Animal welfare

Rearing livestock well and ensuring that high welfare standards apply throughout the animal’s life are vital to ensuring the quality of the meat and fish we sell. 

We work closely with our UK farmers to ensure all the livestock that provides the meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish products we sell are reared to the very highest welfare standards. Waitrose is also the only UK supermarket to operate its own farm, the Leckford Estate supplying our Waitrose shops with flour, cox cider, apple juice, sparkling wine, apples, pears, mushrooms, and rapeseed oil.


Building strong relationships with people inside and outside our business is key to delivering our vision for sustainability and ethics and long-term business success. We respect the interests people touched by our business – our Partners (our employees), customers, suppliers and the wider community. It is important we listen and respond to their concerns, are honest in our expectations and fair in how we communicate our performance.


The universal five freedoms form the core of our animal welfare standards, but we are always looking at ways of developing and improving these:


  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease – by prevention of illness or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.


We recognise that as sentient beings, animals have the ability to feel pain and experience positive emotions such as joy and pleasure. As such, whilst we currently capture a breadth of welfare outcome measures, we feel it is the right time to explore further measures such as those underpinning the freedom to express positive emotions. We have been actively working with independent industry experts including academics, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and animal welfare specialists to develop an extended list of outcome measures for each supply chain.


In 2018 Waitrose agriculture experts, independent specialists, and suppliers together formed the Waitrose Animal Welfare Development Group. Formation of this group has led to a partnership with Professor Francoise Wemelsfelder from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) who has been developing a welfare tool she calls Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA). 

The QBA system allows us to equip our field teams – the people who go out on the farm, day in and day out – with a virtual toolkit app to record animal behaviours identified as being indicative of emotional wellbeing. The QBA system has been licensed for trial by Waitrose and in February 2021, was rolled out to field teams assessing Waitrose farms. Find out more here.



In our UK land-based livestock supply chains, Waitrose & Partners welfare requirements extend well beyond basic Red Tractor Assurance with bespoke, independently verified standards that farmers must adhere to. Close confinement systems, including farrowing crates and caged hens, are not used and stocking densities are lower than average across the supply chain. Journey times are much shorter than the legal maximum, with Waitrose & Partners implementing our own maximum travel time requirements for some supply chains. We conduct our own assessments of farm management practices, and farms are independently audited by the relevant assurance schemes, supplemented by our own bespoke standards (detailed below). Our hauliers undergo livestock handling and welfare training and our slaughter sites are reviewed by the Humane Slaughter Association.


All our farmed fish suppliers, irrespective of geographic location, utilise certification standards such as Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Global Gap, Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices, RSPCA or recognised organic certification. We ensure all our staff are welfare trained. Additionally, salmon, trout, sea bass and bream producers are assessed through our own Responsible Efficient Production Index (REP). The results of this are closely monitored and acted upon to maintain standards.


All supply chains are committed to eradicating on-farm mutilation with procedures such as fish fin clipping forbidden and pig tail docking only permitted with veterinary recommendation. We are committed to finding alternatives to all forms of livestock mutilation.


Production is kept as natural as possible by providing environmental and social enrichment. We use a high forage diet for ruminant species and make sure that dairy cows graze for at least 120 days out of the year. In fact, during 2020 our conventional (non-organic) dairy farmers managed to graze their herds for an average of 173 days, with our Organic dairy farmers averaging 205 days.


Our Agriculture Manager and Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager, in conjunction with the Waitrose Farming Partnership Livestock Steering Group (WFP LSG) and the Waitrose Farming Partnership Fish Forum (WFP FF), are charged with the overall responsibility for animal welfare in our supply chain. Members of the LSG are all livestock experts from Waitrose & Partners and its dedicated suppliers and our technical team has significant animal welfare training. Courses completed by our in-house team include Bristol University’s Poultry / Animal Welfare Officer training and the University of the Highlands and Islands’ course on Fish Welfare.


The John Lewis Partnership Ethics and Sustainability Committee, which includes Executive Directors and Directors of both Waitrose and Partners and John Lewis and Partners, has oversight of our corporate responsibility strategy and priority issues, including animal welfare. This ensures it is monitored at the highest level – the office of our Chairman, Sharon White.


Our animal welfare policies, key performance indicator graphs and historical welfare outcomes across supply chains are shown in our KPI results. These results are monitored by ourselves, our farmers and our processors. All of this is important to Waitrose & Partners, as we never buy livestock or meat on the open market. Instead, we only work with farmers we know and trust and who share our values.