National Index

A growing coalition of private-public partners are working pre-competitively to present an integrated picture of sustainability for Canada’s agri-food sector from food production to retail – and improve upon it. The National Index on Agri-Food Performance seeks to use science-based metrics. Outcome-based data is preferred and used where available, although some practice-based data is relied upon where data is inadequate. The Index spans four sustainability priorities: the environment, food integrity, economic, 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.

Since 2020, the partners have been developing the work. In May 2023, a modest pilot “Index 1.0” was launched.


Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking

In 2024, the partners formalized the Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking, housed by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute. The Centre's role will improve and publish the next version of the Index, representing a wholesale shift from a pilot to a more sustained, long-term approach. The Centre is committed to an initial four-year plan, approved by partners, to advance the mission of the Index.

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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”.

Having an integrated picture of sustainability credentials is vital. 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, the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results, and the May 2023 Final Report – Part 1: What was Achieved.

“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

Broadly 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 policymaking

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, the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results, and the May 2023 Final Report – Part 1: What was Achieved.

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The Index’s four sustainability blocks.

The National Index is:

  • Cross-referenced to global goals (SDGs)
  • Relevant to Canadian context
  • Informed by investor driven ESG (environment, social, governance) factors
  • Globally relevant
  • Pre-competitive
  • Collaboratively developed
  • Outcomes-focused
  • And over time, with better time series data in hand, a relative benchmark for domestic performance

The National Index is NOT:

  • Prescriptive (i.e., not telling producers or companies what to measure)
  • Comparative (to other countries)
  • Scoring producers, companies, or Canada
  • Measuring consumer diet choices or consumer food habits

For more information, see the June 2021 Business Case report and the Jan/Feb 2021 Benchmarking report, the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results, and the May 2023 Final Report – Part 1: What was Achieved.

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 by companies (& supply chains) driven by investors & capital markets (which will become a requirement for publicly listed companies worldwide).

*ESG: environmental, social, governance factors

Canada's opportunity

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Presenting Canada’s sustainability credentials to a more demanding food world presents an enormous opportunity… but we need to accelerate the response.

“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

Evolving the National Index on Agri-Food Performance to enhance its credibility and relevance.

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
  • Launch pilot: Index 1.0
  • Populate Index indicators & metrics with data
  • Decide where to house the Index and the governance model to take this work forward
Phase 4
  • Launch Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking*
  • Seek new and better data and develop new data collection processes to improve the Index, version 2.0
  • Learn from applying the Index and improve it
  • Expand stakeholder outreach and inform dialogues regarding sustainability
*The  Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking will house & manage the Index. See the May 2023 Final Report – Part 4: The Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking and February 2024 Press Release.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

See also "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 agri-food 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 was presented in the May 2022 Final Report - Part 1: Synthesis of Results. In phase 3, the partners published a governance structure to take the work forward; see May 2023 Final Report – Part 4: The Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking.

The Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking is housed by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute. The Centre will operate with an inclusive governance structure developed by partners. Decision-making is based on partners’ input and guidance.
4. Who will pay for the National Index?
From the outset, the work has been cost-shared by the partners, including producer and industry organizations and companies, environmental organizations, academia, governments, innovation and technology organizations, financial institutions, among others. As the work evolved, more resources were required. Phase 2C (2021–2022) was substantially funded by Protein Industries Canada, the federal supercluster, with contributions also made by industry and the public sector. Phase 3 received significant funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and other public and private sector contributions. In 2024, funding was secured to launch the next phase of work with financial support from a diversity of partners and from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (refer to Investor Acknowledgement section). Since 2020, partners have also devoted considerable in-kind contributions to the project.
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) has been 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 will 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. See more about the data sourcing process in the May 2023 Final Report – Part 4: The Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking.
7. 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 well, using new and better data will allow for time series to be reported; this will enable assessments of change and be a more relevant benchmark. As our process unfolds, these matters will be further considered and addressed.
8. Will an industry-developed Index measure only what is positive?
The intent of the Index is, indeed, to measure and demonstrate Canadian sustainability leadership and areas for improvement. Leadership includes acknowledging shortcomings and being transparent about how genuine progress is being marked across the Index’s four sustainability blocks: environmental, food integrity, economic, and societal well-being. This approach echoes industry’s long-standing principle of continuous improvement.
9. How will the Index avoid “greenwashing”?
Being forthright about the Index’s structure and results is very important to the coalition of partners. The partners sought feedback through external reviews from Canadian academics and global organizations on the draft indicators (in phase 2C, 2021-2022). Their counsel was welcomed, and modifications were made to the text at that time (although their input should not necessarily imply endorsement of the Index). Their feedback also advised the partners to present Index results with a balanced tone. The coalition of partners heeded the advice and made the decision to keep the pilot’s metrics (i.e., the May 2023 Final Report – Part 2) largely focused on the measures. The partners also believed that some interpretations might be helpful and separately published several short papers on selected results; see May 2023 Final Report – Part 3: Seven Papers on Index Results.  

Learn more about the external reviews from phase 2C reported in May 2022: Highlights of Projects, May 2022.
10. Will the choice of measures reflect an industry bias?
It remains up to readers to decide about Index’s credibility. However, the choice of measures was selected through a process of engagement and feedback amongst the diverse coalition of partners. Decisions were taken to define the Index’s scope. For instance, the Index does not measure consumer food choices and dietary behaviours which extends well-beyond sector sustainability considerations. While the National Index measures sustainability across four areas with 20 metrics and over 130 indicators, the partners acknowledge that there are limitations to this Index, with the inability to measure every aspect of sustainability. The choice of measures reflects what is deemed to be material, driven by available science-based data. However, practice-based data is used where suitable evidence does not exist.  

Data limitations, a challenge facing all benchmarking initiatives across the world, provide an opportunity for continuous improvement on this Index pilot.  Learn more about the metrics, including data gaps and limitations, in the May 2023 Final Report – Part 2: Index Pilot: Indicators and Metrics. See also the plan to evolve the Index in the May 2023 Final Report – Part 4: The Centre for Agri-Food Benchmarking.
11. Why not just adopt an existing index?
While various indices measure agri-food sustainability around the world, the National Index on Agri-Food Performance is focused on metrics that are relevant and material to the Canadian agricultural and food context. That said, each of the 20 Index indicators within this Index pilot includes an analysis of how the Canadian measures align or not with several leading global indices and standards.  

Learn more about the differences between other global initiatives and the Index in the commentaries of the global context under each indicator in the May 2023 Final Report – Part 2: Index Pilot: Indicators and Metrics.  

More importantly, the process of developing the Canadian Index (as opposed to adopting a global scheme) was fundamental to driving up alignment around the need to define and measure sustainability in Canada. The process was equally as important and valuable as the outcome, and this cannot be overstated. A collaborative spirit was nurtured across a very diverse group of partners – an unprecedented coalition – as they selected each metric and weighed the merits and limitations of what to measure and how to do so. In the process, the partners also identified the data gaps, a key outcome. Evolving the Index will require addressing what needs to be better measured in the future. As well, many partners have started using the Index – even before the pilot was launched – to express how they will deploy it. This  further demonstrates the importance of this bottom-up initiative to advance a Canadian designed Index.  

See Partner testimonials. Learn how some project work in phase 3 advanced the Index in section F in the May 2023 Final Report – Part 1: What was Achieved: Summary.

Investor acknowledgements

For Phase 4 (June 2023 to March 2027).

AgriAssurance Program – National Industry Association Component

For Phase 3 (May 2022 to May 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?