The decision comes nine months after World Animal Protection supporters emailed supermarkets, including Asda, calling for free-range milk.
The charity’s Full Fact Milk campaign has been calling on supermarkets to stock free-range milk since December 2014.
A YouGov poll commissioned by World Animal Protection in 2015, found that 87% of respondents wanted to buy free-range milk from cows that grazed on pasture, and meant farmers would receive a good price for their milk.
The same poll revealed 56% of people would pay more for the milk.
Pasture Promise label
The new milk will carry a Pasture Promise label, which guarantees cows have grazed on pasture for a minimum of six months of the year.
Ian Woodhurst, World Animal Protection’s farming campaigns manager, told DairyReporter the Free Range Dairy Network has established a simple set of standards for producers, to provide consumers with a clear assurance that they are buying milk from cows that enjoy the freedom to graze.
“In order to use the Pasture Promise label, farmers must commit to grazing their cows for at least six months of the year. The Free Range Dairy Network (the Community Interest Company behind the label) has developed producer standards that will be independently audited as part of the Red Tractor assessment carried out on farm, to ensure farmers comply,” Woodhurst said.
While this website reported on another free-range product launch, Enjoy Milk, recently, Woodhurst said the Pasture Promise label is an accredited labeling scheme that along with some other criteria requires cows to graze on pasture for 180 days and nights.
“It is run through Red Tractor and as far as we are aware is the only label that has these grazing requirements and is fully audited.”
The milk - in whole and semi-skimmed variants - is available in one- and two-liter bottles for £0.90 ($1.11) and £1.50 ($1.85) respectively.
Hopes for other retailers
Woodhurst said he hoped Asda’s lead would be the catalyst for other retailers to follow suit.
“We welcome the decision by Asda to be the first supermarket to sell a range of milk that meets consumers concerns about cow welfare and enables them to buy milk that is guaranteed to come from cows that have had the freedom to graze for at least six months of the year,” he said.
“It also addresses their concerns that dairy farmers should be paid a fair price for their milk. We very much hope other supermarkets will follow the lead set by Asda.”
He added the Free Range Dairy Network has recruited pasture-based dairy farmers to supply the free range milk and that, from the evidence so far, he was “confident there will be many farmers who can meet the criteria for the Pasture Promise label and increase the supply of free range milk to meet future consumer demand.”
Open to meeting producers
Woodhurst said their communications have to this point been with retailers, rather than producers.
“We have met First Milk but we currently have no plans to enter into a dialogue with the major processors, although we are always open to meeting with them,” he said.
“The focus of our Full Fact Milk campaign has been the supermarkets and their dedicated dairy groups to whom we have been able to demonstrate the demand for consumers for them to stock and sell free range milk.”
A check of Asda’s website reveals a wide range of milk options for consumers, including own brand and other brands’ milk, as well as organic milk.
However, Woodhurst said he doesn’t see any issues of consumers being overwhelmed or confused by too many options.
“We do not foresee a problem with the wide range of dairy and non dairy milk products,” he said.
“We think it is important that consumers can choose milk that is produced in the way they want, i.e. from cows that are free to graze in fields where they can demonstrate their natural behaviors, particularly in terms of their social hierarchies.
“We think the new free-range brand can even add value to milk so it is not just seen as a cheap commodity product but helps people understand how milk is produced and the work that goes into making sure they can put it in their tea and on their cereal every day of the year.”
World Animal Protection
World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA) seeks to create a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty has ended.
Active in more than 50 countries, it works directly with animals and with the people and organizations that can ensure animals are treated with respect and compassion.
Woodhurst said the charity has worked on dairy issues in India, the Netherlands and Sweden supporting welfare improvements for dairy cows through a range of public campaigns, working with farmers, companies and governments.