It has also committed to publishing the results on its website. This development follows an M&S farmer being found in breach of animal welfare regulations, where calves are concerned. Director of Food for the retailer, Andy Adcock, confirmed that all 40 UK farms (known as the M&S Milk Pool) will be audited by RSPCA assessors as soon as possible. Four of these businesses are located in Northern Ireland.
The move comes in advance of the retailer adopting RSPCA Assured Standards as its minimum requirement, which will also see the farms assessed annually.
RSPCA Assured Standards are said to be the highest welfare standards in the UK’s livestock industry. They cover all aspects of milk production including calf rearing, cow welfare, accommodation, health planning, transport, feed and grazing.
The farms will also still be required to be Red Tractor Assured (the current minimum standard in the UK) and the retailer will continue its own twice-yearly Select Farm Assurance audits.
“This is a significant strengthening of our animal welfare standards. We are already recognised by leading animal charities, but are always looking to improve and RSPCA Assured is the best in the business,” Adcock said.
Very few farms operate to that level of animal welfare and adoption of these standards will set M&S dairy farms apart. This is what our customers want and expect from us.
The M&S pool of direct milk suppliers was set up in 2000 to give the supermarket’s farmers the stability to enable them to invest for the future. At the time, it was an industry first. M&S says that it pays its ‘pool’ farmers a specified price above their cost of production.