Farm Animal Welfare


Last updated: April 2017


Farm Animal Welfare in Supermarkets


Nicky Amos and Rory Sullivan on why the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare works.

Now in its sixth year, the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) assesses how global food companies (retailers and wholesalers, producers and manufacturers, and restaurants and bars) manage and report on farm animal welfare.

The data show that, while there are clear signs of improvement, farm animal welfare remains an immature business issue, with many companies still in the early stages of developing and implementing farm animal welfare policies. 



Company performance

Interestingly, however, food retailers, especially those in the UK, are some of the strongest performers, with Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Co-op UK and Tesco all demonstrating strong commitments to managing farm animal welfare standards and performance. Other supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Asda (part of Walmart), Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl are making progress in implementing farm animal welfare in their business processes. 


Consumer pressure

Consumer pressure has been a key factor in propelling UK supermarkets’ action on farm animal welfare. UK customers have consistently demanded, and been willing to pay for, higher welfare products such as free-range eggs. 

Companies have seen the potential to use animal welfare to differentiate their products, and to address wider trends associated with healthy lifestyles, food quality, nutritional value and product authenticity. 

Interestingly, accessing these opportunities is not the preserve of premium retailers and food producers appealing to more affluent consumers; retailers such as Aldi and Lidl are realising that adopting higher animal-welfare standards is a prerequisite for attracting large numbers of discerning consumers. 


A useful tool

Companies have also recognised that they need to align their corporate reputation with their marketing efforts, acknowledging that scandals such as the 2013 ‘horsegate’ scandal undermine their credibility as retailers of higher-welfare products.

The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, with its annual evaluations of companies, is now seen as the standard framework for evaluating companies on farm animal welfare. As such, it provides a useful tool for consumers looking to ensure that their retailers’ commitments and positions on farm animal welfare are aligned with their own. 




The BBFAW 2015 Report


The BBFAW 2015 report was compiled in collaboration with leading animal welfare organisations Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection, and investment firm, Coller Capital. It reveals that companies are generally increasing the importance they attach to farm animal welfare.

All the supermarkets have improved or maintained position year on year with the exception of Morrisons which is the only supermarket over the four years of reporting to have dropped a tier.

how supermarkets performed on animal welfare

The Co-op has been consistently good from the start and was the best supermarket in the first year of analysis.

M&S was the quickest supermarket to make significant progress and then maintained it, and was the only top rated supermarket in 2013.

Waitrose also made significant progress a year later than Marks & Spenser and has maintained it.

Sainsbury’s initially progressed and is now maintaining its position.


Our research

All the supermarkets in our product guide get our worst rating in our Factory Farming and Animal Rights categories because they all sell animal products from factory-farmed animals, be it non-free range or organic meat, poultry, dairy, eggs or fish. However, differences can be seen in their stated policies and practices. And some supermarkets sell more free range or organic products than others.


Click to enlarge:

scorecard for supermarkets

The same three names rise to the top – Waitrose, M&S and The Co-op – as being the supermarkets doing the most to stock animal products from animals raised under better welfare standards.

Whether you eat meat or not, you can choose to buy your food from a supermarket which is doing more than others to improve animal welfare.



The standards

Red Tractor and ‘standard’ chicken have the same sort of ‘intensive’ stocking densities (38-42 kg/m2) and standards including lack of ‘enrichment’ and birds kept in sheds on litter without natural light. Intensively-reared chickens are normally housed in groups of up to 40,000 in a large shed. See more on Red Tractor in the box at the bottom. 

RSPCA Freedom Food Indoor and Higher Welfare Indoor chickens are kept indoors and stocked at not more than 30 kg/m2 and natural light and enrichment is required.

RSPCA Freedom Food Free Range, Free Range or Organic are the better assurance labels. All birds must have access to the outdoors during the day. Organic farms having the smallest stocking densities (as little as 21 kg/m2), giving birds at least twice as much space as intensively-reared chickens. Soil Association organic is the highest welfare standard with a maximum flock size of 1,000 birds.


What the supermarkets sell

None of the supermarkets sold just free range or organic chicken. The best supermarkets were Waitrose followed by M&S and then The Co-op.

  • Waitrose – all its Waitrose Essential basic range of chicken is Higher Welfare Indoor where the chickens are kept indoors but with more space (not more than 30 kg/m2), natural light and enrichments like straw bales and perches. The rest of the chicken it sells is either free range or organic.
  • M&S – the majority of chicken is M&S Oakham which is stocked at not more than 34 kg/m2, natural light and enrichment required. The rest of the chicken it sells is either free range or organic.
  • The Co-op – the majority of chicken is stocked at not more than 34kg/m2, natural light and enrichment required. The rest is either RSPCA Freedom Food Indoor or free range.

The majority of the chicken sold by the other supermarkets was Red Tractor or ‘standard’ chicken. 



Good eggs and bad eggs


The standards

Battery cages were made illegal in the EU in 2012 but the ‘enriched cage’ system, which is permitted, is little better. Hens have slightly more space and a small perch, litter and a nest rather than just a bare wire mesh floor but it is still a confinement system and restricts behaviour.

Barn hens are kept indoors but they can move around and have enough space to do natural things like peck, scratch, flap their wings and lay their eggs in a nest box.

Free range and organic hens live in sheds but can also go outside during daylight hours, where they often have trees and shrubs for shelter. Organic hens are also limited to smaller flocks, given extra space both indoors and out, and their beaks are not usually trimmed. Soil Association organic eggs have the highest welfare standards.




For boxes of eggs:

  • Clear winners for boxes of eggs are The Co-op, M&S and Waitrose which only sell free range and organic boxes of eggs.
  • Runners-up are Booths and Sainsbury’s because they don’t sell ‘enriched cage’ eggs.
  • Clear losers are those still selling ‘enriched cage’ eggs – Aldi, ASDA, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco. 


For eggs used in own brand products (quiches, cakes, pasta etc.):

  • Only uses free range – Co-op, M&S, Waitrose
  • Uses free range & barn eggs – Sainsbury’s
  • Uses free range & ‘enriched cage’ – ASDA, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco

The clear winners again are The Co-op, M&S and Waitrose whilst ASDA, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco get rotten egg awards again for using ‘enriched cage’ eggs. 




The Red Tractor

Some supermarkets are using the Red Tractor (RT) logo widely as an assurance symbol on their meat and dairy products. All of Lidl and Aldi’s UK meat is RT certified and the scheme is also used by Asda, Booths, Iceland and others. In fact, according to Asda, the RT logo is found on nearly all the food that is produced (farmed or grown) in the UK. 

The scheme certifies that produce meets the standards of the National Dairy Farm Assurance Scheme (NDFAS). These standards have been criticised for being simply the UK and EU legal minimums and nothing more, and for allowing factory-farmed systems and practices. In 2012, advertisements falsely claiming that RT pork was “high welfare” were banned following several complaints.

Funded by producer fees, the RT scheme is run by Assured Food Standards (AFS), a not-for-profit company owned by the NFU, British Retail Consortium (a retail trade association) and others. The RT website claims that it guarantees “food safety and hygiene, animal health and welfare, environmental protection and traceability” throughout the supply chain – “from farm to fork”. 

According to the Ethical Consumer 2016 report on the National Farmers Union, ‘An English Agribusiness Lobby Group’, the RT’s mission is to maximise market share for UK producers whilst keeping the practical and financial implications to a minimum. This involves straddling awkward territory:

“It wants to persuade consumers to see it as a mark of quality whilst trying not to antagonise farmers by holding them to high standards.” 

Some farmers argue that “the process actually adds very little ‘quality’ from a consumer perspective”.

Farmers have expressed frustration that supermarkets may only buy from UK assured farms, whilst happily stocking non-assured produce from abroad.

Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s have rejected the RT logo because of its low bar to entry – their suppliers are required to adhere to much more stringent regulations. Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King told NFU members in 2014: “I understand why the NFU wants to promote Red Tractor because they want to promote higher standards across the sector – a rising tide floating all boats. But we do a lot more”.

According to an interview with one farmer, “It’s a paper exercise and not an assurance of anything, other than the ability to create a file of paper accumulated since the last visit.”





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