Britain’s second-biggest supermarket, Sainsbury’s, has launched a scheme designed to increase animal welfare standards among its milk suppliers.
The welfare standard applies to all 334 of the dairy farmers that make up the Sainsbury’s Dairy Development Group and forms part of a wider £40m investment the supermarket is making in its dairy supply chain over the next three years.
It is also a further example of the growing focus on welfare among major retailers, after Marks and Spencer introduced a similar welfare-based scheme for its suppliers.
“We know animal welfare is very important to our customers; in fact, 40% of customers cited it as their top concern in Mintel research last month,” Sainsbury’s head of agriculture, Annie Graham said.
“In the past, standards have focussed on the farm environment, but we believe our scheme is unique because it uses an ‘outcome approach’ that focuses on the cow health and welfare outcomes that our customers want to see.”
Three years have been spent working with farmers and vets to develop the scheme, which essentially sets SDDG suppliers performance targets across nine key areas of animal welfare, including lameness, mastitis, nutrition, housing, transport and disease.
Milk recording and twice-yearly independent visits by Evidence Based Veterinary Consultancy vets – paid for by Sainsbury’s – will be used to record progress. Sainsbury’s only has access to aggregate data for all of its SDDG farms, although individual farms will be able to benchmark their own progress against others in the group via an online database.
Sainsbury’s will not charge consumers more for the milk and so farmers will not be paid more for it, but Ms Graham was adamant the current bonus (worth 2.1p/litre on top of the processors liquid milk price), plus savings made from improved animal health and efficiency would cover the cost of any investment required.
She reckoned the welfare scheme had delivered £1.6m worth of efficiency savings to the supermarket’s dairy farmer suppliers so far, worth around £5030 per farm on average.
Animal welfare groups and the NFU all welcomed the launch of the Sainsbury’s scheme and agreed that it was an example of the way the industry should be moving. However the NFU’s Hayley Campbell-Gibbons said it was also important consumers were educated. “We’ve got to make them much more aware of the good work British dairy farmers are doing.”
Sussex farmer William Goodwin has been involved with developing the welfare scheme and is investing £15,000 this year to improve cow comfort by laying new rubber matting in the parlour, walkways and feeding areas.
He believes the milk price bonus plus savings from fewer herd health problems will more than make up for the cost.
“It’s about changing the mindset and seeing investment such as this, or paying for a vet, as an investment rather than a cost that has to be trimmed out.”
Mr Goodwin acknowledged that it was likely the targets farmers were set would become more challenging as areas of inefficiency were reduced. “But I’m sure there are other areas that will be looked at more closely in the future, which could give scope for other savings. Hopefully we’ll also be able to educate consumers and see a benefit [in terms of a higher price] in the long run.”
Sainsbury’s says it has just become the largest retailer of Freedom Foods in the UK, after sales reached £143m. Research shows that 60% of all Sainsbury’s customers have bought at least one Freedom Food labelled item in the past year.
The supermarket also claims to be the largest retailer of Fairtrade produce in the UK, with sales worth £218m, equivalent to one-third of all UK Fairtrade sales.