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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 M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards and 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. 

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 90 million litres of fresh milk each year from a dedicated and segregated pool of circa 40 dairy farms who receive a price linked to the cost of production. Their milk is also used in all of our M&S Cafés.

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.

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. We introduced our M&S Milk Pledge Plus in 1999 which has guaranteed our farmers a sustainable price for our milk and delivered higher farm and welfare standards.

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 and additionally our fresh milk pool farms must be RSPCA Assured
  • Sourcing must be in accordance with our Farm Animal Health and Welfare Policy
  • 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 Sourcing 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 Sourcing Standards – 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 have farms located across the UK with fully differentiated and segregated supply from farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We also sell British Organic and Scottish Organic milk.

All our fresh milk comes from our pool of circa 40 farms which are all RSPCA Assured and is produced in accordance with our M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards.

Our M&S Select Farm Assurance standards for fresh milk production have been developed in collaboration with suppliers, a specialist veterinary surgeon 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 110 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 farms are permitted to administer growth-promoting hormones which are illegal in the EU.

In 2020 we have also introduced the requirement that all calves must be able to have sight and contact of another calf from birth, but then be paired or group housed post 21 days of age.

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.

Our milk producers are also required to meet our Milk Pledge Plus sustainability requirements. Producers must be willing to undertake a regular carbon footprint of their dairy operation. Any farm 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 Sourcing 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 fresh milk supply chains. This data is collected on all M&S Select animals and independently collated by FAI Farms (see below).

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 Sourcing 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

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 meet our M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards and 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. 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.

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. 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 dairy are:

  • Ongoing development and rollout of Welfare Outcome Measures (see below)
  • Development of Outcome Measures to understand environmental impact, including collaboration with Cool Farm Alliance
  • Responsible use of animal medicines
  • Improved foot health in dairy cattle
  • Improved cow comfort for 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 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 our fresh milk supply including welfare measures and these are in the process of being rolled out across our supply base as follows:

Category Sustainability Measure 
Welfare Measures 
Liveability Percent (%) adult cow and heifer mortality 
Disease Antimicrobial use by type, dose and treatment case 
Percent (%) cows treated for mastitis 
Injury Percent (%) cows showing comfort indicators (swellings or abrasions) 
Mobility Percent (%) herd lameness (mobility score 3 or above) 
Behaviour Maximum herd stocking density when housed 
Presence / absence of enrichment provision (loafing area, cow brushes) 
Environmental 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, SAC, ELS/HLS, etc) and condition (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 annually through an independent veterinary welfare assessment. Environmental measures are collected annually. Where environmental 'outcome' measures are not currently available or practical to collect, 'input' measures are used in the interim (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. 

Since 2017, we began to report on a number of animal health and welfare measures for our fresh milk supply (see below). 

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
Milk Pledge Plus – fair milk prices
We launched the M&S Milk Scheme in 1999. 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 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. 

We pay one of the highest prices of milk in the UK.

In 2020, 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 Sourcing Standards – 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 run ‘walk the supply chain’ events with a number of colleagues annually to enable students to get an insight and an understanding around the issues and challenges in food production and retail.

We have also 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 70 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.

Since May 2017, we commissioned the RSPCA to audit every single M&S dairy farm within our M&S Milk Pool to RSPCA Assured Standards. This is in advance of the RSPCA Assured Standard becoming a minimum standard.

All fresh milk farms are also independently audited by a specialist veterinary surgeon on an annual basis to ensure that animal health and welfare standards are maintained at the highest possible standard. 
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:

Dairy products


MeasuresDairy products including milk as an ingredient and powders (UK)1
Percent (%) products sourced from cows that are free from tethering100
Percent (%) dairy cows free from tail docking 100

1 Dairy products (e.g. continental cheeses) sourced from the EU make up less than 5% of total supply.

M&S Dairy - Fresh Milk Pool


Mobility: Average (median) percent cows with lameness (score 3) for all herds1.00%
Udder health: Average (median) percent cows with mastitis15.80%
Cow comfort: Average (median) percent cows with swellings and abrasions (score 3)2.30%
Mortality: Average (median) percent cow mortality (unplanned cow deaths)4.60%
Mortality: Average (median) percent heifer calf mortality (first year of life)9.00%
Average percent cows with access to pasture for more than 4- 5 hours per day100%
Average percent of animals that were routinely dehorned across all herds (%)?0%
What is the proportion of calves that are provided with enrichment from week 6?100%
What is the proportion of herds that was provided with enrichment (cow brushes & loafing areas)?100%
Antibiotic usage (mg/PU)8.27
Antibiotic usage (antibiotic courses/cow)0.8

Note: Median scores are reported for all measures. Increase in scores in 2016 likely impacted by development of assessment approach to include more stringent criteria.

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.

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 an independent specialist veterinary surgeon 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.