The next evolution of farm animal welfare

Monday 8 February 2021

Waitrose is rolling out a new mobile application today that will help the retailer assess and begin to understand the emotional wellbeing of its farm animals. 

The first of its kind, the app aims to manage and improve opportunities that animals have to experience a good and enriching life - a process that Waitrose hopes will help it lead further improvements to animal welfare standards across the UK.

Developed by leading animal behavioural scientists at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and licensed by Waitrose for trial and development for two years, the application is designed to help field teams* better understand, recognise and record emotionally expressive behaviour that - in part - contributes to an animal’s quality of life.

Although the app itself is designed to be practical and easy to use on farm, it is underpinned by rigorous scientific research, which its creator, Professor Francoise Wemelsfelder, calls “Qualitative Behavioural Assessment” (QBA). 

The method allows animal welfare inspectors to record different expressive qualities of behaviour through the app, such as being relaxed, tense, playful or anxious - behaviours that are indicative of an animal’s emotional body language and possible signs of their general well-being. 

This will help field teams assessing Waitrose farms develop their skills and help them describe and quantify the different expressions they observe when looking at their animals. In turn, this will help them better understand the mood the animals are experiencing while interacting with each other and their environment**.

Professor Wemelsfelder comments: “Good physical health is vital for good welfare but there is clear consensus among the scientific animal welfare community that factors such as enjoyment, contentment and positive excitement play an equally vital role in ensuring that an animal has a good life. 

“QBA not only provides a way to assess these factors, it also opens up the conversation about what positive emotional wellbeing for an animal truly looks like. Because we believe fundamentally that animals are not simply production systems to be managed. They are sentient creatures that must be cared for.”

“While this remains very much in development, the fact that the app will be trialled and developed at scale with a leading supermarket chain is an incredibly significant and positive step for the industry.”

James Bailey, Executive Director at Waitrose, comments: “This is a huge development for the industry as it is the first time any retailer has explored welfare measures based on the concept of an animal’s freedom to express positive emotions. 

“In some countries, farm animals continue to be looked upon as food production systems that need to be managed. This is wrong and for the UK to continue its position as a leader in farming standards, it’s critical that we recognise farm animals as sentient creatures capable of experiencing a range of emotions and positive experiences. By acknowledging this, working hard to understand what those positive emotional expressions are and how they can be unlocked, we can lead the industry into a new and more confident era of farm animal welfare.”

The app will bolster a breadth of existing animal welfare measurements that Waitrose has incorporated for decades, including good health, good feed and good housing and is part of the larger Good Life animal welfare initiative that has been pioneered by Waitrose and its suppliers. 

The project forms one part of Waitrose’s new 10 year agriculture strategy, which - among other ambitions - sets out to give animals good and enriching lives, pay farmers fairly, ensure all raw materials are responsibly sourced and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all UK farms and fisheries. Learn more here.


*Field teams refer to on farm managers/ external auditors that will independently assess a farm against a number of factors including animal welfare.

**Experienced assessors, and farmers, who work with animals every day will have already acquired a lot of this understanding over the years, and the app wants to support and build on that.

How the QBA app works:

1. Creating a bespoke behavioural language: 

  • A bespoke version of the app has been developed for the six species groups that QBA will roll out to initially - including dairy cows, veal calves, pigs, laying hens, broiler chickens and ducks. Note: This project is still in its infancy but it will be added to further supply chains in the coming year. In addition, more functions will be built in the future - for example, for farmers to track the emotional well-being of their animals over time in different areas of farm management. 
  • Although some descriptive terms for animal emotion, such as ‘relaxed’, or ‘content’, are commonly used across the industry, others can vary considerably depending on the species. . Farmers and field staff from the different supply chains have therefore been working together to come up with their own specific terms for describing emotions in the species they are working with.

2. Identifying a pattern to assess:

  • A tool was needed (eventually leading to the creation of the QBA app) to enable assessors to score these terms and then integrate these terms into a larger pattern that helps us to assess the animal’s quality of life.
  • In this respect, QBA does not look at separate terms, it always looks at the larger pattern of emotional expressivity that can be observed in and among the animals in a group.

3. Using the app:

  • The app (which is available on iOS and Android) provides farmers and field staff with a list of around 20 key descriptive terms bespoke to each species (as stated above)
  • The field manager/ farm assessor will observe the animals in front of them and score those animals on the individual terms that have been created for that specific species. 
  • There is a balance between terms for describing positive and negative emotion, and each of these terms is scored on a sliding scale that ranges from ‘absent’ (e.g. the animals are not relaxed at all) to ‘strongly present’ (e.g. the animals are completely relaxed).  
  • When they are done scoring, assessors submit the data which are then integrated into a larger pattern to see how the farm they have just scored compares to other farms in the data pool.

About the John Lewis Partnership

The John Lewis Partnership owns and operates two of Britain's best-loved retail brands - John Lewis and Waitrose. Started as a radical idea nearly a century ago, the Partnership is the largest employee-owned business in the UK and amongst the largest in the world, with over 78,000 employees who are all Partners in the business. For all intents and purposes, the Partnership is a social enterprise; the profits made are reinvested into the business - for customers and Partners. John Lewis operates 42 shops plus one outlet across the UK as well as

Waitrose has 331 shops in England, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands, including 59 convenience branches, and another 27 shops at Welcome Break locations. The retailer's omnichannel business includes the online grocery service,, as well as specialist online shops including for wine and for plants and flowers.

About SRUC

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) was established in 2012 through the merger of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) with Barony, Elmwood and Oatridge Colleges. Through these institutions, it can trace our lineage back over 100 years. Today, SRUC is on a journey to become Scotland’s enterprise university at the heart of the sustainable natural economy. Its mission is to create and mobilise knowledge and talent – partnering locally and globally.  

To achieve this, it draws upon SRUC’s long standing strengths in world-class and sector-leading research, learning and teaching, skills and training and consultancy (through SAC Consulting). A natural economy is fuelled by responsible use of our natural resources: people, land, energy, water, animals and plants. It is an interlinked, shared, living system that creates opportunities and prosperity. It is multi-scale, dynamic and resilient through creative management and mindful custodianship. 

By focusing on the sustainable natural economy, SRUC will strive to lead the way in delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all, in Scotland, and beyond. 


Waitrose & Partners

Matt Clemens

Partner & Communications Manager
Tel: 07591 381399