Marks & Spencer has today announced that it has commissioned the RSPCA to audit every single M&S dairy farm to RSPCA Assured Standards and committed to publishing the results on its website.
In a full announcement made today, Director of Food Andy Adcock confirmed that all 40 UK farms (known as the M&S Milk Pool) will be audited by RSPCA assessors as soon as possible. The move comes after pictures emerged of calves being held in individual pens, in breach of animal welfare standards were discovered. Andy Adcock, admitted the issue by stating: “We hold our hands up. Keeping calves over eight weeks old in such pens is unacceptable. One of our farmers made a mistake. However, we are not going to sever our ties with this farm and we are not going to weaken our valued links with Britain’s farming community.
Within hours of being alerted to the issue last week, we mobilised a team of independent specialists, including one of the country’s leading vets, to the farm. They checked the health and wellbeing of every single calf, and found that there was no distress among the animals, confirming that animal wellbeing wasn’t compromised.
Inspectors from Dorset County Council’s trading standards division also visited. They did not detect any breaches of animal welfare. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has backed our decision to continue to support the farm; in fact, this body has actively called on us to stick with this farm and with British farming in general – a sentiment with which we wholeheartedly agree.
We are very clear on this issue. Any calf over the age of eight weeks old should not have been housed in these pens. However, we believe this to be a one-off incident; a good farm making a bad decision, and we stand by our standards.
That is why we have commissioned the RSPCA to inspect all 40 of our dairy farms. They will carry out these independent inspections as soon as possible, measuring us against their own independent accreditation standard, and report back. We will publish the results of those inspections in full. And if we are required to take any action, we will do so immediately and with full transparency.”
The move comes in advance of the retailer adopting RSPCA Assured Standards as its minimum requirement which will see the farms assessed annually.
RSPCA Assured Standards are the highest welfare standards in the industry and cover all aspects of milk production including calf rearing, cow welfare, accommodation, health planning, transport, feed and grazing.
The farms will still be required to be Red Tractor Assured (the current minimum standard) and M&S will continue its own twice yearly Select Farm Assurance audits.
Andy Adcock, M&S Director of Food, said: “This is a significant strengthening of our animal welfare standards. We are already recognised by leading animal charities but are always looking to improve and RSPCA Assured is the best in the business. Very few farms operate to that level of animal welfare and adoption of these standards will set M&S dairy farms apart – and that’s what our customers want and expect from us.”
The M&S Milk Pool was set up in 2000 to give M&S farmers the stability to enable them to invest for the future. At the time, it was an industry first and today has 40 farms spread across the UK delivering regionally sourced fresh milk into M&S stores and cafes.
Tim Lock, Chairman of the M&S Milk Pool and dairy farmer in West Sussex, said: “We are proud of the standards that the M&S Milk Pool has worked to achieve over the past 17 years, but also we recognise that third-party endorsement strengthens our pool and provides a significant point of difference for our farmers. In addition to the pride we have in our standards, we take great pride in our cows who produce the fresh milk that M&S puts in front of its customers each day and we believe it is a great product that is the best in the business.”