This comprehensive review was originally written in May 2014, and has been updated to reflect our latest observations. All past reviews are available in our Reviews Archives. Mercy For Animals was one of ACE’s standout charities from August 2012 to May 13, 2014, and has been one of our top recommended charities from May 14, 2014 to the present.
What does Mercy For Animals do?
Mercy For Animals (MFA) engages in a variety of farmed animal advocacy programs generally centered around their undercover investigations and subsequent videos of factory farms. They promote these videos primarily through media and online campaigns. They engage in legal and corporate campaigns, and conduct grassroots outreach such as leafleting. (Read more.)
What are their strengths?
MFA’s flagship program, undercover investigations, has an exceptionally high number of advantages and diverse results. While undercover investigations can be risky and logistically complicated to carry out, they often receive significant media coverage and thus can influence a very large number of people. Additionally, they offer avenues for corporate outreach and legal advocacy and provide photos and videos that can be used in other forms of outreach. (Read more.) MFA has a long record of success in both carrying out such investigations as well as following through on the additional avenues for influence they provide. (Read more.) They also have the ability to use additional funds to carry out more investigations, although not in the U.S. (Read more.)
We believe that MFA’s approach to consumer outreach has relatively high expected effectiveness compared to other work in that area, especially considering their shift in focus from local outreach to online campaigns a few years ago. We believe this shift was motivated by a good understanding of the areas in which MFA was best placed to have success, and in light of the experience MFA’s team has in this area. (Read more.) We also believe they have room for more funding to further expand their online outreach programs. (Read more.)
What are their weaknesses?
We previously had some uncertainty about MFA’s organizational stability. As they were near the end stages of a deliberate restructuring and shift in focus, some turnover was understandable. However, over the past year, we’ve seen indicators of success from their model and feel less concerned about this than we did last year. We also found that, while they were fully cooperative with our investigation and cooperate and share information with other advocacy groups, they do not habitually share as much information publicly as we believe they could. We still believe this is true but might be because some of their activities must remain confidential in order to be effective (e.g. undercover investigations in planning stages), and they err on the side of caution.
This year, we are somewhat concerned about the ability of marginal donations to MFA to achieve the same impact they have in the past. In 2015, MFA purposefully limited the number of investigations they conducted because of concerns that more would saturate the U.S. media to a point where further investigation coverage became less impactful. While we think this was a good choice on their end, it means additional funding is unlikely to help MFA conduct more U.S. investigations. We think the other programs they would expand are potentially as effective as U.S. investigations, but we have more uncertainty about their track record. (Read more.)
Additionally, we think undercover investigations seem promising in multiple ways, including the promotion of individual dietary change, the growth of the animal advocacy community, and the shift in social norms towards a more animal friendly position. However, we are concerned that some of MFA’s activities, especially those that seem more easily expanded like online ads, seem less promising from the latter perspectives of growing the animal advocacy community and shifting norms.1
Why do we recommend them?
Overall, we find MFA to be an exceptionally strong organization because of their demonstrated willingness to adjust their programming to seek maximum effectiveness and because of the range of programs they have undertaken with good results. We think their undercover investigations and related corporate and legal campaigns are particularly promising approaches, and that they are using funding for online ad campaigns effectively. We are pleased to recommend donating to them.
How much money could they use?
We think MFA could use up to $300,000 in funding from ACE this year. We think they could expand their online ads program as well as their new programs such as non-U.S. investigations and their new project, the Good Food Institute. We think they might also create new programs, as they did this past year, to spend more funding. We expect them to continue adapting to new evidence, dropping programs that aren’t working well and expanding those with room for effective expansion. (Read more.)
What do you get for your donation?
From an average donation of $1,000, MFA would use about $310 towards undercover investigations, funding a tiny part of an investigation but on average reaching about 10,760,000 viewers, including media views.2 They would spend about $310 on online outreach, including online ads, leading to around 4,200 views of factory farming videos. They would spend about $100 on grassroots educational outreach, including handing out about 440 leaflets. While these three areas account for most of MFA’s program budget, they would also spend about $80 on social media outreach to their followers on various networks, $80 on corporate outreach, and $80 on legal advocacy not directly related to undercover investigations. They would also spend about $30 on their new innovations program. (Read more.) Our rough estimate is that these combined activities would have impact equivalent to sparing about 14,000 animals from life in industrial agriculture. (Read more.)
How Mercy For Animals Performs on Our Criteria
In late 2014 we said that MFA could use up to $600,000 in increased funding, mostly for their very effective undercover investigations and online education programs.3 MFA’s 2015 budget is about $1,000,000 more than their 2014 budget, so if we were correct we should have seen a substantial expansion in those two areas.4 In fact, MFA spent about $300,000 more on online outreach in 2015 than 2014, and other budget increases were spread fairly evenly around other organizational areas,5 with the most notable being about a $200,000 increase in spending on legal advocacy and the creation of an innovations program, the Good Food Institute, intended to create and promote plant-based alternatives to animal products.6
It seems that MFA has primarily used the increase in funding to develop new programs, rather than simply expanding existing programs (with the exception of the additional funding for online outreach). They are now working more in countries outside the U.S.,7 hiring litigators to work on proactively bringing animal welfare cases to court,8 and, as discussed above, launching the Good Food Institute.9 Their undercover investigations in the U.S. and Canada and their grassroots work, historically major areas of their activities, did not expand substantially in the past year.10
This may indicate that MFA is thinking creatively and taking risks in trying to be the most effective organization possible, but it also reflects an inability to absorb additional funding into some of their existing programs. For instance, the choice not to expand the undercover investigations program in the U.S. was made deliberately, to ensure that each investigation still receives as much media coverage as possible.11 We would expect the size of that program to remain stable in 2016 as well.
If MFA’s operations in other countries are successful, we expect that they will be able to increase their spending on those programs.12 However, it is still too soon to know what to expect from MFA’s work in other countries, particularly in the case of investigation programs that are still gathering footage in India and China.13 MFA’s budget has increased substantially in the recent past, primarily through their own fundraising efforts and increasingly widespread name recognition.14 It’s possible that they could have substantial room for expansion, but still expect to meet all their fundraising needs as a natural result of their own fundraising efforts. On the other hand, MFA used their budget increase this year in ways that we think make sense. We think there’s a good chance they would also use a similar increase well next year - but only about 30% of it, $300,000, seems like a funding gap they wouldn’t fill on their own.15 Since we can’t predict exactly how any organization will respond upon receiving more funds than they have planned for, this estimate is speculative, not definitive. We could imagine a group running out of room for funding more quickly than we expect, or coming up with good ways to use funding beyond what we have suggested. Our estimates are indicators of the point at which we would want to check in with a group to ensure that they have used the funds they’ve received and are still able to absorb additional funding.
MFA runs several programs; we estimate cost-effectiveness separately for each program, then combine our estimates to give a composite estimate of their overall impact. Note that all estimates factor in associated supporting costs including administrative and fundraising costs. We think this quantitative perspective is a useful component of our overall evaluation, but the estimates of equivalent animals spared per dollar should not be taken as our overall opinion of the organization’s effectiveness, especially given that we choose not to account for some less easily quantified forms of impact in this section, leaving them for our qualitative evaluation.
We estimate that MFA will spend 31% of their budget in 2015, or around $1,186,000, on undercover investigations.16 This will result in about 10 undercover investigations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as gathering footage for international investigations to be released in 2016.17 Footage of these investigations will receive a projected 1,400,000 views online (excluding Facebook) and about 41,000,000,000 views through media (e.g. news) coverage.18 This works out to an average cost of $118,600 per investigation, but just $0.02 per one thousand views, counting both online and media views.19
We estimate that MFA will spend 10% of their 2015 budget, or around $383,000, on grassroots educational outreach.20 This will include the distribution of around 1,700,000 pieces of literature, and 8,400 pay-per-view video views.21 This is a cost of about $0.23 per leaflet distributed.22
We estimate that MFA will spend about 31% of their 2015 budget, or $1,193,000, on online materials and public outreach, including online ads.23 This will result in about 16,000,000 views of their pro-veg online video sites and 49,000,000 visits to their sites on how to reduce animal product consumption.24 These ads probably have additional impact through people viewing the ads without clicking on them to see the video. These two measures are not independent; one of the desired outcomes for viewers of the videos is that they will visit the corresponding site about reducing animal product consumption.25 We only account for video views because we think also counting informational site visits would involve substantial overlap with the impact of video views and social media. The average video view costs about $0.07.
We estimate that MFA will spend about 8% of their 2015 budget, or $321,000, on social media outreach, including their blog, Facebook page, etc.26 We think the most interesting measure of the success of this outreach is the number of shares their posts had; numbers of views can be confusing, since one follower who reads every post will count as many views. Shares are more likely to present the information to people who are not already involved in animal advocacy and present that information particularly credibly because it is being recommended by a friend.27 In 2015, MFA’s social media posts and pages will receive about 3,685,000 shares, so one share costs on average $0.09.28
We estimate that MFA will spend about 8% of their 2015 budget, or $314,000, on corporate outreach.29 This results in some companies adopting new policies, and these policies result in reduced suffering for animals.30 We estimate that MFA's corporate outreach helped cause changes with an equivalent impact of sparing 527,425 animals from life in industrial agriculture.31
Finally, we estimate that MFA will spend about 8% of their 2015 budget, or $307,000, on legal advocacy.32 In 2015, this work primarily focused on making sure MFA’s investigations operate within the bounds of the law and that animal cruelty evidence is brought to authorities when applicable.33 This is especially important as MFA begins conducting investigations outside of the U.S. and Canada.34 We think the impact of this work is accounted for in the outcomes associated with undercover investigations for MFA.
All Activities Combined
To combine these estimates into one overall cost-effectiveness estimate, we need to translate them into comparable units. This will introduce several sources for errors and imprecision, so the resulting estimate should not be taken literally.35 However, it will allow us to judge whether MFA’s efforts are comparable in efficiency to other groups’.36
Many of MFA’s activities involve showing video footage of industrial agriculture; we use our Online Ad Impact Calculator to estimate the cost-efficiency of these activities, together with the number of views per dollar calculated above.37 For the efficiency of undercover investigations, we assume that one view online is equivalent to a click on an online ad in ultimate effect. We do not assign a quantitative estimate to the impact of media views, even though we expect they are a significant portion of the impact of undercover investigations.38 Undercover investigations result in about 1.2 non-Facebook39 online views per dollar spent, which means an estimated 3.2 animals are spared per dollar, although we also expect MFA’s work in undercover investigations to have further effects that are less easily quantifiable.40
We also consider views of the pro-veg online video site as equivalent to ad clicks; indeed many of these resulted from ad clicks.41 This gives the online outreach a remarkably high cost efficiency of about 37 animals spared per dollar.42 The grassroots outreach efforts are measurable both through pay-per-view views and through leaflets and other literature distributed. Together, the total efficacy for grassroots outreach is an estimated 6.3 animals spared per dollar, taking into account both effects.43
Other effects are more difficult to convert to comparable units. We attempt to compare the impact of social media shares to that of online ad views using several discount rates. We consider that (i) much of the social media content of animal advocacy groups is less optimized for dietary change than leaflets or online ads (10%), (ii) many of the social media users animal advocacy groups engage with are already vegetarian/vegan or have already been exposed to quite a bit of animal advocacy content (50%), and (iii) users on Facebook have a lot of distractions and are probably less engaged with the content (50%). This gives an efficiency of about 0.8 animals spared per dollar.44 We estimate that MFA’s corporate outreach work has an impact equivalent to sparing 2,637,125 animals, suggesting about 8.4 animals spared per dollar.45
We won’t try to convert legal advocacy results into these units; we don't know enough about its results and it is difficult to disentangle MFA's effects from the total effects. We have similar concerns about assigning a quantitative estimate to the impact of MFA’s innovations program. Weighing the other effects by the proportion of the budget devoted to them, we get a total cost-effectiveness of about 14.0 animals spared per dollar,46 at the high end of the range of estimates from other groups we’ve reviewed at this depth.47 Because of extreme uncertainty even about the strongest parts of our calculations, there is currently limited value in further elaborating this estimate.48 Instead, we give weight to our other criteria.
MFA works to expose the suffering of animals in factory farms through undercover investigations.49 These investigations are then made public, and MFA makes an effort to get as much exposure from these as possible.50 Their work also sometimes results in criminal charges against workers who abuse animals.51
We believe that there is great value in these efforts. These investigations generate a large amount of public discussion about the treatment of animals in farms.52 It has been shown that meat consumption declines when these stories are in the media,53 and social media now provides a platform for free widespread sharing of the footage. This means that an extremely large number of individuals are exposed to their work.54 Additionally, the evidence of abuses provides materials for leaflets and videos, which can also be promoted publicly and result in a larger exposure.55 Lastly, these efforts provide the background information on farms that is necessary for legal and corporate reform.56
Online and Grassroots Outreach
Online and grassroots outreach about factory farming to individuals seems highly effective because it is focused on changing the culture of animal use for food. This culture must ultimately be changed if conditions are to improve significantly for animals, as it is not possible that animal agriculture can continue to grow at its present rate in a way that is respectful of animals’ interests.57 The effectiveness of this type of outreach is somewhat limited when compared to some other forms because viewers and readers are encouraged to make small-scale individual changes and may not influence others in the way a change in law or corporate policy influences many people.58
MFA recently started a project using books published by mainstream presses to reach the public.59 Artistic and cultural materials such as books and films can affect people’s perceptions of animals.60 Books and documentaries may be perceived as more mainstream sources of information than materials clearly distributed by animal advocates are. Organizations can have an impact on people’s relationship to animals by producing high quality cultural works which people choose to view, read, and share with others.61
Corporate outreach seems to have high mission effectiveness because it involves convincing a small number of powerful people62 to make decisions which influence the lives of millions of animals.63 This seems likely to be easier than reaching and persuading millions of consumers in order to accomplish the same goal. However, corporate outreach often deals with small welfare improvements.64 It’s not clear whether such improvements, even if very easy to achieve, are highly effective in the long term, since in addition to changing conditions for animals, they may also influence public opinion, either towards concern for farmed animals or towards complacency with regard to industrial agriculture.65
While it is important to create a public demand for change by conducting undercover investigations and grassroots outreach, it is also necessary to pair those efforts with attempts to discuss reform measures with legislative bodies in order to create lasting improvements in laws regarding animals. Reaching out to local governments can therefore be a necessary step in creating new and/or improved animal welfare laws.
Promoting meat substitutes and cellular agriculture
MFA’s Good Food Institute is beginning work that supports the creation and marketing of meat and animal product substitutes.66 The creation and distribution of plant-based or lab-grown products that can substitute for products of animal agriculture helps to create a climate in which it is easier for individuals to reduce their use of animal products and to remove support from the animal agriculture industry.67 While plant-based substitutes for most animal products already exist, people give a variety of taste, nutrition, and convenience reasons for continuing to choose animal products.68 Developing and marketing better substitutes, especially those which can compete with animal products on price and appeal to a wide audience, may widen the impact of individual-focused advocacy by making it easier for people to change their behavior.69 If successful, such substitutes might also weaken the animal agriculture industry enough to enable stricter regulation, and might shrink it through the pressures of the marketplace even without interaction with advocacy messages.70
MFA appears to have a strong understanding of success and failure and to be willing to significantly modify their programs in order to increase efficiency by allocating more resources to more successful programs.71 The largest example of this is their shift, starting in late 2012, away from a local model of organizing and towards a more online-based model,72 where they found they could be more effective.73 They significantly restructured their organization and have been gradually moving resources away from grassroots organizing and local projects (e.g., tabling at festivals, advertising on billboards) and towards online outreach and more effective local projects (e.g., leafleting).74
MFA also takes care to use testing to guide smaller design decisions as appropriate.75 For instance, many of their online materials undergo split-testing to ensure that they are as effective as possible.76 They even hired a full time staffer this year to work on research.77
We find the shift towards online materials persuasive in demonstrating that MFA is willing to make some significant changes if they find an opportunity to become more effective by doing so. We do have some uncertainty about the criteria they use to determine when such an opportunity has been found, in part because the staff member we have primarily communicated with joined the organization after the current transition towards a more online-based model had already begun.78 However, what we know about how MFA makes decisions suggests they consider reasonable sources of evidence (for instance, pilot testing materials for revisions of their Veg Starter Guide through Faunalytics)79 and take multiple people’s viewpoints into consideration for large decisions,80 which tends to help prevent important factors from being overlooked.
Successfully carrying out planned programs
MFA has been conducting undercover investigations for over 10 years,81 and investigations have had positive results including significant publicity,82,83 changes in corporate policies,84,85,86 and animal cruelty convictions.87,88 There is a long and strong track record of success in their flagship program, carrying out and publicizing undercover investigations.
MFA’s other activities have changed more over time and are still undergoing significant changes. Over the past few years they’ve developed strong online outreach programs in the U.S. and other countries (China, India, and Mexico).89,90 Within the past year they’ve also started working on publishing books to promote animal advocacy ideals,91 and formed a foundation to promote plant-based alternatives to meat and other animal products.92 These initiatives are new enough that we don’t think they have yet demonstrated success in these areas; we need to wait to learn the results.
Programs leading to change for animals
Besides their track record in successfully carrying out their intended actions, we consider whether these actions give them a strong record of making a positive difference for animals.
The undercover investigations do have a history of inspiring stronger state animal protection legislation93 and better corporate policies,94 both of which relieve some suffering for farmed animals.95 They have also been found to temporarily reduce overall demand for meat,96 which means they have probably reduced the overall number of animals raised on farms. Some advocates worry that promoting stronger animal welfare policies will make consumers more comfortable with industrial agriculture, but this research suggests that MFA’s use of undercover investigations to encourage stronger welfare policies may not have that effect.97 Given the general difficulties of establishing how animal advocacy affects animals in both the short and long term, this is an extremely strong record.98
Individual outreach activities, both locally and online, have less strongly documented effects on animals. However, there is some evidence that providing individuals with information about industrial agriculture and about going vegetarian or vegan does cause some changes in diet, whether the information is presented in a video or a leaflet.99 These activities also have less potential to make the contacted individuals comfortable with higher-welfare products, because advocates control the entire message, instead of relying on the media to convey it.100
We do not consider MFA’s corporate outreach or legal advocacy not directly related to undercover investigations to have very strong track records. This is because the successful large-scale campaigns we know about have mainly been in concert with other organizations we expect to have significantly more sway, in particular the Humane Society of the United States.101
MFA has several directors who have been with the organization for multiple years, including the President, who is also the organization’s founder.102,103 MFA has 34 employees, of which 8 are in key leadership positions, and about 12 independent contractors.104 Directors have frequent contact with one another, so that the organization is able to act as a whole.105 The organization went through a restructuring a few years ago.106 The fact that many leaders have remained with the organization through that transition is encouraging.107
MFA has cooperated fully with our evaluation process. They cooperate often with other advocacy organizations,108 and they have expressed a willingness to publish additional information from the studies they’ve done in developing new materials so that other advocates can learn from them.109
Beyond the information nonprofits are generally required to share,110 MFA does not provide an exceptional amount of organizational information to the general public. (For instance, our cost effectiveness estimates would have looked very different working from publicly available information about MFA’s program spending, simply because there is not very much of it.111 We believe this is in part due to concerns about confidentiality for ongoing investigations and corporate outreach projects, as MFA works in some sensitive areas.112
September 2015 Conversation with Nick Cooney
September 2014 Conversation with Nick Cooney
March 2014 Conversation with Nick Cooney
Cost effectiveness calculations as a spreadsheet
MFA Data Collection - 2015 ACE
MFA Expenses for 2015 - for ACE
Time allocation and accomplishments
2013 Annual Review
2014 Cost effectiveness calculations as a spreadsheet
We have substantial uncertainty about the number of media views as given by the media outlets themselves or media reporting services. If these numbers were perfectly accurate, it would suggest a reach comparable to half the US population viewing media reports of MFA’s investigations 250 times each, which seems implausible. However, we do think the media viewership of MFA’s investigations is a substantial impact of their work. ↩
"We are setting a target amount of $50,000, but think MFA could use up to $600,000 in increased funding this year. In particular, we are convinced that they could again expand their online ads program substantially, as they will have released online materials targeted to several new markets in late 2014. We also believe they can continue to increase the number of undercover investigations they release per year."—ACE. December 2014 Mercy For Animals Review. ↩
"This project will work to improve branding of these alternatives through research and testing and build the pipeline of scientists and funders for this field. There will also be a legally distinct trust to invest in companies that promote vegan eating."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"They now have a full-time investigator in India, gathering footage for them. The first release in India is going to be different than the ones in North America. They also have contracted an investigation firm in China to work in each of the main animal agriculture industries, such as eggs, poultry, pork. In Mexico, MFA has two investigators ready to start working who are Mexican citizens."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"MFA is filling two new attorney positions to carry out proactive litigation, such as filing suits with federal regulatory bodies for animal welfare improvements."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"The Good Food Institute: MFA is creating a foundation to support the development and success of cultured meat and other plant-based alternatives to animal products."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"Mercy For Animals (MFA) has released six investigations so far this year, focusing primarily on poultry farms, and plans to release four more by the end of the year. This number is purposefully lower than last year[...] They continue to work on grassroots outreach, but it makes up a small part of their work. One staffer works on this along with interns."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"Th[e] number [of investigations] is purposefully lower than last year because they were concerned too many investigations could reduce the amount of attention each new one gets in the media."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
MFA is excited about their investigations in international markets, and there seem to be fewer concerns with regard to over-saturation of the media than in the US. "These investigations are especially exciting because there haven’t been many investigations in these countries. This means they are more likely to grab substantial media attention, spark public outrage, and prompt corporate and policy changes."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"They now have a full-time investigator in India, gathering footage for them. The first release in India is going to be different than the ones in North America. They also have contracted an investigation firm in China to work in each of the main animal agriculture industries, such as eggs, poultry, pork….These investigations should be cheaper than North American investigations, but it’s unclear what the exact costs will be. In part, this is because the investigations operate differently."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
Since MFA was one of ACE’s top charities last year, it’s particularly difficult to assess how much money they would raise in the coming year without ACE’s recommendation. We took into account the donations to MFA that we knew ACE had influenced in the past year as money they might not have raised "on their own". We then attempted to project MFA’s recent fundraising patterns into the future. For more on how we track donations, see our Top Charity Donor Survey 2015 ↩
"Mercy For Animals (MFA) has released six investigations so far this year, focusing primarily on poultry farms, and plans to release four more by the end of the year."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
At the end of the video at MeatVideo.com, the logo and url for the other site, ChooseVeg.com, are shown. Additionally, the video site has two ways for the viewer to request a vegetarian starter guide, and requesting one takes the viewer to ChooseVeg.com.—MeatVideo.com, accessed October 29, 2015 ↩
Shared information retains the MFA branding and credibility and adds to it the recommendation of the individual who shared the post. Additionally, MFA's direct connections on social media are by definition at least sufficiently involved in animal advocacy to have connected to an animal advocacy group on the network, their connections, though likely overlapping animal advocacy circles, likely include some people who would not seek out animal advocacy content on their own. ↩
"Their tasks include making sure that investigators work within the bounds of the law and that animal cruelty uncovered by these investigations is shown to authorities when applicable."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"Both [keeping investigations within the law and showing any tapes of illegal behavior to authorities] will also apply to MFA’s international investigations. In India, for example, there are actually fairly strict laws against animal cruelty, but they are often not enforced. This could mean that MFA investigations are more likely to lead to criminal prosecution in India."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
In fact, there are already sources of error and imprecision in our estimates to this point, most notably in uncertainties about how much time MFA employees spend on each activity we have described and about how administrative and fundraising costs should be assigned to the various areas, but also for corporate outreach in uncertainty about the number of animals affected by changes in corporate policy. However, the amount of error in our following estimates can be expected to be considerably greater.
We use similar assumptions for each of the groups for which we perform such a calculation. This means all our results should be comparable to each other. Other estimates of the cost-effectiveness of charities may use different assumptions and may therefore not be comparable to ours. ↩
The Online Ad Impact Calculator synthesizes information about the effects of online ads leading to videos about factory farming from a variety of sources, including a survey of viewers, studies on vegetarians and former vegetarians, US animal product consumption averages, and elasticity estimates for various foods. The calculator contains links to all sources used. ↩
This is a simplified interpretation of the situation used solely for the purpose of calculating an estimate. We are confident that views in the media have some impact. We would expect views on Youtube to have less impact than views due to online ads, since undercover investigation videos are not edited with the same focus on promoting overall dietary change as the videos shown with the ads. Also, Youtube viewers are more likely to be concerned about factory farming than those who click on ads, as they sought out the material and understood what they would be viewing. ↩
Views on Facebook are accounted for below through our consideration of social media. ↩
From our cost-effectiveness estimate, $1,186,000 spent on undercover investigations resulted in 1,383,663 video views, or about 1.17 views per dollar. In the middle (best estimate) column of the calculator, 1,100/400 ~ 2.75 animals are spared per click (equivalent to a video viewer). 1.17 views /dollar * 2.75 animals/view ~ 3.2 animals/dollar.—Online Ad Impact Calculator. ↩
From our cost-effectiveness estimate, $1,193,000 spent on online outreach resulted in 16,089,924 video views, or about 13.5 views per dollar. In the middle (best estimate) column of the calculator, 1,100/400 ~ 2.75 animals are spared per click (equivalent to a video viewer). 13.5 views /dollar * 2.75 animals/view ~ 37 animals/dollar.—Online Ad Impact Calculator. ↩
Since the same money produced both effects, we would add together both rates, getting 2.9 + 0.03 = 2.9 animals spared per dollar. ↩
Our rough estimates, which should not be used to give a firm ranking for the groups, are:
- Animal Equality, 13.2 animals spared/dollar
- Mercy For Animals, 14.0 animals spared/dollar
- The Humane League, 13.4 animals spared/dollar
- Albert Schweitzer Foundation, 1.4 animals spared/dollar
- Animal Ethics, 0.7 animals spared/dollar
- Animals Australia, 3.4 animals spared/dollar
- Farm Animal Rights Movement, 1.1 animals spared/dollar
- Faunalytics, 2.6 animals spared/dollar
- HSUS Farm Animal Protection Campaign, 1.1 animals spared/dollar
- Vegan Outreach, 1.9 animals spared/dollar
- Anonymous for Animal Rights, 3.2 animals spared/dollar
- Compassion over Killing, 0.5-2 animals spared/dollar
"Over the last 12 months, MFA’s groundbreaking undercover investigations have been shining a bright spotlight on the culture of cruelty that runs rampant in the meat, dairy and egg industries. Media exposure for these investigations has been reaching millions of Americans and opening the eyes of consumers around the world to the nightmare animals face at the hands of factory farming."—MFA 2013 Year in Review. ↩
Tactics MFA uses to promote the footage from their investigations include "creating websites to share footage," "communicating with media outlets, securing coverage, conducting interviews, carrying out press conferences," and "pressing for criminal charges against farm workers after investigations in order to garner ongoing media attention to footage."—MFA Time Allocations and Accomplishments. ↩
For instance, "Three factory farm employees were convicted of criminal cruelty to animals this year as a result of MFA's 2011 undercover investigation of a Butterball turkey facility in Hoke County, North Carolina."—MFA 2013 Year in Review. ↩
"In recognition of MFA as a leader in undercover investigations, our hidden-camera exposés and the resulting industry pushback were featured as a cover story in "The New York Times" and also covered by thousands of other media outlets including CNN’s "Headline News," ABC’s "Nightline," and "RT"–Russia's largest news outlet."—MFA 2013 Year in Review. ↩
"Media attention to animal welfare has statistically significant, but generally small effects in magnitude as compared with price and expenditure effects. While media attention elasticity estimates are small, it is important to not mistake this for evidence of demand being insensitive to animal welfare media attention."—Tonsor, G. T., Olynk, N. J., and Wolf, C. (2009). Media Coverage of Animal Handling and Welfare: Influence on Meat Demand. Presented at American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meetings. ↩
"[MFA’s investigations] directly brought video and pictures of the cruelty of factory farming to over ten million people through media coverage.... Second, the videos captured on these facilities received over 1,000,000 views on youtube alone[.]"—MFA Time Allocations and Accomplishments. ↩
"MFA’s investigations provide crucial cruelty footage and photos used by MFA and many other organizations in online ad campaigns, printed materials, websites, etc. to promote vegan eating."—MFA Time Allocations and Accomplishments. ↩
We found only one study which considered both animal welfare and global food production needs at a whole system level. It concluded that the current style of industrial agriculture is not sustainable on a global level: "Global food security for all in 2050 is not feasible with a scenario of livestock intensification and a Western-style diet for all, even with unrealistically high yield scenarios." The study proposed dealing with this reality by encouraging humans in developed nations to eat more plant-based foods, and found no reason that producers could not better attend to animal welfare and meet production needs in such a scenario: "The additional feed required for livestock to be more active and the space needed for them to roam and perform natural behaviours is relatively small and does not affect the food security option space." We note that there are likely additional options involving further decreases in animal and environmental welfare as technologies are developed to provide more animal-derived foods with fewer resources, and that market structures may make such unpredictable developments more likely than the outcomes proposed by the study.—Compassion in World Farming. (2012). Food Security and Farm Animal Welfare. ↩
Materials including Mercy For Animals' leaflet Fresh call on readers to stop eating meat or all animal products, without necessarily advocating further steps that readers could take to create social change. ↩
"Additionally, MFA is starting a new project to write books related to their work and helping farmed animals. Originally, they planned on publishing the books themselves, but have since decided against that. They are working with one of the top literary agents in the country."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"Exposure to documentaries and books are two of the biggest catalysts inspiring people to reduce or eliminate animal product consumption."—Humane League Labs. (April 7, 2014). Report: Large Scale Survey of Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Reducers. ↩
For instance, the documentary Blackfish made a dramatic effect on opinions of SeaWorld, while previous campaigns had not. "Longstanding criticism from animal rights activists found a whole new audience with the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which brought allegations of killer whale mistreatment to the mainstream."—Garrison, M. (November 5, 2015.) SeaWorld Faces a PR Challenge. Marketplace. ↩
"The vast majority of the victories HSUS has gotten in corporate outreach have been the results of friendly negotiation with executives, shareholder resolutions, and working with investors." While campaigns by other organizations may involve public pressure more often than the HSUS campaigns do, they ultimately seek to persuade the same corporate decision makers.—Conversation with Josh Balk (June 24, 2014). ↩
For instance: "They also point to the fact that some single investigations have caused significant policy changes, such as Tyson (the second largest pork producer in the U.S.) ending the practice of "thumping" piglets (slamming them headfirst into the ground to kill them), and pushing (not mandating) their suppliers to not castrate or tail dock without painkillers, or use gestation crates."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). But pigs in industrial agriculture are subject to many other stresses, including "poorly ventilated confines [that] have resulted in frequent lung damage and pneumonia among factory farmed pigs, with 40–80% of pigs showing lesions in the lungs at slaughter."—Grace Communications Foundation. Animal Welfare. ↩
Animal welfare improvements on factory farms may, if publicized, promote a norm of caring for the welfare of animals, because people see that mainstream companies are concerned about the treatment of farmed animals. On the other hand, people who object to industrial agriculture only because of the worst abuses might become more supportive of it if the worst abuses cease, leading fewer people to be actively engaged in promoting animal welfare. ↩
"When it comes to requirements for re-adoption of a vegetarian/vegan diet, there is variety in what former vegetarians/vegans say they need. In order of most common, the requirements for re-adoption were related to: food (convenience, taste, etc.) (125), motivation/incentive/dedication (58), social (52), cost (more money or less expensive food) (47), health (35), and other (8)."—Asher, K., Green, C., deLespinasse, C., Gutbrod, H., Bastian, B., Jewell, M., & Hale, G. (2015). Study of current and former vegetarians and vegans: Qualitative findings. Olympia, WA: Faunalytics. ↩
"Of the 1,166 former vegetarians/vegans in the study, 1,115 (96%) answered this question—representing 992 lapsed vegetarians and 123 lapsed vegans—many of whom offered multiple reasons for abandoning the diet. ... We coded the usable responses into categories and subcategories. The following pages highlight the patterns uncovered in six main categories: 1) unsatisfied with food, 2) health, 3) social issues, 4) inconvenience, 5) cost, and 6) lack of motivation."—Asher, K., Green, C., deLespinasse, C., Gutbrod, H., Bastian, B., Jewell, M., & Hale, G. (2015). Study of current and former vegetarians and vegans: Qualitative findings. Olympia, WA: Faunalytics. ↩
"The role that dishes that are based around whole foods such as lentils, beans, legumes, etc., have in meeting taste requirements is also an area worthy of investigation. Another point of note is the role that cultured meat might be able to play in all this. Given the importance of food dissatisfaction when it comes to lapses from vegetarian/vegan diets, this topic warrants extra attention from advocates and researchers alike."—Asher, K., Green, C., deLespinasse, C., Gutbrod, H., Bastian, B., Jewell, M., & Hale, G. (2015). Study of current and former vegetarians and vegans: Qualitative findings. Olympia, WA: Faunalytics. ↩
Some plant-based substitutes such as Just Mayo are already competing strongly enough to worry producers of animal products. "The competitive threat Hampton Creek poses is being taken seriously by the egg industry."–Shanker, D. (November 4, 2015.) Walmart now sells more of Hampton Creek’s vegan mayo than Whole Foods. Quartz. ↩
Examples include shifting educational resources from grassroots to online programs, shifting resources from US to international outreach, and developing new educational materials based on focus groups and theories about what will create the most change.—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
"[F]or years the main MFA model was very local; they had paid staff organizers in respective areas. While that may work well for certain organizations, it wasn’t the case for MFA. They decided to shut down those local offices, stop paying people to do direct tabling/leafleting/etc (though they still have volunteers doing those things), and in late 2012 switched to more of an online focus."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
We do not have the evidence they used to determine that they were having stronger effects with online outreach than with grassroots programs, but note that our own calculations also suggest this. See Criterion 2. ↩
"They decided to shut down those local offices, stop paying people to do direct tabling/leafleting/etc (though they still have volunteers doing those things), and in late 2012 switched to more of an online focus." This change lasted through 2014; "[f]or example, they had two national coordinators last year, whereas they’ve condensed those responsibilities into a single position. They’ve also reviewed their tabling efforts at places like pride festivals, and decided to be more selective in where they table; however they plan on leafleting at more events in 2014 than 2013."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
"MFA continues to conduct research into making their work more effective, such as testing different Facebook ads or different videos. They have hired a full time staffer, Krystal Caldwell, to work on this."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
The transition to a more online-based model began in 2012: "They decided to shut down those local offices, stop paying people to do direct tabling/leafleting/etc (though they still have volunteers doing those things), and in late 2012 switched to more of an online focus."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
"To further explore the individual preferences of the young female demographic, Mercy For Animals commissioned Faunalytics to conduct a survey on the topic in February 2013.... The results of the survey were helpful in informing the design of Mercy For Animals’ new Vegetarian Starter Guide." – Asher, K. Mercy For Animals’ Preliminary Study of a Key Demographic. ↩
Many decisions are made with input from MFA's President and 6 departmental directors: "MFA’s budget for 2014 is $2.9 million; with an extra $50K or $100K, the directors would look at the increase at their regular meetings and decide where to allocate additional resources."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
"The most recent investigation released on a McDonald’s supplier had over 1,000 media hits on the day it was released, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, USA Today, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and more."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"[MFA’s investigations] directly brought video and pictures of the cruelty of factory farming to over ten million people through media coverage.... Second, the videos captured on these facilities received over 1,000,000 views on youtube alone[.]" —MFA Time Allocations and Accomplishments. ↩
"One day after the investigation aired, Costco Wholesale, the third largest grocery retailer in the U.S., banned the sale of veal from farms that use a crate-and-chain production method." —MFA Blog. 2010: A Landmark Year for Mercy For Animals. ↩
"They also point to the fact that some single investigations have caused significant policy changes, such as Tyson (the second largest pork producer in the U.S.) ending the practice of "thumping" piglets (slamming them headfirst into the ground to kill them), and pushing (not mandating) their suppliers to not castrate or tail dock without painkillers, or use gestation crates. Further examples are 1) Kraft’s decision to eliminate tail docking of dairy cattle, 2) Costco, IGA, Sobeys, Metro, and other retail outlets eliminating gestation crates, and 3) Safeway, Costco, and Kmart publishing anti-gestation crate statements, all of which occurred as a result of MFA investigations."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
"For cows, Nestlé is doing away with dehorning, tail docking, veal crates, and will end castration without anesthesia. For pigs, they will be moving away from gestation crates, tail docking, and surgical castration. With respect to eggs, the company will be phasing out battery cages and may be getting rid of the cage system in general. In addition, they intend to do away with 'fast-growing' poultry, which is the first time that MFA is aware of that a large company will do this. Finally, they also intend to make some changes related to antibiotics, including phasing out growth hormones."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 15, 2014). ↩
"Stemming from our 2009 Maine investigation, the owner of Quality Egg of New England, one of the largest egg producers in the nation, pleaded guilty to 10 civil counts of cruelty to animals. The factory farm also agreed to pay over $130,000 in fines and restitution, as well as hand over authority to the state of Maine to conduct unannounced inspections of the factory farm for the next five years. The settlement marked perhaps the largest fine ever levied against a factory farm on grounds of cruelty to animals." —MFA Blog. 2010: A Landmark Year for Mercy For Animals. ↩
For instance, "Three factory farm employees were convicted of criminal cruelty to animals this year as a result of MFA's 2011 undercover investigation of a Butterball turkey facility in Hoke County, North Carolina."—MFA 2013 Year in Review. ↩
"They decided to shut down those local offices, stop paying people to do direct tabling/leafleting/etc (though they still have volunteers doing those things), and in late 2012 switched to more of an online focus. This change has also made more resources available, with which they have now begun working in international markets." This change lasted through 2014; "[f]or example, they had two national coordinators last year, whereas they’ve condensed those responsibilities into a single position. They’ve also reviewed their tabling efforts at places like pride festivals, and decided to be more selective in where they table; however they plan on leafleting at more events in 2014 than 2013."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
"Online ads are still a major component of MFA's work, with roughly $500k spent on the program annually. A rough breakdown of this spending is as follows: 60% in Latin America, 20% in English speaking countries, and 20% in India/China."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"Additionally, MFA is starting a new project to write books related to their work and helping farmed animals…. The [first] book is expected to come out in 2017, and there are three more books that will be pitched, and almost definitely sold, to major publishers by year’s end."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
"MFA is creating a foundation to support the development and success of cultured meat and other plant-based alternatives to animal products.... This project will work to improve branding of these alternatives through research and testing and build the pipeline of scientists and funders for this field. There will also be a legally distinct trust to invest in companies that promote vegan eating."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (September 2, 2015). ↩
For instance, about four weeks before California's Proposition 2 was passed banning battery cages in the state, MFA released "footage... intended to boost support for Proposition 2" shot on a California egg farm. – Blume, H. (October 14, 2008). Group Alleges Cruelty to Hens. LA Times.
An MFA video also directly inspired the introduction of an unsuccessful bill to ban tail docking in New York State. – Runkle, N. (February 3, 2010). Dairy Cruelty Footage Prompts NY Lawmaker to Propose Tail Docking Ban. The MFA Blog.
Legislation banning cruel treatment of farmed animals is unusual in the US, and with any legislation and especially a referendum like Proposition 2, it is hard to attribute causality to any particular action. Therefore a record of some involvement with a successful campaign and a clear relationship of causality in inspiring even unsuccessful legislation is fairly strong in context. There’s other legislation that MFA investigations may have played some role in inspiring, though without as much evidence, including the UEP/HSUS bill to ban battery cages at a federal level (never passed) and Rhode Island’s ban on gestation crates (passed in 2013). ↩
"They also point to the fact that some single investigations have caused significant policy changes, such as Tyson (the second largest pork producer in the U.S.) ending the practice of "thumping" piglets (slamming them headfirst into the ground to kill them), and pushing (not mandating) their suppliers to not castrate or tail dock without painkillers, or use gestation crates."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014).
This is a prominent and recent example; for more see MFA's 2010 annual review. ↩
California Proposition 2, when it takes effect in 2015, will prevent farmers from using the most extreme confinement practices, in particular for laying hens. – Institute of Governmental Studies. Proposition 2.
Corporate policies prevent some confinement practices and other practices; a recent example is MFA's campaign against Tyson Foods, which led to Tyson "ending the practice of "thumping" piglets (slamming them headfirst into the ground to kill them), and pushing (not mandating) their suppliers to not castrate or tail dock without painkillers, or use gestation crates."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
"Media attention to animal welfare has statistically significant, but generally small effects in magnitude as compared with price and expenditure effects.... [I]n most cases media attention to animal welfare is found to have impacts for up to 6 months. However, when only articles mentioning consumer groups are included in indices, demand impacts are found to last only 3 months." – Tonsor, G. T., Olynk, N. J., and Wolf, C. (2009). Media Coverage of Animal Handling and Welfare: Influence on Meat Demand. Presented at American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meetings. ↩
However, this may only be true in the short term, as the effects researchers found only lasted six months from the time of the investigation. "[I]n most cases media attention to animal welfare is found to have impacts for up to 6 months. However, when only articles mentioning consumer groups are included in indices, demand impacts are found to last only 3 months." – Tonsor, G. T., Olynk, N. J., and Wolf, C. (2009). Media Coverage of Animal Handling and Welfare: Influence on Meat Demand. Presented at American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meetings. ↩
We believe that some groups would be able to produce more rigorous evidence of their impact on animals if this played a larger role in donor behavior. However, efforts to establish impact of many advocacy efforts are hampered by the difficulties of measuring behavior change in general and the lack of academic research on behavior change related to vegetarian advocacy in particular. While it is sometimes difficult to establish exactly why changes in law or corporate policy has occurred, the changes themselves are easy to document, and MFA has been involved in a respectable number of such changes. ↩
For instance, our own study on leafleting showed some effects, as did a study carried out by The Humane League and Farm Sanctuary. The Humane League and FARM have each found some effects of showing videos. However, we emphasize that this evidence is not conclusive and in fact there is some evidence in the other direction, as with a study from The Humane League that was designed to compare the effectiveness of various leaflets and found that of the nine groups compared in their study, the group which received no leaflet experienced the most dietary change. ↩
For instance, while activists generally frame footage from undercover investigations as "suggest[ing] industrywide issues", industry sources often claim "that animal mistreatment violated company policy and that the undercover worker should have come forward immediately to report problems;" media coverage can fall anywhere in this spectrum, blaming individual workers, companies, or the industry. Quotes from Blume, H. (October 14, 2008). Group Alleges Cruelty to Hens. LA Times. ↩
These include both campaigns where MFA likely played a substantial role by performing undercover investigations, as in the case of Tyson Foods, and campaigns where MFA's level of importance is not clear to us, as with the defeat of ag-gag bills. For MFA's involvement with Tyson Foods, see our Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). For HSUS's involvement, see this HSUS press release.
MFA's 2013 Year in Review states about ag-gag bills that "Every single one of those [ag-gag] bills was rejected, due in large part to the efforts of a large coalition of food safety, environmental, civil liberties, and animal protection groups, including MFA." ↩
"Many of the directors have held their positions for many years, but since they have restructured and created some new positions, they have new people."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
Private communication with MFA. ↩
"Many of the directors have held their positions for many years, but since they have restructured and created some new positions, they have new people. They have eliminated some positions in the past few years which has led to some turnover[.]"—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
That leaders have stayed with the organization suggests that it has retained institutional knowledge through the transition, and also that the transition was not due to a crisis which prevented key staff from having confidence that they could continue to work together productively. ↩
"They share their investigations, photos and videos, to anyone who wants to use them. This includes letting other organizations use their work in booklets....They have worked to connect volunteers around the country with groups like The Humane League, Compassionate Action for Animals, and Vegan Outreach."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014).
In our interviews with animal advocates, we've heard from representatives of several groups that Mercy For Animals works cooperatively with them. Because of the sensitive nature of corporate and legal advocacy in particular, we are not able to disclose a complete list of such groups. ↩
"They have conducted studies to help them design their FRESH flyer and Vegetarian Starter Guide. Some are unique to MFA and might not be useful to others, but they are willing to share everything that they’ve conducted."—Conversation with Nick Cooney (March 20, 2014). ↩
Tax-exempt groups in the United States must make public and available for copying certain documents, such as their application for exemption and their tax return (though not all associated schedules).—Internal Revenue Service. Documents Subject to Public Disclosure. ↩
MFA's 2013 tax documents divide program spending into the areas of "Education," "Cruelty Investigations," "Legal Advocacy," and "Other;" with MFA's cooperation, we were able to use more finely-grained categories.) ↩
Specifically, revealing information about the progress of undercover investigations or about corporate or legal advocacy strategies might compromise efforts in those areas if investigators are detected before they finish gathering footage or if agricultural interests develop more informed counter-strategies regarding corporate and legal efforts. MFA also expressed concerns about making financial data public before the relevant year's tax returns had been completed, as accounting categories might change.—Cooney, N. Private Communication. ↩