What does "effective altruism" mean for animal testing?

Nathan Herschler, April 5, 2019

Effective altruism, an approach that heavily influences the animal rights movement, pushes organizations to spend the money they receive from donors as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is undoubtedly a good thing, more informed donors and advocates are looking for those charities who put a premium on maximizing impact.

Current Focus on Farmed Animal Protection

One effect of this shift towards effective altruism is that many of the major donors, foundations, and strategic effort by advocates is focused on farmed animal protection. And for good reason. Marginal changes in welfare standards for chickens reduces suffering for billions of animals every year. If you’re measuring impact only as “welfare increase per dollar,” this makes a lot of sense, and it’s undoubtedly a good thing for the world when we have increasing donor dollars flowing to the most effective organizations in a space.

But a consequence of this shift is that many animal rights advocates and donors have diminished focus on other incredibly important fields of work. Like freeing animals from research and testing, for example! But not just our issue. There’s been reduced attention given to sanctuaries, to companion animal rescue, and to wildlife efforts as well. I’ve been thinking a lot about the effective altruism case for working on animal research and testing the last few weeks, and now I have a lot of research questions that I’m hoping you all can help us answer.

Effective altruism and animal research and testing

How do we draw out the potential impact of replacing animal research and testing with more effective and efficient alternatives on both animals and people? We know that there have been billions of animals killed for animal research and testing over the last 20 years, but can we also project the number of people who will benefit from better, more efficient research into new drugs and chemicals? There were 17 million new cases of cancer globally in 2018. There are nearly 50 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Our approaches will speed the discovery of cures for these intractable diseases.

When we win corporate campaigns, research ends immediately and we see a reduction in both the use of and demand for new animals. Is there a case that our strategies result in more animals leaving sooner than future corporate commitments we see in the farmed animal sector?

Do animal research and testing issues, unlike farmed animal issues, move more donor dollars from less efficient and effective organizations in the animal welfare, shelter, or conservation space and to higher efficiency and effectiveness organizations like NEAVS? We have campaigns that feature charismatic, loved animals like dogs, cats, and monkeys, so this might be the case.

Where do we go from here?!

With your help, we can come up with more research questions, and with more dollars to fund this research, more answers that will result in the most effective and efficient ways to save animals. Our research fundraising goal is $15,000. If you can help us reach this goal please contact us at We’d love to share more of our thinking for this and similar projects in 2019.