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Beef, Lamb & Venison

Ruminants such as beef cattle, sheep and deer are essential for maintaining our landscapes and habitats and are an important part of local communities and the food system. During the next fifteen to twenty years, the global population will continue to rise, placing unprecedented pressures on the supply and demand for the global food system. An increase in the more affluent middle classes will further impact the dynamic as a more western diet is sought around the globe. Competition for land, water and energy will intensify, compounded by the impacts of climate change. 

Fossil fuel markets are likely to become more volatile and unpredictable, potentially impacting the availability and cost of synthetic fertilisers and negatively impact farming practices accepted as the norm today. There is a perception that intensive livestock practices can lead to the pollution of air and water, deplete soil and diminish biodiversity. At the same time, farming faces an ever increasing social challenge due to the lack of young people willing to engage in an industry which is seen as challenging with low rewards. 

We have a proud history of working with the agricultural community to provide the highest quality meat that our customers expect while minimising our impacts. Through our Farming for the Future programme we are working with suppliers and farmers to help them address the ethical, environmental and economic challenges they face in order to maintain a long-term sustainable and secure supply.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead the retail sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity. We recognise the integral role of animal health and welfare in sustainable food production and strive to continue progressing the highest welfare standards. 

Our goal is to ensure that all our meat is produced to the highest standards of food safety and quality by farms that are operating sustainably. This commitment applies right across our business – from our fresh products to all the meat used as an ingredient in our prepared foods. These are global commitments and apply wherever we trade. 

Approach
We have a strong heritage of sourcing with integrity. Over the years, we’ve taken significant steps to improve the sourcing of key raw materials in our products. For instance, one of the reasons why we weren’t affected by the horsemeat scandal of 2013 was due to the controls we already place on ingredients.

We source in the region of 37,000 tonnes of beef, lamb and venison annually from over 13,000 farms. We are strong supporters of the UK farming industry and try and source locally wherever possible to deliver the freshest food for our customers.

Beef 

All M&S beef comes from our regional suppliers, so we sell Irish beef in Ireland, Welsh beef in Wales and Scottish beef in Scotland. In England, we sell English, Scottish and some Welsh beef – and to avoid any confusion all our fresh beef is labelled with the country of origin and has a flag on the front of the pack. 


Only M&S corned beef is sourced from Brazil but we can trace all sources back to areas outside the vulnerable Amazonian Biome. Find out more about our approach to protecting forests.

Lamb All M&S lamb is produced in the UK or New Zealand and is labelled clearly with the country of origin. We operate a policy of procuring the best quality new season chilled lamb that’s been reared on grass. This means that during the winter/spring months we do have to source from New Zealand. We do offer a home-produced UK option all year round through our speciality lamb range. 
Venison We only sell farmed venison as we believe it offers better taste and is a more consistent product. However, there is limited availability in the UK so in addition to sourcing a small volume of farmed venison from Northern Ireland we work with a small number of deer farmers in New Zealand. It is all packed in Northern Ireland and is labelled clearly with the country of origin. Our strict traceability means we can trace each joint of venison to the farms where it was produced. 
We have been widely recognised as a leader in supporting sustainable livestock practices. We have invested in research and innovation for many years in order to develop and improve farming practices that benefit farmers and the environment.

We have topped the annual Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare since 2013. We were awarded Sustained Excellence in the RSPCA Good Business Awards 2011 and our policy on high welfare veal was highlighted as one of our top 5 achievements in animal welfare.

Our approach to sourcing beef, lamb and venison responsibly focuses on:

Establishing and maintaining clear minimum sourcing standards

Minimum sourcing principles
Our Technical Terms of Trade set out our minimum technical expectations for suppliers to meet. They also set out our position on a number of areas. 

Nothing is more important to us than food safety. We believe our product standards are industry-leading. We require all products to be made by suppliers who are technically competent within their specific area and who operate well-managed hygienic locations applying Good Manufacturing Practice, a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach and due diligence to ensure safety, legality, integrity and consistent quality. Find out more about our approach to product standards.

The following minimum standards exist across our entire beef, lamb and venison supply chain:
  • We require complete supply chain traceability
  • As a minimum all our farms must be independently assured to UK Red Tractor standards (or equivalent)
  • Sourcing must be in accordance with our:
  • We do not accept livestock or progeny produced through cloning or genetic modification through transgenic methods
  • We require producers to 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
  • UK labour providers used to provide temporary labour must have a valid license with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
  • Suppliers and farms must comply with the relevant M&S Select Farm Assurance Standards (see below)
All cattle, sheep and deer for M&S beef, lamb and venison must be processed by an abattoir on the M&S approved list of facilities for slaughter. Find out more about our approach to raw materials, commodities and ingredients. 

Our suppliers are also required to meet the requirements set out in our Global Sourcing Principles. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.
M&S Select Farm Assurance - Beef
Beef is an important raw material for M&S and with a decreasing number of beef farmers across the UK and Republic of Ireland we wanted to adapt our sourcing approach to ensure we had improved security of supply moving forward.

Historically, we operated two different procurement methods for beef dependent on whether it was used for fresh supply or used as an ingredient. 

We have a strong heritage of sourcing with integrity. One of the reasons why we weren’t affected by the horsemeat scandal of 2013 was due to the controls we already place on ingredients. Whilst we believe our audit standards are robust and industry-leading, we know we cannot be complacent. We spent time consulting with our suppliers and industry experts on how we can improve. As a result, in 2015 we introduced our new M&S Select Farm Assurance standard for beef. 

All beef used in M&S for both fresh and ingredient use must be sourced from M&S Select Farms and comply with our beef traceability requirements. We have also introduced a single cattle standard that requires beef to come only from steers and heifers up to 36 months of age with all animals having to be sired by bulls on an approved breed list. 

Our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards for beef have been developed in collaboration with suppliers, industry experts and NGOs. They cover criteria such as traceability and integrity, animal health and welfare, medicines and biosecurity, feed and water, vermin control, facilities for housing and shelter, calf rearing, transport, environmental protection, documentation, and worker health, safety and welfare.

We have introduced DNA traceability across our beef supply chain that enables us to trace beef in a pack on shelf back to the exact animal it came from.

We do not permit the rearing of calves for white veal, only rose veal. 

All feed should be sourced from a verifiable approved source (e.g. AIC Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) or Feed Material Assurance Scheme (FEMAS)) which also meets our specification.

We have developed our own specification for the feeding of our beef cattle which ensures animals are fed a wholesome diet to maintain optimum health and welfare. We prohibit the addition of any animal or avian derived by-products in any of our cattle feed (the only exception to this is milk and milk by-products). The diets are generally: 

  • Grass (preserved as silage or hay in winter)
  • Barley, wheat or maize – whole or processed (milled, etc)
  • Legumes and oilseeds – whole or processed
We do not permit the feeding of antibiotics or hormones for purposes of growth promotion. Where veterinary medicines are administered due to ill health strict withdrawal periods are met to ensure no traces of the medicine remain in the meat.

Farms raising cattle for M&S organic beef must comply with the organic standards for beef laid down by UK approved Certification Bodies listed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

M&S Select Farm Assurance - Lamb
Currently all M&S fresh lamb is produced on specially selected known and audited farms to M&S Select Farm Assurance standards. However, we are in the process of moving to a single standard so all lamb used in M&S for ingredient use will comply with these standards too. 

These standards have been developed in collaboration with suppliers, industry experts and NGOs. They cover criteria such as traceability and integrity, animal health and welfare, medicines and biosecurity, feed and water, vermin control, facilities for housing and shelter, casualty and fallen stock, transport, environmental protection, documentation, and worker health safety and welfare. 

All feed should be sourced from a verifiable approved source (e.g. AIC Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) or Feed Material Assurance Scheme (FEMAS)) which also meets our specification.

We have developed our own specification for the feeding of lambs used for our fresh lamb which ensures they are fed a wholesome diet to maintain optimum health and welfare.

We prohibit the addition of any animal or avian derived by-products in any of our lamb feed (the only exception to this is milk and milk by-products). The diets are generally:

  • Grass (preserved as silage or hay in winter)
  • Root crops
  • Barley, wheat or maize – whole or processed (milled, etc)
  • Legumes and oilseeds – whole or processed
We do not permit the feeding of antibiotics or hormones for purposes of growth promotion. Where veterinary medicines are administered due to ill health strict withdrawal periods are met to ensure no traces of the medicine remain in the meat. 

Farms raising lambs for M&S organic lamb must comply with the organic standards for lamb. In the UK these are laid down by UK approved Certification Bodies listed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In New Zealand organic lamb is certified by Biogro or Asure Quality to standards laid down by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

M&S Select Farm Assurance - Venison
All M&S venison is produced on specially selected known and audited farms to M&S Select Farm Assurance standards. 

These standards have been developed in collaboration with suppliers, industry experts and NGOs. They cover criteria such as traceability and integrity, animal health and welfare, medicines and biosecurity, feed and water, vermin control, facilities for housing and shelter, fawn rearing, casualty and fallen stock, transport, environmental protection, documentation, and worker health, safety and welfare. All deer are required to calve outside in fields. 

All feed should be sourced from a verifiable approved source (e.g. AIC Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) or Feed Material Assurance Scheme (FEMAS)) which also meets our specification.

We have developed our own specification for the feeding of deer used for our fresh venison which ensures animals are fed a wholesome diet to maintain optimum health and welfare. We prohibit the addition of any animal or avian derived by-products in any of our venison feed (the only exception to this is milk and milk by-products). The diets are generally:

  • Grass (preserved as silage or hay in winter)
  • Barley, wheat or maize – whole or processed (milled, etc)
  • Legumes and oilseeds – whole or processed
We do not permit the feeding of antibiotics or hormones for purposes of growth promotion. Where veterinary medicines are administered due to ill health strict withdrawal periods are met to ensure no traces of the medicine remain in the meat.

Ensuring good animal health and welfare
We are committed to ensuring that the highest standards of animal welfare are adhered to in all our supply chains.

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

Our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards have been designed to support our suppliers to meet our high standards on animal welfare. These are based on the ‘Five Freedoms’ recommended by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Committee:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress
Our farms must be committed to rear, handle, transport and slaughter under conditions of minimum stress, within minimal environmental impact and with full regard to animal welfare. 

We record welfare outcome measures on our UK beef and lamb supply chains. This data is collected on all M&S Select animals and independently collated by FAI Farms (see below).

Improving environmental practices

In beef and lamb production, there is often substantial variation between farm's geographies and production systems. Therefore, we aim to encourage all our beef and lamb producers to continually improve their environmental management in a way that is relevant to their farm. During the M&S Select Farm audit, all our producers are invited to provide evidence of good environmental practice and are encouraged to continue developing these initiatives with each subsequent audit. 

Labour standards
Our direct suppliers are responsible for ensuring every site supplying M&S, including farms, meet our minimum labour standards which are set out in our Global Sourcing Principles.

Treating employees fairly is the only way to do business and keeping them safe is the important priority of all. Unfortunately, health and safety statistics show that farming is one of the riskiest industry sectors. 

Ethical requirements for Select Farms are set out in the M&S Select Farm Assurance standard for each species. We’ve developed supplemental guidance to help our farmers meet these requirements. 

Designed specifically for farms we’ve developed simple to use tools to help farmers:

  • Review the health and safety risks on their site and identify how to communicate them effectively to workers
  • Understand the steps they need to take to effectively screen new workers to ensure they have the right to work and are of the right age
  • Provide contracts to ensure farmers and their workers are clear on their contractual rights and responsibilities
  • Accurately record hours and provide payslips to workers

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

Farming for the Future
We introduced 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 farms 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. 

We have worked with our farms to identify the key sustainability hotspots that impact the beef, lamb and venison sector, which are:

  • Nutrition
  • Grassland management
  • Fertility and health
  • Soils and nutrients
  • Water and environment
  • Supply chain structure and producer engagement
We are working to address these challenges through our our beef and sheep supply base who have been supported in making changes in their businesses to drive sustainability. They have saved in excess of £400,000 over the last 3 years from implementing efficiency measures. We have been supported in this process by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and ADAS.  

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 our direct suppliers participate in the Agriculture Scorecard. Find out more about how our suppliers are performing.

Cool Farm Tool
We’re founding members of the Cool Farm Alliance, which developed the Cool Farm Tool with a number of businesses, academics and sustainability experts. 

The Cool Farm Tool is a free to use simple online tool that helps farmers work out the impact of their various activities on the environment, as well as their productivity. It now covers other impacts such as biodiversity and water.

Plan A product attributes
We want every one of our products to have a Plan A attribute by 2020 – a characteristic or inherent quality or feature of a product which has a positive or lower environmental and/or social impact.

Our suppliers are required to progressively improve the sustainability credentials of our products. All should have at least one Plan A product attribute by 2020 and we have targets in place every year to increase this number. 

There would be a number of circumstances where beef, lamb and venison products would be awarded a Plan A product attribute, such as:

Around 76% of meat sold (by volume) in 2015/16 had at least one Plan A product attribute. 

Our current list of attributes for food and household products can be found in the document How We Define Plan A Product Attributes, which you can download on this page. Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.

Research and innovation
We have invested in R&D and innovation for many years in order to improve livestock practices that benefit farmers and the environment. These investments have also been supported by our Plan A Innovation fund. Find out more about our approach to delivering Plan A.

Research and innovation is a key element of our Farming for the Future programmeOur approach is to work collaboratively with our suppliers and farmers to establish the need and then align with the most relevant industry research partner.

We work closely with centres of excellence, such as universities, agricultural colleges and research institutes, to ensure our products and processes remain up to date and industry leading. 

Our current priority areas for research of relevance to beef, lamb and venison are:

  • Ongoing development and rollout of Welfare Outcome Measures
  • Development of Outcome Measures to understand environmental impact including collaboration with Cool Farm Alliance
  • Responsible use of animal medicines use
  • Grassland utilisation

Outcome-based measures
In recent years there has been a shift away from focusing on farming systems and input standards towards also measuring and seeking to improve the impact of supply chains on the environment, ethics (for people and animals) and economic elements of a production system.

We are currently developing these sustainability outcome measures and we will use this information, alongside the latest science, to better understand the challenges we are facing together with our suppliers. This outcomes-based approach will allow 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 have developed specific sustainability measures for the beef and lamb sector including welfare measures and these are in the process of being rolled out across our supply base as follows:

Category Sustainability Measures 
Welfare Measures
Liveability Not available currently 
Disease Percent (%) animals with part and whole condemnations 
Percent (%) animals with internal parasites (e.g. liver fluke) 
Percent (%) animals with lung conditions 
Injuries Percent (%) animals with injuries 
Mobility Not available currently 
Behaviour Not available currently 
Environment Measures 
Climate Change Percent (%) total energy use from renewable source 
Land System Change Proportion (%) of diet in competition with human diets (non-forage based) 
Proportion (%) of diet components from certified sustainable sources 
Freshwater Use Percent (%) total water use from renewable/recycled water use (non-mains) 
Biodiversity Percent (%) of total area not in production, set aside and managed for wildlife or protected and condition (if known) 
Percent (%) total land (Ha) that is protected (including SSSI, SPA, ELS/HLS, etc) and conditon (if known) 
N and P Flows Presence / absence of soil testing programme (annually / 2 years / 5 years / none) 
Proportion manure handled under safe management and storage 
Chemical Pollution Percent (%) total waste routinely recycled 
NOTE: Measures are recorded on all herds within the M&S fresh supply. Welfare outcome measures are captured on all animals at slaughter and processing. Environmental measures are collected annually. Where environmental 'outcome' measures are not currently available or practical to collect, 'input' measures are used in the interim (those shown in italics). 

We’re currently working with our partners to develop automated methods of data capture to ensure robust and independent outcome measure recording over time. 

In 2017, we began to report on a number of animal health and welfare measures for beef and lamb (see below). 

We will publish our year-on-year performance against a more comprehensive set of outcome measures from 2018. We aim to use this data to shape future production standards and drive a continual improvement culture across our farm supply base.

Supporting programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities

Lamb Pledge
We have committed to buy British lamb out of season through our Speciality Lamb range. Our speciality range has been specially selected to provide the best tasting product by following the season as it moves through the country - this includes lamb from the Cotswolds, Swaledale lamb and early New Season lamb too. All of the lambs are traditionally reared and come from small-scale family farms based around the UK.

As part of this commitment we introduced a Lamb Pledge in 2007 where we guarantee a fair price for these farmers to give them the security to plan their business with more assurance and stability. We currently pay our farmers the average UK market price plus an additional 15p per kg.
Agricultural education
To help encourage young people into the agricultural industry, and to support the development of those already in it, we have set up an education programme. This was developed collaboratively with our suppliers and aims to equip individuals with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience they need at several stages of their agricultural careers.

We are working with colleges, supporting apprenticeships and offering bursaries, work placements and study scholarships too. So far over 200 young people have benefited from this investment in their future. For example, we are supporting a degree student at Harper Adams University College, with a scholarship in partnerships with Rabobank. This will see the student spend their year-out work placement with M&S working on projects with our agriculture or agronomy teams. 

We also provide opportunities for students to ‘walk the supply chain’ to enable them to better understand the issues and challenges around food production and retail. For example, in 2014 we sponsored a new category – Young Producer – at the Scottish National Premier Meat Exhibition together with processor, Scottbeef. As part of this event we offered all 36 entrants the opportunity to follow a carcass from producer to retailer. 

In 2013, we developed a unique executive education programme – the M&S Agricultural Leadership Programme – in association with Cranfield University School of Management. This five-day programme sees high potential young people learn about leadership, sustainability and supply chain management. So far the programme has had 55 delegates from across our supply base taking part and feedback has been excellent. Find out more about the ALP from one of its recent participants.


Performance summary

M&S Select Farm Assurance Audits
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. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Our direct supplier is responsible for undertaking the M&S Select Farm Assurance audit to the full scope of our standards. SAI Global also perform a number of shadow audits and spot checks to ensure consistency with our standards. Find out more about our approach to M&S Select Farm Assurance Audits.

M&S Welfare Audits

SAI Global also carry out Welfare Audits of the primary processors to ensure transport, lairage and slaughter all meet our requirements. Find out more about how our suppliers are performing.

Agriculture Scorecard
Each of our direct suppliers are required to complete our Agriculture Scorecard. This 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. Find out more about how our suppliers are performing

Key performance measures
We're committed to reporting on our use of animal welfare and environmental outcome-indicators. In 2017, we began to report on a number of key measures below:

Beef supply
Measures All supply - Beef
(Fresh & Ingredient) 
 All supply - Rose veal
(Fresh & Ingredient)
2015/162016/172015/162016/17
Maximum transport time (hrs) to factory across all animals (including loading and unloading) 881.51.5
Average transport time (hrs) to factory across all animals (including loading and unloading)2.62.70.80.8
Proportion (%) of finisher herds pre-stunned prior to slaughter100100100100
Lamb supply
Measures UK supply
(Fresh & Ingredient) 
NZ supply
(Fresh & Ingredient) 
2015/16 2016/17 2015/16 2016/17 
Maximum transport time (hrs) to factory across all animals (including loading and unloading) 8888
Average transport time (hrs) to factory across all animals (including loading and unloading)2.62.63.73.7
Proportion (%) of finisher herds pre-stunned prior to slaughter   100100 100 100 
We will publish our year-on-year performance against a more comprehensive set of outcome measures from 2018. We aim to use this data to shape future production standards and drive a continual improvement culture across our farm supply base.

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

We work closely with industry experts and scientists to develop our approach to sourcing. We have a long-term partnership with FAI Farms who provide animal welfare knowledge and direction and are responsible for managing our independent data collection and supply chain research on outcome measures. We also work closely with our suppliers to evolve our sourcing approach and standards.

We liaise regularly with centres of excellence in sustainability and engage regularly with leading NGOs, including the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), Humane Slaughter Association, Levy Bodies and farming unions to ensure our approach and policies are current and meaningful. 

Key documents