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Farm Animal Health & Welfare

Animal welfare is a broad term covering the general health, welfare and wellbeing of animals in our diverse farming systems. It covers all the elements associated with livestock production including housing, grazing, nutrition, disease prevention and control, transport right through to humane handling and slaughter. It means providing for the animal’s physical and mental needs. 

The UK is a recognised world leader in animal welfare. It drafted the first ever legislation on animal welfare nearly 200 years ago and established the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) – the world’s first animal welfare charity. In recent years animal welfare has also been rising up the global agenda, as a result of a number of factors including food scandals, tightening legislative requirements and investor concerns. Customers are also increasingly concerned about their health and are demanding information and reassurance on the origin and content of their food.   

As a food specialist we have a significant impact on animal welfare standards. We have always been committed to ensuring that the welfare of all animals used in the production of our products is safeguarded. Our continued commitment to animal welfare has also been recognised by leading animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming

Commitments and targets
Our goal is to ensure that our suppliers adopt and implement the highest practical and commercially viable standards of farm animal welfare across our supply base and be able to demonstrate continuous improvement in farm animal health and welfare standards. 

Our commitment to animal welfare extends to our stance on animal testing. We do not test or ask suppliers or other third parties to test household products on animals – this extends to the ingredients used within these products. And since 1 January 2006 we have not sold any products or products containing ingredients which have been tested on animals for cosmetic purposes. Find out more about our approach to household goods. 

Approach
Milk, dairy products, eggs and many types of meats, fish and seafood are used as ingredients in our products and we care greatly about the health and welfare of all the animals that feed into our supply chains. We believe that animal welfare has an impact on food quality, so we only want to use ingredients with have been farmed to good welfare standards. 

Our overarching Farm Animal Health and Welfare Policy requires that high standards of animal welfare are met and maintained at all stages of the animal’s life – on the farm, during transportation and at the place of slaughter. This commitment applies right across our business – from our fresh products to all the raw material proteins that are used as an ingredient in our prepared foods. These are global commitments and apply wherever we trade. 

In developing our animal health and welfare policies and production specifications we have used the internationally recognised ‘Five Freedoms’ recommended by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Committee as a framework and for guidance. These freedoms are: 

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  2. Freedom from Discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress - by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
We have developed our own detailed standards and were the first retailer to pioneer a farm assurance scheme – M&S Select Farm Assurance – to address our customers’ concerns on food safety, animal welfare and animal health. We are working with our suppliers and a number of leading organisations (e.g. RSCPA, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), the Humane Slaughter Association and FAI Farms) to further research and progress our animal welfare standards through the adoption of outcome measure assessments.

We have a dedicated team of agriculture and fisheries specialists responsible for defining and implementing our agriculture policies across our business. All our agriculture managers are externally trained in animal welfare by Bristol University and re-certified every 3 years and we have a requirement that our suppliers also undertake the same rigorous certification. Our aquaculture team has worked with industry experts, Fish Vet Group, to develop and launch a comprehensive training course on fish and shrimp welfare, which is followed by all our aquaculture partners. 

All M&S food is clearly labelled with the method of production and the country of origin of the meat or fish and seafood. Where we have specifically adopted higher welfare systems (e.g. Oakham™ chicken and Lochmuir™ salmon) we promote these to our customers via a number of channels including this website, in-store décor and on pack messages. We publish information about our approach to animal welfare on this website and at agricultural shows. We report progress through our independently assured Plan A Report on an annual basis. 

We have been widely recognised as a leader in farm animal welfare. We have topped the Compassion in World Farming annual Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare since 2013. And since 2002 we’ve received 9 awards from CIWF including their Best Retailer Award and Best Performing Retailer Award in 2013. Sitting alongside this, we have also been awarded a number of recognitions from RSPCA including the Sustained Excellence Award in the RSPCA Good Business Awards 2011 for achievements in animal welfare.

Our approach to continually improving animal welfare focuses on:

Establishing and maintaining clear minimum standards

Minimum sourcing principles
Our Technical Terms of Trade set out our minimum technical expectations for suppliers, which includes animal welfare. It also sets out our position on a number of areas. For example, we do not permit the genetic engineering or cloning of livestock. Our Technical Terms of Trade are supported by our Farm Animal Health and Welfare Policy. Production and welfare requirements are detailed in our species specific Codes of Practice (see Select Farm Standards below).

The following minimum standards exist across our meat, fish and shellfish, dairy and egg supply chains:

  • We don’t permit the use of production or confinement systems for any animals in our supply which don’t meet our standards (e.g. sow stall or tether systems)
  • We don’t allow specific breeds that have inherent welfare issues associated with them, e.g. Barbary duck
  • We don’t allow genetic engineering or cloning of livestock
  • We do not allow meat, bone meal or any unauthorised feed products in our livestock diets
  • We do not permit the routine mutilation of farm animals in our supply unless veterinary advice deems it necessary to preserve their welfare
  • All the meat and poultry we sell must, without exception, come from animals that have been humanely slaughtered and animals must be pre-slaughter stunned
  • We insist that all live animal transport is kept to a minimum and that long-distance transport is avoided. To ensure this, we specify a maximum transport time of 8 hours and have a target of less than 4 hours (80% of live animal transport in our supply is less than 2 hours). (Note: the only exception to this policy is the transportation of farmed Atlantic salmon and farmed scallops and mussels which are covered within species-specific Codes of Practice. Find out more about our approach to managing the welfare of farmed fish and shellfish)
  • We require that all animals are maintained in good health and those that are sick or injured receive prompt treatment. All producers must implement an animal health plan in conjunction with their veterinary surgeon that is regularly reviewed and updated
  • We insist that producers adhere to our policy on responsible antimicrobial use. We do not permit routine use of antimicrobials and the use of growth promoting antibiotics and hormones is prohibited
  • All abattoirs used in our supply chain have CCTV as part of our requirements. We regularly review footage and insist it is kept for a minimum of 90 days
Adherence to our standards forms part of our terms of trade with our suppliers and is reviewed as part of our Marks & Spencer Select Farm Assurance programme and Welfare Audit programme. As we’ve rolled out outcome measure assessments across our supply base, we’ve set new levels of minimum standards and use our annual Supplier Scorecard assessment to drive continual improvement. 

M&S Select Farm Assurance Standards
All our producers must adhere to current legislative requirements and abide by the UK Red Tractor standard (or equivalent standard outside of the UK). We’ve also gone beyond these requirements by developing additional criteria that producers must meet to be accepted into our supply chains as an M&S Select Farm. Our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards are set out in our Codes of Practice and include specifications on all areas of sustainability including animal welfare, people welfare, environment and efficiency. They are a fundamental link in an integrated chain of assurance from farm to store.

Our Codes of Practice set out our species specific animal welfare requirements on training and competencies, housing, shelter and handling, health and nutrition, medication, feed and water, lairage and transport, and humane stunning and slaughter. 

For some species our requirements are in line with current legislation and industry standards, but for many others we’ve gone beyond industry norms by adopting higher welfare standards, for example:

Eggs We sell 100% free-range eggs, both fresh shell and as an ingredient in our prepared products. Find out more about our approach to sourcing eggs.
Turkeys, geese and ducks All our fresh whole turkeys and ducks are produced to higher welfare standards including increased space and enrichment provision. All M&S geese are free range and we do not sell foie-gras or its by-products. Find out more about our approach to sourcing poultry.
Pork All our fresh pork is outdoor bred or free range. We prohibit the use of farrowing crates in our pork supply. Find out more about our approach to sourcing pig meat.
Chicken All our Oakham fresh chicken is reared in barns with increased space (stocked at 30kg/m2 where thinning is permitted or 34kg/m2 with no thinning permitted), natural daylight and provision of environmental enrichment. Find out more about our approach to sourcing poultry.
Dairy All herds supplying us with fresh milk follow an enhanced health and welfare programme, which is audited by a specialist veterinary surgeon each year. Find out more about our approach to dairy.  
Beef None of our calves are reared for white veal, only rose veal. Find out more about our approach to sourcing beef.
Fish and shellfish 
We’ve developed our own standards for the sourcing of farmed fish and fish feed. 

We aim to source wild-caught fish from the most responsible sources available. We recognise that we have a greater influence over animal welfare in a farmed fish environment, but we also seek to apply relevant welfare criteria in wild capture environments. Find out more about our approach to sourcing fish and shellfish.
Find out more about our approach to animal welfare for specific raw materials on the following pages: beef, lamb & venison, pork, poultry, game, fish and shellfish, dairy, and eggs

We continually seek to improve our standards and carry out an annual independent review of our codes of practice alongside our partners.

Animal feed policy
All our livestock are fed either home produced feeds or feeds certified under the Feed Material Assurance Scheme (FEMAS).

We require our major soy-using livestock suppliers of monogastric (i.e. pigs and poultry) and farmed fish species to source soy-containing feed to a standard that has been confirmed by the International Trade Centre's (ITC) Standards Map as meeting the requirements of the European Feed Manufacturers Federation (FEFAC) Soy Sourcing Guidelines

Checking compliance with our standards
We have put appropriate assurance arrangements in place to check that our suppliers meet our requirements.

If a supplier fails to meet the standards we will work with them to make changes to improve performance. However, if our standards continue not to be met, they will be removed from our supply.


M&S Select Farm Assurance Audits
Our direct supplier (usually the primary processor) is responsible for undertaking the Select Farm Assurance audit to our standards. The Select Farm auditor (employed or contracted to the supplier) is trained to our requirements by SAI Global and has to be retained every three years.

SAI Global also perform a number of shadow audits and spot checks to ensure consistency with our standards. 

All Select Farms – a total of 11,418 farms – are required to have an M&S Select Farm Assurance audit to a specified frequency (typically every 12 to 18 months depending on species). Sites must pass this audit in order to be part of our supply chain. In 2015/16, 6,375 farms were audited and ‘passed’ their Select Farm Assurance audits. The remainder of farms have either been audited recently or are in the process of being scheduled for an audit to take place during 2016/17. 

During the same period, SAI Global, carried out additional independent verification audits of 53 Select Farms and found no issues of concern. 

Feed mills and hatcheries are also audited to our standards by SAI Global. Find out more about how our suppliers are performing.

Welfare Audits
SAI Global also carry out Welfare Audits of the primary processors to ensure transport, lairage and slaughter all meet our requirements.

Based on the results of the audit, suppliers are assigned a rating based on the number and type of non-conformances and how they are progressing with addressing non-conformances from previous audits. 

Audit findings and corrective actions are stored on Connect – our online Quality Management System. The supplier must sign off all audit actions within agreed timescales.  

All sites receiving live animals and carrying out slaughter on site are required to have a Welfare Audit each year. A total of 46 abattoirs were audited during 2015/16, 93% of which met or exceeded our requirements. Twenty sites were rated ‘Bronze’, 15 sites were rated ‘Silver’ and 8 sites achieved ‘Gold’ status. 

Three sites failed to meet our requirements which necessitated immediate and robust corrective action to be taken. Re-audits are generally carried out within 3 months of the original audit date in order to verify that improvements have been made and sites meet our requirements.

Supporting programmes that further our understanding and build capability within our supply chain

Farming for the Future
We introduced M&S Farming for the Future in 2010 as our programme of initiatives which champions sustainability, innovation and continual improvement. It exists so that we can deliver our commitment to source our raw materials for food products from the most sustainable sources possible.

Farming for the Future is about us helping the farmers and growers in our supply base address the challenges ahead by finding opportunities to improve efficiency, environmental performance and ethical practice. This will make their businesses more resilient and profitable, ensuring that they can continue to deliver quality and innovation for the long term whilst reducing their impact on the world around them. In turn, this delivers security of supply for M&S.

Animal health and welfare is a key element of our Farming for the Future programme.

We have established a network of ‘Indicator Farms’ which have been supported in making changes to their businesses to drive sustainability. This includes independent benchmarking and consultancy support to improve areas such as technical efficiency, health and welfare and nutrient management. This knowledge is then shared with our supply base of more than 25,000 farms and the wider industry. For example, all of the dairy farms in our milk pool are Indicator Farms. We continually monitor health and welfare production information with the support of a specialist veterinary surgeon, a nutritionist and our suppliers. This information is used to inform continuous improvement workshops throughout the year and actively promote best practice within our milk pool. 

Agriculture Scorecard
We’re continually innovating and setting new standards for UK food retailing and all our suppliers must commit to continuous improvement. One of the tools we use to help us to do this is our Supplier Scorecard which measures the following areas: Commercial, Technical, Service, New Product Development and Innovation, Agriculture and Sustainability. This enables us to build a consistent view of our supply base to ensure we are all working together toward our mission of continually inspiring our customers. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Our Agriculture Scorecard covers compliance with our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards covering animal health and welfare, Farming for the Future activity and agriculture innovation and labour standards. The assessment is done twice a year at abattoir level and each direct supplier is scored as Provisional, Bronze, Silver or Gold. We expect all suppliers to be working towards achieving Silver as a minimum. 

In respect of animal health and welfare, to achieve Silver status, our direct suppliers must be actively monitoring and measuring key welfare indicators and demonstrating continual improvement. They must have a programme of animal welfare improvement and an active innovation programme in place leading to change.

All direct suppliers of meat, poultry, dairy and fish – a total of 35 direct supplier sites – are required to participate in the Agricultural Scorecard process. 74% of sites have achieved Silver or above. An overview of supplier performance is as follows:
Agriculture Scorecard Performance
Research and innovation
We are committed to driving further improvement in our animal husbandry and welfare standards based on good scientific advice and where necessary investing in animal welfare advice and R&D. These investments are also supported by our Plan A Innovation Fund.

Research and innovation is a key element of our Farming for the Future programmeWe have chosen the independent FAI Farms as our strategic partner for farm animal welfare innovation and R&D. 

We also work closely with animal welfare centres of excellence (e.g. universities, agricultural colleges, and research institutes) to ensure our specifications remain up to date and leading. 

Working with FAI Farms and other expert organisations we have prioritised our key innovation activities on farm animal welfare. Our current research priorities include:

  • Ongoing development of Welfare Outcome Measures
  • Indoor non-confinement farrowing systems for pigs
  • Optimum space allowances for chicken production
  • Environmental enrichment for chicken production
  • Provision of natural daylight for turkeys
  • Avoidance of beak tipping for laying hens
  • Animal medicines use
  • Improved foot health in dairy cattle
  • Humane slaughter methods for sea bass and sea bream
  • Salmon safe technology for predator management on salmon farms

Improving welfare through science-based outcome measures

Welfare outcome measures
In recent years there has been a shift away from focusing on farming systems and input standards towards measuring and seeking to improve welfare outcomes for the animals. We expect this trend to continue at pace.

Outcome measures provide ongoing information about the health and welfare of the animals in our supply. An example of a typical outcome measure recorded on farm would be the number of animals that have fallen ill or that have suffered an injury.

This outcomes-based approach helps to provide robust information about the welfare standards on farm, but importantly, allows farmers to pioneer their own solutions and innovations to make progress. This flexibility and creativity is crucial for tackling some of the long-standing challenges to sustainable food production.

We currently record data across all our supply for chicken, turkey, eggs, pork, dairy and beef. The data is collected continuously from each farm within the supply and independently reviewed to provide an objective overview of the welfare of the animals within supply and help to identify key challenges and track progress. 

The welfare outcome measures we monitor are provided on the following pages: beef, lamb and venison, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs.  

We’re currently working with our partners to develop automated methods of data capture to ensure robust and independent outcome measure recording over time. As we develop these methods, we will publish an annual summary of our work and progress against our key outcome measures through our annual Farming for the Future Reports.

We also engage with our NGO partners on outcome measure findings to drive continued improvement in our supply chains.

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

To develop our approach to animal welfare, we’ve worked with many industry experts and scientists. We continue to work with these leading organisations (e.g. RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, the Humane Slaughter Association, and FAI Farms) to further research and progress our animal welfare standards. Operationally, we’re supported by our suppliers and expert organisations such as Bristol University, Fish Vet Group, RSPCA, FAI Farms and SAI Global to implement our policies. 

We have a long-term partnership with FAI Farms who provide us with animal welfare knowledge and direction and are responsible for managing our independent data collection and supply chain research and outcome measures. 

Key documents

Find out more about our approach to sourcing beef, lamb and venison


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Find out more about our approach to sourcing pork


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Find out more about our approach to sourcing poultry


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Find out more about our approach to sourcing game


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Find out more about our approach to sourcing fish and shellfish


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Find out more about our approach to sourcing dairy


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Find out more about our approach to sourcing eggs


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