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This Rethink Priorities report provides a shallow overview of the potential for impactful opportunities from institutional plant-based meal campaigns in the US, France, Germany, UK, Spain, and Italy based on reviewing existing research and speaking with organizations conducting such campaigns. Shallow overviews are mainly intended as a quick low-confidence writeup for internal audiences and are not optimized for public consumption. The views expressed herein are not necessarily endorsed by the organizations who were interviewed.

Main takeaways from the report include:

Emphasize reducing all animal products in order to avoid substitution from beef & lamb to chicken, seafood, & eggs which require more animals to be harmed.

[Confidence: Medium-High. There are many examples of programs that have had this problem (Hughes, 2020, 2:12:50Gravert & Kurz 2021Lagasse & Neff 2010). There are some examples of the problem being mitigated (Jalil et al. 2023, Cool Food Pledge 20222021) but we don’t yet have a systematic review and meta-analysis on which policies have the best and worst of these effects.]

Most large schools & universities in the US, France, & Germany offer regular meatless meal options, reducing the scope for impact at scale there from further similar changes. 

[Confidence: High. We spent more than 40 hours reviewing policies at the largest institutions. While confidence could be increased by reaching out directly to institutions and verifying, the second-hand sources we used seem trustworthy.]

More studies needed to confirm the scale of the potential opportunities for meatless meal campaigns in Italy, Spain, and the UK where existing options are more limited.

[Confidence: Medium-Low. It appears that classroom offerings of meatless meals in Italy, Spain, and the UK are far less widespread. However, we spent less time researching these countries, due to external constraints, so there’s potential that we missed important information that would reduce the potential scale of impact here. We think replicating studies like Essere Animali 2024 & Ottonova 2022 would shed light on this.]

There may be cost-competitive opportunities in Europe, but it’s likely they are relatively few and hit diminishing returns quickly.

[Confidence: Medium. The most rigorous study of such campaigns in the US are 4-5 years old, but they indicate a cost-effectiveness of 0.4-2.5 animals spared per $ spent (without accounting for impacts on dairy, eggs, & shrimp) and that the campaign quickly stopped getting large wins at low costOur rough BOTECs of a sample of current campaigns in the US and large Western European countries estimated their campaigns’ impact to range from 1.5-18 animals spared per $ spent (including dairy, eggs, & shrimp). However, these estimates are likely biased towards more positive examples and exclude costs needed to maintain policies over time so shouldn't be taken as the average expected impact.]

Campaigns for stronger changes (like plant-based defaults and large % reduction targets) are not yet targeting and winning large-scale opportunities.

[Confidence: High. We did not find evidence of successful campaigns at the scale that have been achieved for daily meatless option campaigns. The largest success of this kind we know of is a plant-based default in NYC hospitals. Many campaigns are focused opportunistically where receptive contacts exist and on smaller targets due to a view that tractability is lower, so it looks harder for these programs with fixed costs to be among the most near-term cost-effective opportunities in the farmed animal welfare space until they can build up to securing larger commitments.]





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