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Over 50% of eggs in the UK are produced in cages with the remainder being produced in free range or barn systems. The majority of eggs used as ingredients in products like mayonnaise, cakes and quiches are also still from hens kept in cages. 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. 

In recent years egg production practices have been the subject of high profile campaigns highlighting a range of welfare and environmental concerns. Concerns have been expressed with regards to the treatment of birds, use of antibiotics, energy usage, waste generation and pollution of air, soil and water. At the same time the industry faces increasing scrutiny over standards of food safety and biosecurity. Farming also 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 eggs 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 eggs are 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 eggs used as an ingredient in our prepared foods. These are global commitments and apply wherever we trade. 

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.

Eggs are very important to M&S. We were the first UK retailer to respond directly to consumer concerns about laying hen welfare. We have a 100% free range egg policy covering both whole eggs (since 1997) and eggs used as ingredients in our prepared foods (since 2002). We also sell organic free range eggs, free range white shelled eggs, free range Omega 3 eggs and free range duck eggs.

We source in the region of 6 million eggs a week from over 200 known approved 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. However, we do source from the Republic of Ireland and Continental Europe to improve our resilience against the outbreak of notifiable diseases such as Avian Influenza. 

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 free range eggs commitment was highlighted as one of our top 5 achievements in animal welfare. We received Compassion in World Farming's (CIWF) Good Egg Award for our free range eggs policy in 2007 and 2002. In November 2015, we were named Retailer of the Year by the British Free Range Egg Producers Association for our leading standards in free range egg production.

Our approach to sourcing eggs 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 egg laying hens supply chain:

All poultry chicks and eggs destined for M&S products must have originated from a hatchery on the M&S approved list of hatcheries. And all feeds must be sourced from a feed mill on the M&S approved list of feed mills and manufactured in accordance with M&S requirements (see Approved feed and feed mills below). 

All shell eggs and all ingredient eggs (excluding other avian species such as duck) must be sourced from an approved supplier and, in the case of ingredient egg, processed to the standards detailed in our M&S Code of Practice for the Processing of Free Range Egg Products. 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 – Egg Production

Historically, we operated two different procurement methods for eggs dependent on whether they were used for fresh supply or as an ingredient. 

All our fresh eggs are produced on specially selected, known and audited farms in the UK and Republic of Ireland. These farms are audited to our Select Farm Assurance standard and our strict traceability means we can trace these eggs back to the farm where they were produced. 

Our ingredient eggs have been sourced from free range farms audited to UK farm assurance schemes (e.g. Code of Practice for Lion Eggs) or the KAT farm standard in continental Europe without a dedicated or segregated approach. 

During 2015 we began transitioning our supply of ingredient egg to a Select Farm model to further improve the traceability and production standards in our ingredient egg supply chain. This sees us put in place dedicated supplying farms for all our ingredient egg supply, all of whom will operate to the minimum production standards that have always been in place for fresh eggs. 

Our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards for eggs have been developed in collaboration with suppliers, industry experts and NGOs. They cover criteria such as traceability and integrity, environmental protection, vermin control, facilities for housing and shelter, free range, feed and water, animal health and welfare, medicines and biosecurity, casualty and fallen stock, end of lay handling and transport, egg storage and transport and worker health, safety and welfare. 

Birds are housed in spacious barn type buildings with sufficient space to perform normal behaviours and have constant access to food and water. They also have constant daytime access to open pasture which have trees to provide cover and shade. 

All M&S egg laying hens are vaccinated against the major food poisoning strains of Salmonella. 

We do not permit the feeding of antibiotics or hormones for purposes of growth promotion. Where veterinary medicines are administered due to ill health prescribed withdrawal periods must be strictly observed and treated stock clearly identified. 

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

Ingredient egg
As well as rolling out our Select Farm standards and buying model to our ingredient egg supply chain we are also introducing a requirement for suppliers to purchase eggs from approved suppliers in specific geographic locations. We have established three zones of production:

  • UK
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Continental Europe
Any manufacturer using more than 120 tonnes of ingredient egg will need to split their purchase across at least two geographic zones (with the UK being half and either Ireland or Continental Europe being the other half). This will provide us with resilience against the outbreak of notifiable diseases such as Avian Influenza. 

Approved hatcheries
All poultry chicks and eggs destined for M&S products must have originated from a hatchery on the M&S approved list of hatcheries which are located in the UK, the Netherlands or France. All hatcheries must as a minimum be independently assured to the following:

In addition, hatcheries are also required to comply with the M&S Code of Practice for Hatcheries. This Code sets out criteria on a number of areas including construction and operation of the hatchery, process control, salmonella controls, hygiene, pest control, welfare, transport, testing, HACCP, chick health, training, and worker health, safety and welfare. 

Approved feed and feedmills
We have our own Code of Practice for Poultry Feed which ensures birds 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 feed.

M&S egg laying hens are fed a wholesome cereal based diet to ensure optimum nutrition and health. We are very specific about what ingredients are used in our hen diets. Diets will contain the following ingredients: wheat, barley, oats and maize as well as soy, peas, beans as sources of protein. Lutein (from marigolds) is also added to give improved flavour and a bright yolk colour. No artificial yolk colours are added to the birds’ diet.

Free range and organic hens also consume grass and seeds on the range. We strictly prohibit the use of any animal or avian derived proteins or fats in all our poultry diets. Neither do we allow the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. 

All feeds must be sourced from a feed mill on the M&S approved list of feed mills and manufactured in accordance with the M&S Code of Practice for Poultry Feed Mills.

All our birds reared for M&S products are fed either home produced feeds or feeds sourced from a verifiable approved source (e.g. AIC Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) or Feed Material Assurance Scheme (FEMAS)).

We also require suppliers 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 GuidelinesFind out more about our approach to protecting forests

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. 

Birds must not be stocked at a density greater than 9 birds/m2 within the housing area. Flock sizes must not exceed 16,000 birds. Where the flock size is greater than 6,000 birds they must be divided into colonies with a maximum size of 4,000 birds. 

We record welfare outcome measures on our fresh egg supply chains. This data is collected on all M&S Select Farm flocks and independently collated by FAI Farms. The information is used to objectively understand the key welfare challenges in our supply chains, allowing us to target our research and innovation projects and track progress over time.
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 eggs are as follows:

Key outcome measure Reason for measurement 
Total mortality in rear Measure of general flock health during rear 
7 day mortality in rear  Indicates liveability issues associated with hatchery problems and early life 
Total mortality in lay Measure of general flock health during rear 
Total culls in lay Indicates birds culled for health/welfare reasons 
Total antibiotic usage in lay Provides a record of antimicrobial use on farm 
Feather cover Average plumage cover score for the flock at end of life 
Dead on arrivals (DOAs) Shows the level of birds that have died during transport 
Keel bone damage Breaks caused to the fragile keel bone in lay is a notable welfare concern in laying hens 
Broken bones and bruises Indicates damage caused to the birds as a result of catching or stunning processes 
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.

Our direct supplier is responsible for undertaking the M&S Select Farm Assurance audit to the full scope of our standards.

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 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.

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

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 poultry sector, which are:

  • Feed
  • Animal welfare
  • Energy consumption
  • Litter quality
  • Heating/ventilation
We are working to address these challenges through our 4 Indicator Farms across our poultry supply base who have been supported in making changes in their businesses to drive sustainability. These farms collect data and benchmark this to provide guidance for improvement opportunities as well as undertaking trials to establish best practice in key areas (e.g. trialling new feed stuffs and understanding interactions between breed, feeds and production systems). This knowledge is then captured and shared with our supply base of over 200 egg farms and the wider industry. 

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 fresh eggs 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 eggs and egg-containing products would be awarded a Plan A product attribute, such as:

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 laying hens and eggs are:

  • Ongoing development and rollout of Sustainability and Welfare Outcome Measures
  • Understanding of bone health in laying hen flocks
  • Avoidance of beak tipping for laying hens
  • Animal medicines use

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 laying hens 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

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 are 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.

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, CIWF, Humane Slaughter Association, Levy Bodies and farming unions to ensure our approach and policies are current and meaningful. 

Key documents