Sustainable farming

A variety of issues have surfaced amongst global food businesses more prominently in recent years. These include food scandals, tightening regulatory and investor concerns on welfare and food safety and consumer interest in issues of food quality, safety, provenance and traceability. This has led to growing attention on the issue of farm animal welfare and the fragility of the food systems we rely on to feed a growing global population.

Efficiency and economic and environmental sustainability lie at the heart of Waitrose's agriculture strategy and our Farming Partnership. This partnership consists of three groups of suppliers whose objective is to future-proof farming businesses – The Agronomy Group, The Livestock Steering Group and The Fish Forum. Each group is tasked with implementing programmes that contribute to a more sustainable future for UK farms and elsewhere. Find out more about our approach to responsible aquaculture.

Livestock plays an essential role in food security. However its production requires considerable resources. In particular, a global increase in the demand for livestock products has led to a rise in the demand for protein-based animal feeds and is typically more water intensive that alternative food sources.  

Pigs feeding in trough


77% of the soy used in feed used in the production of our own-brand meat, milk, poultry, egg and farmed fish products is certified sustainable. In addition, this year we have made further progress in our efforts to reduce the dependency on imports from South America, seeking to increase feed grown within the UK and Europe.

In 2016 Waitrose became the first UK retailer to introduce European non-GM certified soy into our animal feed supply chain. The first shipment, farmed in the Danube region of Europe, has been incorporated into the diets of pigs which produce Waitrose pork, via our dedicated pork supplier Dalehead Foods with the aim of including it in all pig feed. 

Close up of cows grazing on grass

Forage protein project

The use and integration of other more sustainable protein sources for livestock feed are the key to developing resilience in UK food security and as such our Livestock Steering Group has just completed its five year Forage Protein Project.

The scale of UK grassland offers a huge opportunity to source forage protein for livestock feed as opposed to soy. It is important to tackle the barriers to their use - from establishment to feeding strategies. In 2016, our Livestock Steering Group completed its five-year Sustainable Forage Protein project. With co-funding from Innovate UK we worked with industry partners and leading research institutes to find solutions to these barriers. The project involved eight farms from the Waitrose beef, lamb and dairy supply chains, which grew a range of high-protein forage crops that they had not previously grown on their farm and fed it to their livestock. The farmers collaborated with researchers at Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities to monitor progress as well as recording production details that might impact on costs and carbon emissions.

In 2017 we will use the outcomes of this work to help farmers share and apply best practice across their farms. We will also launch a range of Waitrose Farming Partnership grass and protein mixes for our farmers to grow in spring 2017.