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Caring for animals: our policy and approach

We work with our farmers to meet globally recognised standards as set by the World Organisation for Animal Health, and eliminate practices that contravene the Five Freedoms.

We work with our farmers to meet globally recognised standards as set by the World Organisation for Animal Health and eliminate practices that contravene the Five Freedoms.

Our global policy, as highlighted in our Terms and Conditions of Supply requires all farmers who supply us with milk to comply with all applicable animal health and welfare legislation.

In addition, in all countries where we collect milk, we build on existing animal welfare legislation and work with industry bodies to deliver outcomes consistent with our animal welfare policies and standards.

On a regular basis we review the alighment of our policies and standards with external welfare agencies.

Our requirements for animals supplying milk throughout the world reflect the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), welfare principles and standards.

Details of these are available at:

Key items from our global animal welfare standards
Prudent use of antibiotics

All antibiotics must be used prudently with the aim to optimise therapeutic efficacy and minimise the risk of development of antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotics must not be used prophylactically.  Where antibiotics are to be used, it must be for the treatment of known infections under veterinary advice.


The prudent use of antimicrobials, particularly those identified as critically important for the treatment of human disease, will help to ensure that antibiotics remain effective for disease treatment in the future.


Avoidance of growth promoting hormones

Growth promoting hormones (HGPs) must not be used.


Avoidance of recombinant bovine somatotrophin (rBST)

We do not support the use of recombinant bovine somatotrophin (rBST) to increase milk production.


Avoidance of close confinement

Close confinement of any animals in our supply chain must be avoided.


Pasture-based farming, where cows graze outside on grass, is the most common approach used in our supply chain.  To qualify for our Grass and Pasture-Fed Standard, the cows on supplying farms must spend at least 90% of their time on pasture.


When housed, dairy cattle must have accommodation which is dry, well ventilated and draught free. Each cow must have sufficient space to lie down comfortably to achieve adequate resting time.


The practice of rearing animals using close confining individual calf/veal crates is not acceptable for animals supplying milk to Fonterra.


Tethering should be avoided wherever possible, and no animlas supplying Fonterra are to be permanently tethered. If dairy cattle must be tethered or tie stalled, they must, at a minimum, be able to lie down and stand up unimpeded.


Avoidance of permanent physical alterations

Routine tail shortening of dairy cows or calves is not permitted. Tails must not be docked unless significant medical conditions require this to occur. In this circumstance, docking must be performed under the supervision of a veterinarian.


Fonterra supports the move towards cattle born without horns (polled animals) but we recognise that this remains rare in dairy cattle.  When polled animals are not available, disbudding before the horn is formed is preferred to the de-horning of older animals, or leaving cattle with horns.  Horns can be a welfare risk for other animals and humans caring for the animals.  De-horning or disbudding must be performed with appropriate concurrent pain relief.


Castration and shortening of the scrotum of dairy bull calves should be carried out at a young

age with techniques which minimise acute and long-term pain or discomfort. When castrating animals over the age of six months, appropriate concurrent pain relief must be used.


End of life care

All animals associated with our supply chain must be humanely slaughtered and this process should always include the use of pre-slaughter stunning, unless for religious or ritual purposes.


Limiting long distance transportation of live animals

Long distance transportation of live animals should be avoided wherever possible. 

If a journey of more than 8 hours by road or rail is necessary, then appropriate measures need to be taken to ensure animals have adequate rest.


Recommended Best Practice: 


a) All animals should be transported for the shortest possible time, especially animals which are young, pregnant, at peak lactation, or at the end of their production lives.


b) The duration of travel for young animals must not be longer than 12 hours.  


c) Unnecessary transport should be avoided and if animals are to be killed, they should, if possible, be killed at the nearest facility.



Fonterra is opposed to the practice of using animals and/or their progeny which have been subject to genetic engineering or have been cloned.

Goals and Targets

Our overarching goal is to continuously improve animal health and welfare outcomes, including the elimination of practices that contravene the Five Freedoms.


Fonterra prides itself in being hands-on to support our supplying farmers globally. The objective is to ensure we produce high quality milk in a sustainable way. This includes a focus on animal welfare. We monitor somatic cell count (SCC) globally as an indication of both milk quality and animal welfare. 


Our global weighted mean is steady, we continue to work with our farmers to improve SCC.


Our team provides farm technical assistance in all milk regions in the form of:


  • On-farm workshops

  • Farmer discussion groups

  • Milk quality trace backs

  • Open days 

  • Farmer education events

Global Somatic Cell Count (SCC) trends


SCC 2016/ 2017

SCC 2017/ 2018

Target 2019/2020

New Zealand

177,000 cells/ml

180,000 cells/ml

175,000 cells/ml


186,000 cells/ml

178,000 cells/ml

175,000 cells/ml


266,000 cells/ml

317,000 cells/ml

270,000 cells/ml



533,000 cells/ml

500,000 cells/ml

Sri Lanka

676,000 cells/ml

635,000 cells/ml

600,000 cells/ml


166,000 cells/ml

168,000 cells/ml

165,000 cells/ml

Global Weighted Mean

180,000 cells/ml

184,000 cells/ml

180,000 cells/ml

Managing policy and performance

The development of strategy, policy and standards for the global management of farm animal welfare is the responsibility of Fonterra’s General Manager – Veterinary, Technical and Risk Management. Our welfare policies and standards are approved by the Fonterra Board and the Senior Management Team.


The management and implementation of Fonterra’s animal welfare policies and strategies is undertaken at a local level, supported by our centralised veterinary and risk team. This team also works to provide education and increase awareness of the importance of good animal welfare.


Globally, our International Milk Quality team assesses animal welfare as part of their milk quality audits in all markets outside of New Zealand where we source milk. This enables Fonterra to identify any issues and recommend improvements to farmers. Many markets also have local veterinary and milk quality support teams to manage this work.

Advocating for robust standards and regulation

We work with industry bodies and training organisations to ensure farmers have access to high-quality information that sets out expected best practice, relevant regulatory requirements and access to training where required. We work with industry partners such as meat processors, transportation companies and regulators to ensure best practice controls are in place.

Improving stakeholder understanding

Through our Open Gates programme farmers who provide us with milk are hosting public open days on their farms which includes demonstrating the high standards of animal welfare for dairy cattle.


For those consumers who are unable to physically visit a farm, we provide educational videos on our web site and via YouTube, including interviews with farmers on their farms.


For school children, we also facilitate farm visits and attend agricultural shows to present to the wider public.

What we've been doing.

Fonterra has a dedicated and highly trained team focusing on animal welfare for our global supply of milk. This team undertakes specific training for animal welfare from both internal and external sources. 

This team is responsible for:

  • Delivering animal welfare training within Fonterra and to external stakeholders.

  • Focusing on animal welfare and how to achieve continuous improvement on supplying farms.

  • Setting animal welfare policy and standards.

  • Implementation and compliance with these policies and standards.

  • Conducting and overseeing global audits.


Mastitis support

Fonterra has systems in place to provide guidance and support for farmers who are identified as having higher than expected levels of mastitis. A network of vets with advanced mastitis knowledge is available in New Zealand, who have undertaken training with internationally respected experts in the field of mastitis investigation and control. Fonterra’s in- house veterinarians monitor and assess the advice given by these specialist vets.

Early response system


In New Zealand, Fonterra is an active participant in the Animal Welfare Early Response Service which supports farmers through challenging times and assists them in getting their animals and farms back on track.

If an animal welfare issue is raised with Fonterra or DairyNZ, a Fonterra Regional Food Safety Manager, along with a DairyNZ Animal Husbandry Extension Specialist, will work closely with the farmer, and Ministry for Primary Industries if necessary, to offer support and assistance.

Support includes developing a step-by-step action plan, conducting cow Body Condition Scoring, developing a feed budget, and recommending the services of Federated Farmers, Rural Support Trust, and farm dairy consultants if necessary. 

Follow up visits will take place to ensure the action plan is being carried out.

Responding to biosecurity incursion.

In July 2017, samples taken from a dairy herd in the South Canterbury region of New Zealand tested positive for Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis), a bacterium which is widespread internationally but had never been identified in New Zealand before. The bacterium causes disease in cattle which has significant implications for disease management, animal welfare and production. However, it poses no risk to milk quality or food safety.

Since the incursion was detected we have worked with the Government, sector groups and other dairy companies to minimise the implications to both animal and farmer welfare, and support efforts to eradicate the disease. The Farm Source™ network, tanker operators, and other teams have helped develop and coordinate two rounds of testing of every herd supplying milk and organised more than 60 information meetings for farmers.

Good progress is being made towards the eradication of the disease. Once clear of the disease, farms are having their biosecurity controls lifted and can get back to business with the restocking of their herd. We will continue to support the eradication process and monitor the compensation process on behalf of our affected farmers.

Education and training.

We keep our supplying farmers up-to-date with the latest animal welfare practices and requirements and work closely with dairy industry bodies to provide farmers with comprehensive training and supporting information.

For example, Fonterra suppliers in New Zealand and Australia are members and funders of the industry good organisations Dairy NZ and Dairy Australia. We work with these organisations to provide extensive animal welfare advice, training and support material to our farmers. This can be found at:

Dairy NZ -

Dairy Australia -


In June 2018, we launched the Fonterra ‘Cared for cows’ programme.

Through this program we are able to collect data from our farmers. Using this data we can identify farms which are at risk of developing a welfare concern and then work closely with each farmer to ensure that animal welfare improves. Through this novel approach we will be able to prevent animal welfare breaches and improve the overall welfare in our herds.

Our progress
Prudent use of antibiotics

Our predominantly pasture-based farmers only use low levels of antibiotics in animals, as our cows have low levels of disease. In fact, although New Zealand has been ranked the ninth highest user of antibiotics for humans1 it has been ranked as the third-lowest user of antibiotics in animals in the world2. Australia is ranked the fifth lowest user in agriculture2.


Avoidance of growth-promoting hormones

Growth promoting hormones are not being used with dairy cattle in our supply chain.


Avoidance of recombinant bovine somatotrophin (rBST)

rBST is not being used on any supplying farms in New Zealand, Australia, China or Sri Lanka.


In Latin America, there continues to be some isolated usage of rBST.  We estimate that overall, less than 5% of our supplying farmers globally are making use of rBST.


Avoidance of close confinement

The practice of rearing animals using close confining individual calf/veal crates is not acceptable for animals supplying milk to Fonterra globally.


No animals supplying Fonterra have been reared in this way. 


No animals supplying Fonterra are permanently tethered.


Avoidence of Permanent physical alterations

From our farm dairy assessments and other farm data collection processes we estimate that:


  • Routine tail docking now occurs to less than 1% of cows supplying Fonterra with milk globally.


  • 95-99% of calves are disbudded, with more than 90% of calves now receiving concurrent pain relief for disbudding.


  • No dehorning without concurrent pain relief is performed.


Humane slaughter

Although at Fonterra we have no direct control over the slaughter process, we regularly perform on-site verification audits of meat processing plants and regularly interact with leaders in the meat processing industry around welfare policies. We estimate, globally, that greater than 98% of animals from Fonterra suppliers are now stunned before slaughter.


Limiting long distance transportation of live animals

Fonterra estimates the average travel time globally for cows in our supply chain over their life time to be between 2-3 hours. 


The effective maximum time, globally, animals are transported alive is estimated to be 13-14 hours. 


1 “Global increase and geographic convergence in antibiotic consumption between 2000 and 2015”, Klein, E. Y. et al, PNAS April 10, 2018 115 (15).

2 Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. (2015). Antimicrobials in agriculture and the environment: reducing unnecessary use and waste.

Meet our farmers

Learn about the owners of our Co-operative and hear the stories of three farming families - the McKenzies, the Axtens and the Wards.