Sainsbury's has put the environment and animal welfare at the heart of a string of initiatives aimed at improving the efficiency of its dairy suppliers.

The supermarket held a meeting of dairy farmers and producers at its Holborn offices last week - the first of its kind, according to the retailer - to discuss how the two sides could work more closely.

Sainsbury's Dairy Development Group, which includes 325 dairy farmers supplying through Robert Wiseman and Dairy Crest, said it planned to implement a new supplier standard, the SDDG Exclusive Standard, which addressed its customers' four most pressing concerns.

One key area was the Environment & Energy initiative, under which producers would have the carbon footprint of their farms measured, areas for improvement identified and be given support for changes.

The Sainsbury's Dairy Development Group Herd Health Management initiative would promote better cow health and improved husbandry, with milk recording playing a key role in the health plan for each herd, said Sainsbury's.

It said it also wanted to come up with a new strategy of handling black and white bull calves, which are typically slaughtered at birth.

It stopped short of announcing a scheme along the lines of Tesco's veal scheme, however, arguing there was not sufficient demand.

The final initiative was a business improvement section, modelled on the Sainsbury's Farm Connections scheme already in operation for beef and lamb farmers. Under the scheme, computers and training would be provided for farmers.

Agricultural manager Annie Graham insisted the initiatives would be fully funded by the supermarket.

"We want to ensure a strong, vibrant and profitable dairy industry for the long term," said chief executive Justin King.