National Index

A growing coalition of private-public partners are working pre-competitively to develop an integrated picture of sustainability for Canada’s agri-food sector from food production to retail. Creating the National Index on Agri-Food Performance aims to be based on science-based and high quality metrics and will span four sustainability priorities: the environment, economic, food integrity, and societal well-being.

Demonstrating sustainability credentials presents an immense economic opportunity for the sector and for advancing the country’s food ambition. Consumers, customers, investors and regulators, worldwide, increasingly expect food production and supply to be more sustainable and responsible. With an Index in hand, Canada can credibly show its track record, leadership and mark progress on improvements going forward.

By accelerating Index development in 2021-2022, a modest pilot “Index 1.0” is to be launched in the first half of 2023. The partners aim to secure longer-term funding in 2023 to establish the proposed Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking to manage and evolve the Index.

RestoBeef cow
Frozen foodWind
Challenge + Opportunity

The need for this Index is compelling and pressing.

Global agri-food is not seen as sustainable, healthy or inclusive and food systems worldwide are being urged to make urgent and transformative change.

Benchmarking agri-food practices is therefore becoming essential to operate and compete worldwide.

Many countries are getting organized to respond to the same challenge and are positioning their respective food system as being “the most sustainable”.

However, Canada does not have an integrated picture of its sustainability credentials. Canada also appears to be leaving value off the table – better sustainability data and insights can show the progress being made on priorities important in the marketplace and garner greater confidence in Canada’s response going forward.

Proof of sustainability can favour Canada. Canadian agriculture has among the lowest environmental footprints anywhere and is a global leader in food safety. A number of Canadian commodity sectors and food companies are at the forefront of change – and their responses are world-class. Building on its track record of world leading agronomic, food safety, animal health practices and good governance reputation, Canada is well-positioned to leverage such leadership.

Challenge and Opportunity

For more information on the need for an Index, see the June 2021 Business Case report and the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results.

“Canada is a global leader in agri-food. We produce and process some of the most safe, nutritious and reliable food in the world. Outcomes-based measures and benchmarking will further substantiate our brand claims around the world. The use of data in developing these benchmarks is an essential component and this work underscores the exponential value of agri-food data.”

Ray Bouchard
Board Chair, Enterprise Machine Intelligence & Learning Initiative (Manitoba)

“Data and metrics play a significant role in tracking and improving environmental measures in the agriculture sector and can help enhance Canada’s reputation as a trusted, safe and sustainable food leader. By highlighting these environmental, social and economic benefits, the national index will make Canada more competitive, creditworthy, innovative and responsive on both the domestic and international stage.”

Steven R. Webb
CEO, Global Institute for Food Security

“Fruit and vegetable growers across Canada proudly provide healthy and nutritious food to families across the country and the world. While they have always embraced sustainable practices, benchmarking their successes through a national index will better position them to deliver the high-quality products consumers have come to expect.”

Quinton Woods
Vice-Chair, Energy, Environment and Climate Change Working Group,
Fruit and Vegetable Growers of Canada
Value Proposition

Deriving genuine value is vital for producers, agri-food companies and Canadian society, alike.

The National Index must be a value driver to:
1. Affirm the food brand

Showing consumers that Canada’s food brand is safe, sustainable and responsible. Marking social and environmental progress further enhances trust.

2. Improve competitiveness

Validating sustainability claims can differentiate Canadian food creating new economic opportunities in the domestic and global marketplace.

3. Enhance market positioning

Demonstrating sustainability credentials helps to grow and protect market share, enabling success domestically and in accessing export markets.

4. Meet global requirements

Aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other global goals and supply chain reporting requirements improves transparency.

5. Be relevant to investors

Reassuring investors about Canada’s food production resilience prospects has increasing importance as climate change and other risks are assessed.

6. Enable a more deliberate leadership role

Benchmarking sustainability enables Canada to more credibly express its national interest in global food dialogues about food system change.

7. Inform policy-making

Better metrics offer a new lens to inform policy choices, research and innovation priorities and agri-food strategy – better positioning the sector for the future.

Value Proposition

For more information on the need for an Index, see the June 2021 Business Case report and the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results.

Blue Berries
Beef Cows
Health and Safety
Grocery cart

The Index’s four sustainability blocks.

(in development)

The National Index will be:

  • Cross-referenced to global goals (SDGs)
  • Relevant to Canadian context
  • Globally relevant
  • Pre-competitive
  • Collaboratively developed
  • Outcomes-focused (not prescriptive)

For more information, see the June 2021 Business Case report and the Jan/Feb 2021 Benchmarking report, and the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results.

Global imperative

Premise: Global agri-food is not seen as sustainable, healthy or inclusive – requiring urgent & transformative change.

Global goals

Sustainable Development Goals
UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030
Convention on Biological Diversity
Global Biodiversity Goals 2030
Paris 2021
Paris Accord: GHG reduction targets 2030
Paris Accord: “race to net-zero” 2050

Driving four changes

Trade, market access & new rules dictated by sustainability criteria.
Countries, companies, sectors competing on sustainability claims & being “the most sustainable”.
Benchmarking performance is pervasive & intensifying as global scorecards assess the sector.
New ESG* materiality assessments & disclosures of companies (& supply chains) driven by investors & capital markets.

*ESG: environmental, social, governance factors

Canada's opportunity

Canada Flag

Presenting Canada’s sustainability credentials to a more demanding food world presents an enormous opportunity…but we need to make it happen.

“The opportunity to be the global leader in safe and sustainable food is one that Canada should eagerly embrace. We’re uniquely equipped to do so, not only because of our abundant natural resources, but also because of our human resources, reflected in both education and research. This project, which aims to set a national framework for sustainability targets in food, is an important step along the way to the grand vision of Canada’s agri-food leadership.”

Evan Fraser
PhD, Director, Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph

“Canada’s ace up its sleeve on agri-food sustainability targets is the millions of acres of native grassland, tame pasture and hay lands, forests, hedgerows, wetlands, lakes and streams that occur on our farmlands, which provide habitat for many thousands of wildlife species, from tiny pollinators to birds and large mammals. The stewardship of these lands by producers – and demonstrating this – should be part of our story.”

Carolyn Callaghan
Senior Conservation Biologist for Terrestrial Wildlife, Canadian Wildlife Federation

“Recent events, and the globalization of the food supply, underscore the need to demonstrate the sustainability of the food we produce; the opportunity to do so via a national index is foundational to the ongoing success of the sector.”

Ron Lemaire
President, Canadian Produce Marketing Association
Research Program

Building the case for a National Index on Agri-Food Performance.

Phase 1
  • Affirm need
  • Develop blueprint: scope & governance model
  • Build domestic momentum & global visibility
Phase 2
  • Detail sub-indicators & operational aspects
  • Prepare papers to inform index & policy implications
  • Build greater momentum
Phase 3  (current)
  • Launch pilot: Index 1.0
  • Finalize index indicators & metrics
  • Build greater momentum
Phase 4
  • Launch Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking**
  • Review & validate index
  • Develop Index 2.0
*Federal/Provincial/Territorial Canadian Agricultural Partnership
**The proposed Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking would ultimately house & manage the Index, as presented in The Business Case for Establishing the National Index on Agri-Food Performance, June 2021. See also the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results for more on housing the Index. As well, the current research plan, below, addresses this matter.

About the current research (pilot) program,


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

See "Describing the Index in 20 essential Q&As" in the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results.
1. My farm/company/sector already collects sustainability metrics, so what is the point of the Index?
While many players track their sustainability performance on a proprietary basis (or do so on some aspects), the need for a national picture is compelling and pressing. Worldwide, benchmarking national agri-food practices against environmental, social and health priorities is becoming essential to operate and compete. However, Canada does not have an integrated picture of its sustainability credentials from farm to retail to meet global sustainable development goals and address the twin crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss, among other issues. Customers, regulators and others increasingly want such assurances.

Complementing individual company or sector-specific metrics, the Index can be used to enable market access, differentiate Canada’s sustainable value proposition and further validate agri-food claims as well as to show meaningful environmental and socio-economic improvements across the Canadian food system as a whole.
2. Who is the Index for?
The Index is intended for use by the country’s agrifood sector. All players from production (all proteins) to retail (including restaurant/grocery retailing/food service) can use the Index in the marketplace and to compare their segment’s respective sustainability performance. As well, the Index provides a reference for the broader food system which includes governments, financial institutions, civil society, researchers and academia, and other adjacent sectors and suppliers that contribute to the sector’s sustainability response. Consumers may ultimately refer to this Index to gauge the sustainability of the sector overall.
3. Who “controls” the Index? Who decides what it measures?
While initially conceived as being industry-driven, the Index is being developed collaboratively and pre-competitively for the benefit of all players across the food system. Having a balanced governance process is important for its credibility and success.

As an outcome of Phase 2C, a detailed governance roadmap is presented in the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results.
4. Who will pay for the National Index?
Phase 2C (2021–2022) was substantially funded by Protein Industries Canada, the federal supercluster, with contributions also made by industry and the public sector. The anticipated Phase 3 would be funded by government and other partners. Going forward, a long-term Index funding plan is required to set up the proposed Centre for Agri-food Benchmarking.
5. How does the National Index link to CASI, the Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative?
They are complementary. The National Index is providing an overall view of sustainability performance across Canada’s agri-food sector. CASI (which is a partner in the Index project) is exploring how to enable producers to efficiently comply with market-based sustainability requirements. CASI, among other enabling platforms, could help roll-up relevant and consolidated metrics to support Index benchmarking.
6. Will the Index tell me [my farm, my company] what sustainability data must be collected and shared? Will it measure my business?
No, the National Index is not measuring individual farm or firm performance nor will it report on this basis. The National Index is expected to rely on existing national statistics-gathering processes, such as by Statistics Canada (a partner) to help develop national-level/consolidated benchmarks. This project is also exploring how best to roll-up statistics being gathered, or could be gathered in the future, by sectoral initiatives, or by industry, province or other.
7. Will an industry-developed Index measure only what is positive? How will the Index avoid “greenwashing”?
The intent of the Index is, indeed, to show Canadian sustainability leadership. While industry needs to drive the Index forward as producers, suppliers and sellers of food, the Index is being developed as part of a broad multi-stakeholder process. Leadership also means acknowledging the shortcomings and being transparent about how genuine environmental and social progress is being marked. This approach echoes industry’s long-standing principle of continuous improvement.

While the Index can’t measure “everything”, the ultimate selection of indicators needs to be material and as science-based as possible, align with global sustainability goals and be validated by an external process.
8. Why not just adopt an existing index?
Many global indices measure agri-food sustainability practices around the world. At a high-level, global indices and our work are aligned, linked by common priorities identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and investor-led environmental, social, governance (ESG) factors. But there can also be some major differences when specific sub-indicators are considered.

Global indices measure issues across the diversity of countries from developed and developing countries, alike. The nature of agri-food systems and issues can differ widely, such as the intense focus on tropical deforestation for the production of palm oil. As well, some indices rely on survey data, not scientific evidence (see Global Indices Research Paper, 2020).

We are focused on sub-indicators that are relevant and material to the Canadian agricultural and food context.
9. Can I get a break-out of performance metrics so my sector/my province can be compared to national performance?
While the first priority is to develop an over-all picture of national agri-food sustainability, being able to disaggregate data where possible would be meaningful. As our process unfolds, this matter will be further considered and addressed.

Investor acknowledgements

For Phase 3 (June 2022–spring 2023).

Protein Industries Canada’s Capacity Building Program for Phase 2C (Oct 2021–May 2022).

All partners have contributed financial and/or in-kind support for the National Index initiative across each phase of work since 2020.

Interested in learning more or becoming a partner?