Dairy milk assurance schemes

A number of assurance schemes have emerged over the years to try and address concerns over animal welfare issues. However artificial insemination, early separation of calf from mother and the killing of male calves are allowed under all (it’s just a matter of when, where, by whom and for what).

image: red tractor standard label ethical milk

The Red Tractor Standard

The Red Tractor Standard is referred to by several companies in their animal welfare policies, including Medina, Dale Farm, Crediton Dairy, Müller, Graham’s Dairies, Tesco, Sainsbury, Aldi and St Helen’s Farm. Red Tractor merely guarantees that milk was produced on a UK farm that met Red Tractor Farm Assurance Dairy standards – the UK and EU legal minimum.

All the practices described above (and more) can, therefore, take place and there is no prohibition on the use of GM animal feed. Regarding antibiotic use, its processes recommend responsibly reducing ‘antibiotic usage where appropriate without negatively impacting welfare’.

logo: rspca assured food meat fish

RSPCA-Assured

RSPCA-Assured milk offers slightly higher animal welfare standards when compared to the legal minimum standards for cows. For example, a local anaesthetic is required when disbudding; embryo transfer and ovum pick-up are prohibited except in exceptional circumstances and outdoor grazing is encouraged. Antibiotics use is monitored and should be used only when ‘necessary’, with preventative measures being encouraged. The use of GM animal feed is not prohibited.

All of Marks and Spencer’s fresh milk currently comes from RSPCA-assured farms.

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Organic standards

Organic standards for milk can vary between different certification bodies but the Soil Association standard is predominantly used by companies in this guide. Common requirements include:

  • Animals should be grazed outside for most of the year (weather permitting).
  • Minimum weaning age for calves is 12 weeks.
  • The routine use of antibiotics is prohibited.
  • Artificial pesticides cannot be used on the land.
  • No use of GM feed.
logo: pasture for life

The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association

(PFLA) is a farmer-led organisation which champions the benefits of dairy (beef and lamb) production just from grass and pasture, with no grains being fed to the animals.

The Pasture for Life standard currently only applies to cow’s milk (not goat and sheep), and its notable requirements include:

  • No zero grazing.
  • Prohibiting the use of soya and GM animal feed.
  • Minimum weaning age for calves is 12 weeks.
  • Calves must not be killed (by the Pasture for Life farm) for any reason other than non-recoverable illness or injury.
  • Antibiotic use is kept to a minimum and reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The PFLA website currently lists two places where you can buy Pasture for Life milk: Challons Combe Organics and Taw River Dairy in Devon.

logo: pasture promise ethical milk standard label

Pasture Promise

Legally, free-range milk is yet to be defined and so The Free Range Dairy Network has developed their own working definition – the network requires its farmers to graze their cows outside for 180 days and nights a year (except in exceptional circumstances) before they can use the Free Range Pasture Promise logo on their products. They also prohibit Free Range Dairy Farmers from shooting calves unless it is ‘to alleviate pain or suffering’. No information could be found regarding this standard’s approach to antibiotic use.

Free Range Pasture Promise milk is available in ASDA stores nationwide.