14 November 1997

Good welfare leads to good eating – Waitrose top buyer

Waitrose seeks extensively

managed beef produced to

high welfare standards.

Jonathan Riley reports for

the last in our series on

producer clubs

WELFARE and meat quality are the keys to beef marketing, according to Waitroses head of buying Richard Sadler.

He told members of the Waitrose Aberdeen-Angus beef producers scheme at Genuss Warren Farm, Berks, that welfare and eating quality are closely linked.

"When animals are stressed before slaughter meat is tougher, less juicy and a less attractive colour.

"For this reason we are aiming to have the highest welfare levels of any retailer beef scheme," said Mr Sadler.

"Our protocol is based on the five freedoms, taking welfare recommendations beyond MAFFs welfare codes and beyond any other retailer scheme to date."

He said Waitrose aimed to source beef produced under extensive management regimes and forage should account for 70% of the diet.

Slatted housing is banned and instead any yarded cattle must be kept on deep straw.

"Careful handling and good stockmanship throughout production transport and lairage are vital. At inspection stockmen must be able to demonstrate – preferably with evidence of training – that they are proficient stock handlers," said Mr Sadler.

To have closer control over handling at slaughter and to centralise processing, all Angus scheme cattle will be processed at a new site at Dovecote Park, Pontefract, Yorks.

Philip Harris general manager at Dovecote Park, said research has shown noise can be a major stress factor in lairage and that staff would be trained carefully to minimise noise and limit stress.

Cleanliness will be a key issue at the processing plant and a cleanliness score sheet has been composed and distributed to scheme members. The sheet comprises a series of pictures to show exactly how clean cattle must be to comply with the scheme.

Waitrose and Dovecote Park have also opted to implement an electronic tagging system for the Angus scheme.

"Electronic tagging is crucial to avoid data transcription errors which, if they occurred, would break traceability and jeopardise consumer confidence," says Mr Harris.

The companies are, therefore, hoping to extend an existing electronic tagging system which has been put into place on a trial basis.

"Information from the tags is put into a database which is helping us estimate future cattle throughputs. Animal performance can be logged and cross-referenced with the sire used so that producers can select genetics on progeny performance," said Mr Harris.

Waitroses Richard Sadler…aiming to source beef produced extensively, with 70% of the diet as forage.