M&S milk RSPCA Assured farm audit

An RSPCA Assured auditor at an M&S milk supplier

Marks & Spencer has become the first major supermarket to switch its entire fresh milk supply to RSPCA Assured dairy farms, with all of its milk carrying the RSPCA Assured logo from today (6 September).

All 37 farms that supply fresh milk to the retailer’s milk pool have achieved RSPCA Assured certification, M&S said, meaning more than the 150 million pints it sold every year would now come from farms “with the highest animal welfare standards”.

It comes six months after M&S was implicated in an investigation by animal welfare group Animal Equality UK, which revealed calves as old as six months were being kept in individual pens designed for animals of up to eight weeks old at M&S supplier Grange Dairy in Dorset.

M&S subsequently admitted to failings in its supply chain and apologised, with M&S food director Andy Adcock saying “we hold our hands up”. However, it resisted calls to cut ties with the farm, with M&S head of agriculture and fisheries Steve McLean stating this week it would have not have been the right thing to do.

M&S dairy calves in pens

Animal Equality revealed calves as old as six months were kept in pens for much younger animals at M&S supplier Grange Dairy

“One of our farmers made a mistake, so instead we worked with the farmer to rectify the issue and took the decision to strengthen our standards by asking an independent body to assess all of our dairy farms,” McLean said.

“No other retailer has this level of transparency or standards in its dairy supply chain,” he added.

“We know how much animal welfare matters to our customers and that they expect the highest standards from us. RSPCA Assured standards are the highest in the dairy industry and we are proud of our farmers who work hard day in, day-out to enable us to achieve this for our milk pool.”

M&S confirmed that Grange Dairy had achieved RSPCA Assured status as part of the switch.

The retailer has also published the scheme’s assessment reports for each farm as part of an interactive online map, which shows customers where M&S milk is sourced from, summary results for each farm and a link to download the full RSPCA Assured assessment report.

“RSPCA Assured standards are the toughest in the business,” McLean added. “We’ve supported those farms that had work to do to achieve them, but I’m pleased to say every farmer has stepped up and delivered everything we and RSPCA Assured has asked of them.”

The announcement represented a “major step forward” for improving dairy cow welfare, said RSPCA Assured CEO Clive Brazier. “We hope other retailers will follow suit,” he added.