A Hawke's Bay sheep farm is the first in the world to be certified for the GAP step 4 sheep programme.
GAP is the Global Animal Partnership - a non-profit, charitable organisation committed to improving the welfare of animals in agriculture. Through the GAP programme, Atkins Ranch, formerly known as Lean Meats in New Zealand, sells lamb and lamb products through Whole Foods Market in the US and Canada.
The GAP rating gives consumers confidence animals have been raised in accordance with strict animal welfare standards, says New Zealand supply chain manager Pat Maher.
"Atkins Ranch has adopted the GAP step 4 standard, which is pasture centred. This will be rolled out to our North Island producers over the next few months and will form a critical part of our procurement offering," Mr Maher says.
Sheep in the GAP step 4 programme must live on pasture throughout their life. Atkins Ranch already expects high standards from its producers including supplying high quality, antibiotic-free, 100% grass-fed, GMO-free lamb.
Waipari Station at Omakere was the first to complete its GAP step 4 audit followed by two other Hawke's Bay farms, Highfields at Argyll and Glenhope at Puketitiri, with more to follow later this month.
Mark Warren says Waipari Station is proud to be breaking new ground in farm animal welfare.
"This enables our lamb to have superstar status in Whole Foods supermarkets internationally," he says.
Waipari Station finishes more than 5000 lambs every year from its romney ewe flock as part of a winter-supply commitment with Atkins Ranch.
"Most of the information needed for the audit we already had at our fingertips due to Waipari's manager Nigel Hanan using Farm IQ. It then took me a couple of days in the office sorting it out so it was easier than a couple of days of dagging," says Mark, who adds Atkins Ranch has always been a step ahead of the competition.
"This is one more example of its innovation. You're either moving backwards or forwards in farming, there's no staying still and we don't do average here."
Atkins Ranch livestock manager Karen Atkins says the GAP step 4 accreditation is an important initiative for the company in its relationship with Whole Foods Market.
"We maintain exceptionally high animal welfare and environmental standards and uphold the highest compliance requirements. We also have high expectations of our producers and work closely with them to ensure they meet those requirements."
Karen's father John Atkins started Atkins Ranch with Phil Guscott back in 1989.
In June this year Atkins Ranch relaunched their brand into the US market and in the past month changed from Lean Meats to Atkins Ranch in New Zealand. Atkins Ranch is a co-operative of 100 sheep farms around New Zealand with 50 staff in the USA and a procurement team of three based in Hawke's Bay.