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M&S is supporting British farming standards by becoming the first major retailer to sell RSPCA Assured fresh milk 

Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture & Fisheries Sourcing

Back in March this year we faced calls to cut ties with one of our dairy farmers after pictures emerged of calves being kept in individual pens beyond eight weeks old – something that is in breach of animal welfare regulations.

We’ve had a dedicated Milk Pool since 2000 – a group of long-term farmer partners that we pay a fair and transparent milk price in return for meeting our high standards of animal welfare.

One of these trusted, long-term suppliers made a mistake but we stand by our farmers and we stand by British farming. When mistakes are made, we deal with them – because ultimately, we believe that working together with our suppliers for the long term is for the greater good and delivers better results. So, we worked with this farm to rectify the mistake. Within hours of being alerted to the issue we mobilised a team of independent specialists, including one of the country’s most respected dairy vets, to the farm and they checked the health and wellbeing of every single calf on the farm and confirmed that animal welfare wasn’t being compromised in any way.

We are very clear on this issue – calves over eight weeks old should not have been housed in individual pens – but we believed it to be a one-off incident and stood by the farm.

At Marks & Spencer we take animal welfare extremely seriously – it is not something that we would ever knowingly compromise. When this situation arose, we took the decision to commission RSPCA Assured to assess all of the dairy farms in our Milk Pool. These independent assessments have now been undertaken, with each farm being assessed to the RSPCA’s welfare standards for dairy cattle. We are the only major retailer to have done this and it gives us complete transparency over our Milk Pool and assures our customers that we are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. 

Today, we are publishing the full assessment reports from all 37 farms. We are being open about where actions were required and we are taking the unprecedented move of publishing on our website an interactive map, showing customers where M&S milk is sourced from by UK country and the assessment results from each farm. 

Achieving RSPCA Assured status for a farm is no mean feat. Independent trained assessors evaluate 332 different standards. The average number of standards not met was two, meaning on average 99% of standards were met at the time of the assessments. 14 of the 37 farms were fully compliant with all the standards when assessed with most of the remaining farms only needing to make a small number of changes to achieve full compliance.

All non-compliances have now been addressed, which means all our dairy farms now have RSPCA Assured status and we are now the first major retailer to sell RSPCA Assured fresh milk. I’m very proud of our Milk Pool farmers. Every one of them has stepped up and delivered everything we and RSPCA Assured has asked of them.

We remain committed to driving our welfare standards forward, working with NGOs, trusted advisers, vets and our farmers to evolve welfare performance. We have nothing to hide and believe that our customers deserve complete transparency about welfare performance because through openness and dialogue will come even better results in the future.