Your Co-op, food and farming. Join the conversation

Next up in our series of conversations about the issues that matter to you we’re talking about our approach to food and farming.

I’m chiefly interested in food and farming issues as they relate to Co-op brand products – how we deliver our products in a way that reflects your priorities for issues like animal welfare, British sourcing and environmental impact.

Right now we’ve committed to:    

  • Sourcing 100% British fresh meat from May 2017. We’re investing £1.5bn to source own-brand British meat, produce and dairy products from the UK between 2015 and 2018.
  • Establishing strong relationships with farmers and growers through our UK Farming Groups. This supports British farming whilst addressing issues such as animal welfare, environmental impacts, and supply chain transparency.
  • Respecting, monitoring, and reporting on the welfare of animals in our supply chain. We offer products produced to good animal welfare standards for all our members and customers, regardless of their budget.

And you can find out more about all of this on our Food website and in our annual Co-op Way Report. The Report provides a warts and all account of our performance in these areas, and across a wider range of ethics and sustainability matters, to give everyone who’s interested confidence in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Right now, we want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the issues of food and farming? How important are these issues to you? And why?

I’ll be responding to your comments so do join in the conversation.

Paul Gerrard
Group Policy Director

Join the conversation! 39 Comments

  1. Great policy decision regarding British sourcing

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  2. It’s good to hear you sell products produced to good animal welfare standards, I hope this is true. This is hugely important as a lot of captive farm animals in the UK have very little space to move around and don’t ever get outdoors.

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    • In theory Red Tractor scheme looks good but in practice allows welfare abuses. For example, in relation to pigs, the scheme allows intensive indoor pig breeding, the use of the farrowing crate,(which is a gross abuse of welfare of the mother pig and its piglets). It also allows mutilation by tail docking and teeth clipping of piglets with no anaesthetic. It allows pigs to be kept indoors throughout their lives until they are killed, in squalid cramped conditions with no stimulation for these intelligent animals. The Red Tractor scheme is managed by Assured Food Standards, a company owned and funded by the farming and food industry.

      Far better for the Co-op to adopt the Soil Association Organic Standards of welfare, if the Co-op wants to be serious about achieving real animal welfare .

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      • I agree Geoff.
        Personally, I don’t think you can ever guarantee that animals are well-treated when they are being bred to be killed. More vegan products please co-op!!!!

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  3. I love the Coops commitment to British meat and supporting our farmers to get it to the best quality.

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  4. Margaret , I think it is very important the co op sources British food, also ,i know from experience how hard our farmers work ,so give them a fair deal .

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  5. There are several different views of how Brexit is going to impact our Farmers, and the food we buy. One thing is certain, though, if we buy more UK-sourced food, then we all will benefit.

    Quality and reassurance on both source and welfare may mean that we have to pay a little more. Well done to the Co-op so far for leading the big boys and promoting the value this represents.

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  6. Can we please start looking at the REAL sustainability issues, which are about sourcing Organic Produce with a fair price for famers. thanks

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  7. I like the way the co op cares about animal welfare I care a lot about where the meat I buy comes from and how the animal is treated. I buy organic meat so if the co op made organic meat available I would buy from you. However on occasion I have bought your ‘outdoor bred’ bacon when I have been unable to get organic bacon elsewhere. It’s nice to know that the animal has been outdoors and hopefully treated well. I think it would be good to know in the packaging which farm in the U.K. the meat is from and then be able to find info online about that farm and maybe be able to visit the farm to see what it is like. Thanks Lucie 🙂

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  8. I use Coop to purchase meat due to higher welfare than other supermarkets. It is vital that Coop continue to use farms and farming methods that provide extremely high welfare and I am pleased that they are dedicated in doing this. I also hope this includes methods for dairy and milk production.

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  9. Sourcing British meat is a great way of looking after local people, whilst protecting the Coop early from the effects of Brexit – good decision. I’m glad to hear that animal welfare is a strong consideration and think it would be excellent if all Coop meat and dair products carried the RSPCA kite mark. I’d hope to see organic, free range and fair trade logos too. Our coop should set the standards high and be an example to less ethical commercially-driven corporations.

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  10. I do think co-op should go further with animal welfare, as others have also spoken about. Considering how we don’t test on animals on our health and beauty range. I don’t eat much meat, but I would rather buy if I’m guaranteed the animals are treated well. Red tractor is a start, but we need to push the boundaries. So many farmers say that a happy animal is much better anyway. #ShowYouCare #BeingCoop

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  11. For me, the most important thing is animal welfare. I find it difficult to ascertain what standards you are promoting. There is a misconception that “Red Tractor” is high standard, but it’s not… it’s “bog standard” and just means the animals come from British Farms, but British Farms are not always high standard even with the Red Tractor label. Animals that come from Red Tractor farms still have to endure concrete sleeping conditions, cramped conditions etc etc. . I would like to see more RSPCA Assured (meats & eggs) and Soil Association (dairy) products and I would like these to be easily found on the shelves rather than spending 10 minutes hunting for it. Perhaps a massive sticker on the shelf or may a whole shopping isle/fridge devoted to Vegan/Vegetarian and Ethically sourced meats would make it easier for people to see their choices. Living on my own, I often buy ready meals (shepherds pie, sausage and mash etc) that you just whack in the oven but I have no idea if the meat contained is bog standard Red Tractor or RSPCA Assured, and it would be great if it was the latter. Given the choice, most people would prefer to know the animals they are eating (or milk they are drinking) is ethically sourced and well cared for, but the constraints of daily life mean that hunting these products down is a task in itself, so being able to easily locate them would be great.. Also, a poster displaying what the various labels mean would be great (this can be obtained from the Compassion in World Farming website) as many people see Red Tractor as a great label (it’s not, it’s pants!) and not many are aware of Soil Association (which not only demand RSPCA style standards for animal care but also do not allow live export). Education and easy sourcing of these products are key.

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  12. I am really pleased that this conversation is taking place! I am really impressed with the co-op for opening this forum and giving their customers a voice. I buy food based on: it’s food miles, welfare (for animal products), whether it is fair trade, and ideally organic. if I know that a product has been grown without the use of pesticides in a land regenerating style that would trump organic. I try and adopt a policy of if I can’t afford to buy a product grown/produced with high welfare, low or no chemicals and with good ethics then I go without. I would like to see more high welfare organic animal products, I think it would be great if co op stocked produce that was specific to its area, opening some shelf space to local seasonal produce from a collection of small scale producers.

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  13. I am wholly behind the Co-Op with this, as long as when using “location” name, it is true in both name and deed. The prices are high at the Co however, I am willing to support them as long as they remain true and buy from British farmers only. Brexit is a reality which we all need to accept and the Co was built on British suppliers and farmers so….

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  14. I realise the Co-Op likes to brand all fresh produce as UK, with a union flag on it. I would much prefer that Scottish produce be marked as such, with a saltire flag on it. Firstly, it would make me more likely to buy it, since I would probably be benefiting a local farmer. In addition, the produce would spend a lot less time in transit or storage, therefore be much fresher than produce from the other end of the country. I have bought local produce in farmers’ markets, and find them superior to any sold in supermarkets because of the quality and freshness.

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  15. A bit off the food topic, but I am hoping for more Coop ethically sourced personal hygiene products. In particular, our attention was drawn, last Summer, to the use of micro beads in a whole range of products.

    I understand that these “scrubbing agents” are highly toxic to marine life.

    I try to identify products that do not contain micro beads, but labelling seems not to extend to such products. I do hope that this can change soon.

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  16. Listening to Radio 4’s Food Programme today, I was interested to hear about the ideas of making use of “wasted” food; which can include damaged or second grade produce, or food that is currently thrown away.

    Lots of ideas here, from local schemes to feed homeless people, through shelving imperfect vegetables at discount prices, to making use of produce that is currently unused, for example, the pulp left over by the sugar beet industry.

    These ideas seem right up the COOP’s street, with its many ethical policies. I would love to see more of this done.

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  17. Hi All,
    I am really pleased about the matter from a CO-OP group point of view and the brands. How ever as we all know the retail stores do sell other brands as well. Is it possible to have a logo on the price label, the same as the coop log on the shelf? To state the products fall in to this area? We also need to look at make sure the farm and middle people get a fair deal. The inspections that take place should be at random so changes can not be made.

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  18. I whole-heartedly approve of the Co-op’s support of animal welfare.

    I humbly ask that the Co-op now consider stopping the use of plastic bags and plastic-wrapped vegetables. Plastic is accumulating in the seas ( often seen washed up on the shore-line) and this is causing untold harm to fish and sea-creatures such as turtles, dolphins and whales.
    Please start to use re-cycled paper bags again as in the days of the old green-grocers.

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  19. Hello,

    I think a reduction in meat production is a viable way forward and adding more vegan products. Linda McCartney and Quorn have decent products but there is a growing movement and it would be nice to see more own brand vegan products.

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  20. Animal welfare should be the main priority but I would also like to see a range of organic meats, fruit and veg – I currently do not buy any food from the coop as no organic products are on offer.

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  21. I’m pleased that the Co-op is starting this forum. I think the main focus needs to be on animal welfare, having all products which are/ contain ingredients from animals being RSPCA assured or approved by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Alternatively, providing organic food for sale – which generally has higher welfare standards to meet than other types, could ensure that the Co-op treats the animals that make its profits, properly.

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  22. The issue of animal welfare is very important to me, and I would like to see more wild salmon available in the Coop, when in season, as farmed salmon is one of the most toxic foods there is. Google it! The introduction of 100% British meat is a fantastic development.

    I love the increasing amount of organic veg available in your stores, more of that please. And huge congratulations for having organic mature cheddar available for the same cost as non-organic; now I can eat cheese without eating hormones and antibiotics! But please can you reduce the amount of plastic for fruit and veg? I don’t mind waiting at the till while my goods are weighed, and paper bags are so much healthier for the produce as it doesn’t sweat in there. Thanks.

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  23. Like other writers I am interested in animal welfare and a fair deal for farmers.
    I am also concerned about non recycled/recyclable packaging eg yoghurt, use of unsustainable palm oil in dairy products eg margarines.
    Lastly I am concerned that a lot of the fruit and vegetables available at the co op travel a long way to get on the shelves. I’d like to be assured this is avoided, that farming practices are sustainable and the farmers are fairly treated abroad.

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  24. There have been reports in the newspapers linked to studies on a coming deficit in topsoil.
    With headlines and terms such as;
    “Britain has only 100 harvests left”
    “agricultural crisis”,
    “Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues”

    Large scale industrial agriculture is sadly stripping nutrients away from the soil faster than it is able to replenish them. The intensive tillage of monocrops is releasing large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The heavy use of chemicals is also reducing microbial biomass year on year. Both outcomes leading to less nutrient rich topsoils.

    I would like to see the Co-op lead the way on replenishing our islands’ topsoils by partnering with the Soil Association. To encourage farmers to implement soil protecting techniques such Agroforestry, low tillage / no tillage and Conversation Agriculture or Regenerative Agriculture generally.

    As climate changes and the UK’s population increases by another 10 million, the stresses on our soils will only get worse. Farming methods such as heavy tillage cannot be afforded to deplete the topsoil quality for future generations.

    I would like to see the Co-op think 60 years and further ahead for the sake of our food security which is dependant on our soil’s health.

    Here is a link to the Soil Association’s March 2017 report on the future of British farming outside the EU: ow.ly/aaWf30a5aXR

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  25. The COOP’s Animal Welfare Policy is commendable, however it is my opinion the adopted Assured Food Standards Schemes do not go far enough in so many aspects. Please develop your policy further, look to the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming for consultation and improve further your market position with ethical consumers by becoming renowned for taking welfare standards to the next level.
    In the meantime, educate your customers about your good welfare practices through all your channels, particularly in the shops at the point of purchase; there is still not enough awareness about the supply chain with the majority of the shopping public.
    Where possible, more choice of ready prepared vegetarian and vegan options would be helpful; shopping for the staple (high welfare) meat and the two veg meal for my partner and son is easy enough, but for my own veg and vegan requirements it’s a little more challenging. Anyway, well done so far but please don’t think for a moment that you have done enough by winning a few awards in the last 9 years.

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  26. I love the coop, but more vegan options are needed for myself and other ethical consumers. My local coop has very little vegan food options like the quorn vegan range or vegan cheeses. I have to shop at tesco and sainsbury’s for these items, but I would much rather give my money to the coop!

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  27. I think that although the provenience of our goods is very important, the cost to us as customers must be kept fair, especially in times when our finances are unsure, so hopefully the coop will continue to find a happy medium

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  28. I believe the Co-op (and all supermarkets) must reduce meat products. I understand that it seems right to support British farmers, but the beef industry is a major contributor to climate change and I believe that supermarkets have the power to make an enormous impact on society and so help end our contribution to worsening climate change. Perhaps the Co-op could support animal agriculture farmers to move to plant agriculture. The World Health Organisation has classified certain processed meats like bacon as carcinogens. Please move meat to end aisles – I know Sainsbury’s is looking at this.

    I love the co-op but I want to see more vegan choices in mainstream aisles as cruelty-free products not just in free from ranges.

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  29. I also would like to see more vegan products and less meat, I would also like to see less plastic packaging which would also go to helping the environment.

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  30. Really important that the Coop leads the way on this! I have noticed that fresh chicken now isn’t ‘Elmwood’ standard, it used to be the case that all fresh chicken was free range but I don’t think this is the case anymore? Why is this and is there a will to get back to that place?

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  31. Whilst I am very glad that UK farmers are benefitting from a policy of sourcing from Britain I think that the main aim for the future should be genuine improvements in animal welfare.
    It would be great to get to a point where all animal products were free range and I would like to see some examples of the kinds of things that farmers have done to improve the quality of life for their animals.

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  32. Thank you for the links above to the Coop Animal Welfare Policy. Very helpful to read this in light of the recent article in the Guardian on the dairy industry. I am so encouraged to see the commitments the coop have made, especially on access to grass for dairy cows, and only using free-range eggs in own brand ready-made food. I have been shopping in the coop for years but never knew. (I would have bought more if I did!)

    My shopping choices are made based on which supermarket can provide me with the largest range of RSPCA certified meat and animal products. Sadly, at the moment, that isn’t the Coop. When will the Coop be producing a wide range of RSPCA cold meats? (a German summer market is currently offering British RSPCA ham, porkpies, sausage rolls and sometimes pate).
    Could the Co-op possibly provide the option of ‘Free-range’ dairy as another supermarket has recently launched? If it could be certified RSPCA that would be amazing and reestablish the Coop as the for runner in championing animal welfare.
    Thank you for all your hard work.

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