate potential insect welfare problems associated with the emerging industry of insect farming.

We are still uncertain whether insects are sentient, but there are good reasons to think that some might be. We also don't know if insects in farms have net-negative lives, but there are reasons to fear they may. And the scale involved is absolutely massive: some estimates (including honey bees and cochineals) suggest that we already farm on the order of something like ten trillion insects annually---roughly 100 times the number of vertebrate farmed animals. Concerningly, Rabobank forecasts that the farmed insect industry could increase fiftyfold in the next decade, at which point insect farms would raise many more animals in one year than all other forms of factory farming have in their history to date.

The Insect Welfare Project will likely explore a variety of approaches, including regulatory and investor outreach, to try to slow the spread of insect farming. We don't yet know if these approaches will be tractable, but we now seem to be at the point where the value of further desk research on tractability seems somewhat limited compared to the value of information gathered from exploring some reasonable tactics. After utilizing an expected value framework to account for both our important uncertainties and the massive scale of potential suffering involved, we believe this new venture seems quite worthy of our backing.

Note: Marcus A. Davis recused himself from this grant evaluation.

The Humane League, UK: $120,000

Corporate campaign work on broilers and Layer hens

We are providing funding for The Humane League (THL) UK's continued development of corporate campaign work. In addition to securing new cage-free and broiler commitments, THL UK will use this funding to help ensure follow-through on cage-free commitments. We think this is a particularly important aspect of corporate campaigning and may be crucial to get right early on. We think THL UK has played an important role in global corporate campaign wins, and has been instrumental to the successes of the broiler movement. They have contributed to tens of companies agreeing to the Better Chicken Commitment, including the likes of Nandos and, most recently, Burger King UK.

Furthermore, THL US reports that they've pre-committed to certain levels of financial support for THL UK, and so we don't believe we are significantly funging their US arm with this grant. The prospect of funging here is also not too concerning to us, since other arms of THL generally seem like quite promising donation recipients. We mention it regardless, as funging within large groups is often a concern for us. THL UK seems like an exception to most of our general funging concerns given the funding arrangement they have with THL US, and THL itself being a quite promising group. We have quite a high level of confidence in THL UK, and are happy to provide them with this significant grant.

Note: Alexandria Beck and Marcus A. Davis recused themselves from this grant evaluation.

Global Food Partners: $75,000

Expediting the shift to cage-free egg production in China

The majority of the world's caged layer hens live in Asia, where domestic cage-free campaigns are only just getting started. China leads the world by a wide margin in terms of its number of farmed animals and, as an important emerging market, will likely continue to increase meat production to meet rising global demand.

Although many multinational companies with a presence in China have pledged to go cage-free, they often have difficulties with implementation, resulting in delayed (or no) progress towards animal welfare goals. A lack of knowledge in cage-free farm management has been reported (for instance) as an important barrier to implementation in China. This project at Global Food Partners, a Singapore-based animal welfare consulting group active in 8 countries across Asia, is meant to help transition more Chinese suppliers to cage-free egg production by creating online training videos on best practices for animal welfare in partnership with Aeres, an agricultural university in the Netherlands.

Fish Welfare Initiative: $70,000

Improving the lives of farmed fish in India

Fish Welfare Initiative (FWI) is a somewhat new EA-aligned organization (launched in 2019) focused on securing improvements in the welfare of fish, the world's most numerous vertebrate farmed animals. It recently secured a partnership with the Gramodaya Trust, a local NGO that works with fish farms in Andhra Pradesh, to undertake a fish welfare pilot study and expand higher-welfare production methods to at least 50 new farms per year. FWI estimates that across this project's lifetime it could improve the welfare of 1-8 million fish. Perhaps more importantly, it could provide a template for improving fish welfare across India, which has the world's second or third largest population of farmed fish (China seems to lead the world by some margin, and it's difficult to say whether India or Indonesia is second).

We're excited to help FWI pursue its goals, which currently focus on making this project a success, and on leveraging the project to drive further fish welfare progress in India.

Note: Karolina Sarek recused herself from this grant evaluation.

Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations: $50,000

Policy work on aquaculture regulations in India

According to Fishcount's extrapolations from FAO data, there are 50 to 170 billion fish are farmed annually, and ~8-10% of them in India. This grant will help the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) in their efforts to establish state and federal voluntary best practices in farmed fish management. FIAPO has had some prior traction in establishing similar voluntary standards for dairy farms, with their 2017 report on the topic preceding several Indian states updating their legislation on the topic.

We are uncertain about the probability of success for this aquaculture campaign and the number of fish that would be affected by such guidelines, given the possibility of low compliance rates with voluntary frameworks. Still, given the potential size of the improvement, we think this a good opportunity to drive further improvements to fish welfare in India.

OBRAZ: $50,000

General support for a promising farmed animal group in Czechia

OBRAZ is a Czechia-based organization specializing in corporate and legislative campaigns to end the use of cages for egg laying hens, in addition to veg advocacy and movement building activities. This group has won two major victories in Czechia in recent years. In 2017, the group achieved a ban on fur farming that went into effect in 2019; more recently, they successfully pushed for a ban on cages for laying hens that will become effective in 2027. The recent ban on cages was preceded by successful corporate campaigning efforts led by OBRAZ in partnership with the Open Wing Alliance. Due to their impressive track record and effective focus, we are confident in this organization's ability to launch and win additional campaigns that will benefit farmed animals.

XiǎobùVEGAN: $50,000

Restaurant outreach and vegan challenges in mainland China

China leads the world by a wide margin in terms of its number of farmed animals. Additionally, as an important emerging market, China will likely continue to increase meat production to meet rising global demand. We see significant value in supporting promising activists in China given the scarcity of grassroots farmed animal or vegan activists there, as well as the overall importance of progress in China for animals.

XiǎobùVEGAN (formerly named Vegans of Shanghai) aims to reduce meat consumption in mainland China by working with restaurants to increase plant-based menu options and conducting public outreach through monthly vegan challenges. With this grant, XiǎobùVEGAN strives to expand to cities across mainland China, partner with restaurants in three new cities per year, and develop an app to facilitate vegan challenges.

Animal Rights Center Japan: $45,000

Cage-free work in Japan

Despite Japan's relatively large number of farmed animals, Animal Rights Center Japan (ARCJC) is one of the few animal advocacy groups active in Japan, and is among the most active and experienced (having existed since the late 1980s).We hope this funding can help them add staff to their five-person team, so that they can increase their efforts on cage-free work, and further liaise with international groups.

So far, ARCJ has helped to achieve roughly one hundred commitments and formalizations of commitments. We hope they'll make even greater progress once they have an additional staff member working on this. Though we are uncertain how tractable these campaigns will generally be, we nonetheless see significant value to supporting the grassroots cage-free movement in Japan. To a significant extent, that view is informed by our beliefs about the importance of further building the movement in Asian countries where it is relatively neglected.

Coalition of African Animal Welfare Organizations: $40,000

Influencing South African farmed fish legislation

The Coalition of African Animal Welfare Organizations (CAAWO) is a well-connected organization working on various animal issues throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. CAAWO will use funds to seize a unique window of opportunity to engage with the South African Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries (DEFF) to address gaps in the country's Aquaculture Development Bill, which is likely to pass this year. CAAWO proposes requiring the department's minister to adopt fish welfare regulations in line with international aquatic animal health and welfare standards, which could improve the lives of millions of farmed fish by requiring welfare improvements such as pre-slaughter stunning. CAAWO is the only animal welfare organization currently engaging with the DEFF regarding this bill. We are confident that, if successful, CAAWO's efforts would have positive welfare implications for the fish in the region's aquaculture sector, which has grown dramatically since the turn of the century, with an annual growth rate of around 9%.

Institute of Animal Law Asia: $30,000

Supporting a new group that focuses on Asian farmed animal law

A new organization founded by Chinese and Kazak lawyers in Oregon, the Institute of Animal Law Asia (IALA) seeks to raise awareness about animal suffering in Asia, particularly in countries where legal protections for farmed animals are weak to non-existent. This grant will help cover staff salaries for 2021, empowering the organization to conduct legal field research on the lack of regulation for farmed land animal welfare in China and aquatic animal welfare in Kazakhstan. For all projects, IALA aims to collaborate with animal law experts and advocates through community events where they’ll present their findings. We place considerable value on community building in nations where animal welfare is especially neglected, including China and Kazakhstan, and consider the staff at IALA well-positioned to advance farmed animal welfare in their countries of origin.

Modern Agriculture Foundation: $30,000

Promoting the establishment of a co-manufacturing site for plant-based alternatives

Further developing alternative proteins may avert much suffering caused by factory farming. Israel is something of a hub for alternative proteins. Historically, its alternative protein companies focused mainly on cultured meat: for example, reports in 2015 suggested that Israeli researchers were developing the world's first cultivated chicken products, and as recently as 2019, Israel might have been home to the majority of the world's cultured meat companies. Given the popularity of other alt-protein companies, Israel may have a particularly high capacity for successful plant-based alternative businesses, and be an ideal location for further exploration of tactics to support them.

To that end, the Israeli group, Modern Agriculture Foundation (MAF) suggests lobbying the local government to significantly finance the development of a co-manufacturing site (CMO) for plant-based alternative products. This CMO should reduce barriers to the scaling of plant-based alternatives, as the manufacturing process for them tends to be particularly expensive. MAF further reports that there is a demand for such a facility from local businesses, which should also lend credibility to their lobbying efforts. If successful, we think this general model of lobbying governments to create CMO for plant-based alternatives may be replicable elsewhere. Overall, we see this grant as a somewhat higher-risk, higher-reward opportunity. We are interested in the results of this initial funding, and what progress can be made to establish a CMO, as it could prove to be a replicable approach to increasing the viability and profitability of plant-based alternatives.

Education for Africa Animal Welfare: $26,000

Expanding the cage-free movement in Tanzania

There are more than 12 million hens in Tanzania, and that number could grow rapidly in the coming years. Despite this, relatively little work is conducted on cage-free campaigns in the country. Education for Animal Welfare seeks to change this by complementing their cage-free campaigns through further sharing information about cage-free hens in a simple way through various channels.

We think the organization's leader, Ayubu Nnko, seems well-equipped to take on this project; it also helps that they've previously worked well with the Open Wing Alliance. We think this is a good opportunity to improve the welfare of existing hens and to potentially prevent further entrenchment of lower-welfare standards becoming dominant as chicken farming scales up in Tanzania. We also think that organizations in other African countries may further follow the lead of this Tanzanian group, and conduct additional work on cage-free campaigns.

Jah Ying Chung: $20,000

Assessing the viability of an industry tracker for alt-proteins in China

Successfully developing animal-free products that are taste- and cost-competitive with animal-based foods may prevent much of the suffering caused by factory farming. Given that China constitutes the overwhelming majority of the production of animal products from factory-farmed animals, work on developing alternative proteins there seems particularly important. There’s also the chance that their domestic products may see wider uptake than imported ones, as domestic firms can perhaps develop food with Chinese tastes in mind, and are better-positioned to navigate the country’s business regulations.

Overall, it seems plausible that one important barrier to optimal support and growth of the alternative protein industry in China is the lack of comprehensive data about the region's current ecosystem. Jah Ying Chung has previously conducted stakeholder data collection efforts for similar projects (e.g. see landscape mapping of the effective altruism ecosystem in Asia). We believe she could provide a high-quality data audit of the alternative protein sector in China, which could contribute to building capacity in this area. We have therefore decided to fund her initial work as she begins to create a map of China's alternative protein investors, R&D, producers, sellers, and promoters, which will potentially form the basis for developing tracking tools for the industry in the future.

WellBeing International: $15,000

Improving our understanding of invertebrates’ capacities for suffering

The vast majority of the world's animals, farmed and wild, are invertebrates, but there is currently limited academic literature around their capacity for sentience. WellBeing International proposes to conduct a comprehensive scholarly review of invertebrate sentience. We think the grantees, particularly Stevan Harnad and Andrew Rowan, are well-placed to conduct the review, and to promote their results within the academic community. Harnad's prior work in the space seems both well-reviewed and relatively well-read by other scholars; he and Rowan both edit the Animal Sentience journal. We hope this review sheds new light on this neglected topic and expands the community exposed to considerations regarding invertebrate sentience.

Daniel Grimwade & Mark Borthwick: $12,000

Researching how to reduce the number of fish and insects killed for fish feed

On the order of a trillion fish are annually processed into fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) to feed to farmed aquatic animals. Assuming on average that feed insects are ~2,000 times lighter than feed fish, even ~0.01% of the FMFO market being replaced by insects could double the number of animals in that food chain. And already, some report that insect feed will be more profitable than alternatives.

We believe that Daniel Grimwade and Mark Borthwick have a relatively good track record of producing high-quality research; given the importance of their selected research topics, we are excited to fund this project. Some specific research questions of interest to us on this topic include:

  • What proportion of fish feed is currently made from insects?
  • To what extent should we expect FMFO used in farmed fish feed to be replaced by insects? Is there industry interest in this? How feasible is this? On what timeline would it happen?
  • Roughly how much money does the industry put into R&D for alternatives to FMFO? Is there a general consensus that seems to be in favor of the use of plants and/or insects as an alternative?
  • To what degree will fish spared from FMFO use still be caught and used?
  • What could limit the number of fish and/or insects used as feed for farmed fish?

Note: Marcus A. Davis recused himself from this grant evaluation.

Feedback, expressions of interest, and applying for funding

If you have any feedback, we would love to hear from you.

You can submit your thoughts through this form or email

We would also love to hear from you if you're interested in, or already completing work, in any of the three primary areas we granted to in this round:

  1. Large-scale and neglected animal populations (for instance, farmed fish and wild animals) 

  2. Large-scale and neglected geographies (for instance, China and India) 

  3. Exploratory work regarding the scaling of alternative proteins (for instance, conduct a novel and potentially scalable intervention on plant-based alternatives)

You can also directly apply for funding here.