Gore farm apple orchards

Waitrose has picked up top marks in a global annual farm welfare audit supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection.

The retailer is now ranked in the top tier of 80 global food companies for farm welfare according to the Business Benchmark on Farm Welfare (BBFW), which provides an annual review of how the world’s leading food companies are managing and reporting their farm animal welfare practices.

Waitrose rose from the third tier of companies last year to a “leadership position” in the top tier of six, said BBFW, alongside Marks & Spencer and Switzerland’s Coop Group.

It was applauded by the animal welfare group for its stunning of livestock before slaughter, and for publishing a range of other potential welfare indicators, such as average journey times, and accidents and deaths in transit of livestock. Heather Jenkins, Waitrose’s director of agriculture strategy, said high standards of animal welfare were “at the heart of our business and something we’re passionate about”.

The likes of Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Food, Noble Foods, Cranswick and McDonalds were all ranked in the second tier - identified as companies which recognise animal welfare as integral to their business strategy.

Arla Foods and Tesco were ranked in the third tier, for companies with established programmes but “with work to be done”, while Groupe Lactalis, Mars, 2 Sisters Food Group and Müller were among those ranked in the sixth tier, described as CIWF as companies who offered “no evidence” that animal welfare was on their business agenda.

“The key conclusion to be drawn from the 2014 Benchmark is that farm animal welfare continues to be a systemic risk that many companies in the food industry are either not effectively managing or not properly reporting,” said study spokesman Rory Sullivan.

“We are particularly concerned that most of the companies in Tier six and Tier five do not appear to have taken action to improve their management of farm animal welfare-related risks and opportunities, nor have they signalled that they intend to do so,” he added.

However, 2 Sisters Food Group contested the study’s veracity, particularly the methodology it used to gather information on how companies managed their animal welfare practices.

A spokeswoman said the audit was based solely on what “said by companies themselves and published on their own websites, rather than any “independent audits of day-to-day working practices”.

“This audit was carried out in August last year, four weeks before 2 Sisters Food Group’s new improved corporate website was launched,” she added, with the new site carrying “substantially more information on our approach to animal welfare, and details on how we work with Red Tractor, RSPCA Freedom Foods and many others to meet rigorous welfare standards”.