Benchmark project to measure sustainability performance

Farming in Canada may be sustainable, but simply saying it’s sustainable is no longer enough.

Buyers of canola oil, pork, beef and other foods now want proof that Canadian food is produced in a way that preserves water, air, wildlife and the natural environment.

That’s why a group of 34 partners is working on something called the National Index on Agri-Food Performance.

On June 9, the coalition released a 36-page business case explaining why the National Index is needed.

“It’s designed to speak to the domestic marketplace and global marketplace,” said David McInnes, who is co-ordinating the coalition. “What this is about, we’re developing Canada’s first agri-food sustainability benchmark… to tell a story about our sustainability performance. Not only where we are leading and doing well, but also where we need to make progress.”

The 34 partners in the project include the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Loblaw’s, BMO, Ducks Unlimited, CropLife Canada, Pulse Canada and Protein Industries Canada.

The business case says a sustainability index for agri-food is essential right now because of the pressure on farmers to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect the natural landscape.

“In the global race to reduce environmental impacts, meet net-zero-emission targets, and improve health and societal outcomes, global agri-food is facing unparalleled scrutiny,” the document says.

“(This) will allow Canada to present internationally accepted credentials that will be used to grow and protect market share.”

McInnes, who was formerly the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, has been working on this issue for years. While at CAPI and following his eight-year term with the organization, McInnes said that Canada needs to tell the world its sustainable agriculture story. And back that story with evidence.

“(People) are… expressing a need for greater information about the food they eat and what impact it’s having,” he said in 2019.

“Producers are doing a (good) job, in terms of sequestering carbon…. What we’re hearing is we now need to capture that progress and performance… (to) help enable the supply chains to meet (buyer) expectations.”

The National Index on Agri-Food Performance will allow Canada to compete with the European Union and the U.S., where groups aim to reduce carbon emissions from agriculture.

“There’s a lot of initiatives taking place all over the world. Europe, Australia, New Zealand, America,” McInnes said. “We’ve got an opportunity, but we’ve got some distance to go to make this happen.”

McInnes and others hope to make it happen, quickly.

Now that the business case has been published, partners and other players will provide feedback over the summer.

By fall, they plan to publish the final business case to attract financial commitments for the Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking.

The Centre would oversee the National Index on Agri-Food Performance.

“This sustainability index should become Canada’s signature response for a society and marketplace that increasingly values transparency and accountability for how food is produced” McInnes said. “We want Canada to be known here and abroad as the trusted source of food.”