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Dairy

According to Dairy UK, fresh liquid milk is one of the defining characteristics of the British diet. In fact, the UK is the third-largest milk producer in the EU after Germany and France, and the tenth-largest producer in the world. Goat dairy products are also becoming increasingly popular among consumers. 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.

The dairy industry provides products that promote health and wellbeing and plays an important role in sustaining rural communities, local food networks and land stewardship. That said, the industry faces significant economic, social and environmental challenges. The number of dairy farms in the UK has declined dramatically in recent years. The prices paid to farmers for their milk have been the subject of much media attention recently. Concerns have also been expressed about intensive dairy practices such as the amount of energy that is used, pollution of air, soil and water and inhumane treatment of animals. In addition, 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 dairy products 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 dairy products are produced to the highest standards of food safety and quality by farms that are operating sustainably. This commitment applies right across our business and applies 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.

Dairy is very important to M&S. We source a range of fresh cheese and dairy products, in addition to those for use as ingredients in our products, from the UK and across Europe including France, Italy, Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands.  

We source in the region of 70 million litres of fresh milk each year from a dedicated and segregated pool of over 40 dairy farms who receive a price linked to the cost of production. Their milk is used in all of our M&S Cafés and for all our flavoured fresh milks and milkshakes too. 

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 Milk Pledge Plus was highlighted as one of our top 5 achievements in animal welfare. We received a Good Dairy Commendation from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) in 2011 too.

Our cheese range has also received a number of awards. For example, in 2012 we were named Champion Cheese Retailer and our Mature Cornish Cove Cheddar was named Supreme Champion Cheese at the Great Yorkshire Show. At the Nantwich International Cheese Awards we won 27 awards, making us Supreme Cheese Retailer 2010. 

We have worked closely with our dairy farmers to improve our fresh milk offer to M&S customers, including developing leading farm standards and animal welfare, as well as producing milk with lower saturated fat than conventional milk. We introduced our M&S Milk Pledge Plus in 2000 which has guaranteed our farmers a sustainable price for our milk and delivered higher farm and welfare standards. The premium we pay above the average farm gate prices means that we have invested an extra £22.5m into farm gate milk prices for our milk products over the past fifteen years. And in 2011 we launched our Healthier Milk project to deliver ‘Better for You Milk’ with 6% less saturated fat than conventional milk.

Our approach to sourcing dairy responsibly focuses on:

Establishing and maintaining clear minimum sourcing standards

Minimum sourcing principles
Our Technical Terms of Trade set 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 dairy supply chain:

  • We require complete supply chain traceability
  • As a minimum all our farms must be independently assured to UK Red Tractor standards
  • Sourcing must be in accordance with our:
  • 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 Licensing Authority
  • Suppliers and farms must comply with the relevant M&S Select Farm Assurance Standards and M&S Codes of Practice (see below)
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 – Milk Production

All our milk is produced on specially selected, known and audited farms in the UK and clearly labelled with the country of origin. 

We sell English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish regional fresh milk. We also sell British Organic and Scottish Organic milk.

All our fresh milk has 6% less saturated fat than conventional milk as a result of a natural diet and comes from our pool of over 40 farms and produced in accordance with our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards.  

Our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards for fresh milk production have been developed in collaboration with suppliers, the Royal Veterinary College and other industry experts and NGOs. They cover criteria such as traceability and integrity, dairy and milking facilities, general hygiene, chemicals, water supplies, facilities for housing and shelter, feed and water, calf management and calving facilities, animal health and welfare, medicines and biosecurity, casualty and fallen stock, livestock transport, vermin control, environmental protection, documentation, and worker health, safety and welfare. 

We prohibit dairy production systems that house cattle all year round. As a minimum we require milking cows to be provided with access to grazing for at least 100 days for at least 4 hours per day. In addition, our farmers are encouraged to provide pasture access whenever weather conditions permit and the welfare of the cows is not compromised. Many of our farmers exceed our minimum grazing requirement. 

All housing allows ample room and bedding for the cattle to move around freely, with access to fresh water, natural light and air. Housing must be of sufficient size to allow appropriate group sizes and stocking densities as determined by type of stock, age, size and social groupings. 

We do not permit the use of antibiotics for 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 milk. None of our dairy farms are permitted to administer growth-promoting hormones which are illegal in the EU.

Our milk producers are required to participate in Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) control programmes (if available) and must compile a Johne’s disease control plan in conjunction with their vet. 

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.

All milking cows are required to be fed diets (such as grass, maize, rapeseed and linseed) which aim to deliver a low saturated fat milk (less than 69%). Palm oil and palm derived products must be removed from dairy cow rations including rumen protected fat supplements and palm kernel (expeller or extracted) whether fed as a straight feed or as a component part of a blend or compound feed.

Our milk producers are also required to meet our Milk Pledge Plus sustainability requirements. Farms use a bespoke version of the Agri-assist tool to capture information on staffing, local community engagement and environmental management. Producers must also be willing to undertake a regular carbon footprint of their dairy operation. Scoring is consistent with our Scorecard approach (see Agriculture Scorecard below) and farms are required to achieve a minimum of Bronze status. Performance against these standards is linked to the payment scheme (see Milk Pledge Plus below) and farms may be removed from the pool if there is potential for M&S’s brand integrity to be compromised or there is a significant risk to animal health or welfare. 

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

M&S Code of Practice – Goat Milk Production
All our fresh goat milk is procured direct from known UK farms operating to the standards set out in our M&S Goat Milk Production Code of Practice. 

Our M&S Code of Practice for Goat Milk Production has been developed in collaboration with suppliers, industry experts and NGOs. It covers criteria such as traceability and integrity, dairy and milking facilities, goat cleanliness, general hygiene, chemicals, water supplies, facilities for housing and shelter, feed and water, kid management and kidding facilities, animal health and welfare, medicines and biosecurity, casualty and fallen stock, livestock transport, vermin control, environmental protection, documentation, and worker health, safety and welfare.

Housing must be of sufficient size to allow appropriate group sizes and stocking densities as determined by type of stock, age, size and social groupings. 

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.

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

Other dairy products
All other dairy products we sell use milk that is sourced from a farm that meets an industry-standard assurance scheme (i.e. UK Red Tractor) or is an M&S Select Farm and clearly labelled with the country of origin. 

All cheese must be sourced from the M&S approved list of suppliers and manufactured in accordance with M&S requirements. The processing of cheese must take place at one of our approved processors. Find out more about our approach to raw materials, commodities and ingredients.

We would ideally like to move to a position where all milk used in our products is produced to our high standards. However, due to the nature and complexities of the wider dairy supply chain this is extremely difficult to achieve.

We are committed to achieving greater supply chain transparency and traceability. We are working closely with our suppliers to understand how we can improve our level of traceability over the next few years. 

For example, some of the cheese we source has been awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status which specifies where the milk used in its production comes from. We also work with a number of small artisan producers who use their own milk to produce their dairy products which contributes to the specific nature of their products.

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 our independent data collection and supply chain research and outcome measures.

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 fresh milk supply. This data is collected on an annual by an independent veterinary specialist who carries a detailed on-farm health and welfare assessment of each milk pool herd and works closely with producers and their vets to focus on key issues such as mastitis, lameness, disease prevention and cow comfort.  

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.

The key welfare outcome measures for dairy are as follows:

Key outcome measure Reason for measurement 
Mobility score Measure of poor walking ability of animals in the herd, a key outcome affecting welfare and productivity 
Cow comfort Shows cows with notable swellings and abrasions and informs about the quality of housing and management
Foot shape Measure of foot health management that is important for maintaining good walking ability 
Udder health Indicates cows with intramammary infections (clinical & sub-clinical) which is important for herd welfare and productivity 
Died on farm Provides a measure of unplanned culls and informs on the general health and management of the herd and business 
Calf mortality Provides information on calf welfare and management of young animals on farm 
Antibiotic usage Provides a record of antimicrobial use on farm (usage of antimicrobials deemed critical for human and animal health is also recorded 
Find out more about our approach to animal health and welfare.

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 for 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

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. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

All fresh milk farms are independently audited by the Royal Veterinary College on an annual basis to ensure that animal health and welfare standards are maintained at the highest possible standard. 

M&S Select Farm Assurance Audits
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.

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 a programme of initiatives to champion 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 dairy sector, which are:

  • Feed
  • Animal welfare
  • Environment
  • Ethical / labour standards
  • Carbon
We are working to address these challenges through our dedicated pool of fresh milk farms (which are also our dairy Indicator Farms). These farms undertake benchmarking for health and welfare, farm standards, carbon emissions and wider sustainability, with the support of a specialist veterinary surgeon, a nutritionist and our suppliers. A number of workshops are held during the year to tackle hotspot issues and provide advice and examples of best practice.

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

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 dairy products would be awarded a Plan A product attribute, such as:

Around 76% of dairy products 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. 

For example, we worked with the University of Reading and our suppliers to explore whether it was possible to feed dairy cows a natural diet that would deliver milk with less saturated fat, improve cow health and welfare and offer the same taste and high quality. The result was our Better For You Milk where saturated fat was reduced by at least 6%, cow fertility increased, palm oil was removed and consumer research even found that the milk tasted creamier.

Our current priority areas for research of relevance to dairy are:

  • Ongoing development and rollout of Sustainability and Welfare Outcome Measures (see above and below)
  • Animal medicines use
  • Improved foot health in dairy cattle

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 expect this trend to continue at pace. 

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 dairy including welfare measures (see above) and these are in the process of being rolled out across our supply base.

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.

Supporting programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities

Milk Pledge Plus – fair milk prices
We launched the M&S Milk Scheme in 2000. We developed the principle of the scheme in collaboration with the farmers who supplied our milk, resulting in a dedicated pool of farmers paid using a mechanism that delivered a long term stable milk price. In 2004 we developed the scheme further by introducing our ‘payment pledge’ and since then it has evolved into the industry’s leading dairy scheme.

The M&S liquid milk pool is split into four regional pools – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our farmers have a contractual relationship with their milk processor.

We pay a transparent milk price which reflects the key costs of milk production. We review the core price at six-monthly intervals and changes are driven by the costs of production as well as animal health and welfare and farm standards. 

In addition to the six-monthly price review we calculate the milk price monthly and we communicate any changes through our Supplier Exchange.

We pay one of the highest prices of milk in the UK (30.49 pence per litre as of April 2016). The premium we pay above the average farm gate prices means that we have invested an extra £22.5m into farm gate milk prices for our milk products over the past fifteen years.

In 2013, the Milk Pledge Plus scheme introduced new standards (which we build on each year) and encompass key issues of staff management, local community engagement and environmental impact alongside the well-established focus on animal health and welfare and farm standards (see M&S Select Farm Assurance – Milk Production above).

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 .


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

The ongoing development of the milk pool would not possible without extensive dialogue with farmers, our suppliers and the wider industry. We work closely with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to ensure that we evolve our health and welfare standards, with FAI Farms on sustainability outcome measures and research as well as with leading NGOs including the RSPCA and CIWF. We also liaise with industry organisations such as farming unions, Levy Bodies and expert consultants. 

Key documents