Waitrose is claiming an “industry first” after making a commitment that all the cows that supply it with own-label milk will be grass-fed for more than half a year.
The move is a third higher than the retailer’s previous 120-day-a-year grass-fed commitment, introduced in 2017, “giving cows the freedom to do as they please” outside during spring and summer and to “exhibit natural behaviour”, Waitrose said.
New labelling denoting the new free-range status of the milk started rolling out into stores this week.
The move follows scientific research by Waitrose dairy farmers over the past year to monitor the emotional wellbeing of their animals, in conjunction with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
Waitrose said the results of the research revealed that access to the outside was a “key contributor to their ability for positive emotional expression”, leading to greater contentment and happiness. About a fifth of UK dairy herds are currently kept in housed systems all year round.
Director of the Waitrose Dairy Group and Waitrose milk producer Andrew Booth has been at the forefront of this work. “Like us, cows are sentient beings that like to exercise freedom of choice. To decide whether to be inside or outside, to lie in the sun or take shelter from the rain,” he said.
“Giving them that choice and enabling them to demonstrate and articulate their natural behaviours whenever and wherever possible is fundamental to ensuring they live happy and enriching lives.”
The retailer’s grazing pledge was “already industry-leading” said Waitrose senior agriculture manager Jake Pickering.
“However, we’re always challenging ourselves to improve and it’s a testament to our high standards that we’ve managed to even outdo ourselves. The move to a free-range certification for our dairy cows will help ensure whenever possible that our cows go outside for a minimum of six hours a day, something we know will give shoppers who care about welfare standards real confidence,” he added.
“We strongly believe that our dairy cows should spend the maximum amount of time possible grazing in fields because it’s natural, healthy and – as our work with leading animal behavioural scientists at the SRUC is helping to validate – it’s a key factor in ensuring they live a happy life.”