Project to define ‘sustainable’

The oft-used phrase of “sustainability” may be getting some clarity in Canadian agriculture.

At the end of February, the Canadian AgriFood Sustainability Initiative (CASI) was launched in partnership with the federal government, which is pitching in $560,000 over three years.

“It’s a platform to bring together sustainability initiatives to align with international sustainability standards in the global marketplace,” said Bronwyn Wilton, a consultant working on the project. “Sustainability, for the purpose of this project, is looking at economic, social and environmental outcomes.”

It is a difficult word to define that changes depending on the commodity, but an important one for consumers and international standards. CASI will look to bring those definitions together under one umbrella.

“The one concept that we’ve been putting forward is that a farmer would go on to the CASI website (and) enter the province they live in because provincial legislation impacts how you align with international sustainability standards,” said Wilton. “And then they might enter the different commodities that they’re working in.”

Essentially, it aims to turn into a one-stop shop for Canadian farmers to ensure they are meeting international sustainability standards.

The federal government is preparing to start marketing Canadian food to attract a larger domestic and international market and CASI could find some synergies in that.

“CASI is more about the evidence and the metrics behind the scene, whereas some of the food brand might be more of an outward facing piece. CASI is not meant to be a sticker on products at the grocery store, for example,” said Wilton. “It’s meant to provide evidence behind the scenes on what’s happening at the ground level and through the value chain, in terms of those economic, social and environmental outcomes.”

She added that the benefit for farmers is that it allows them to confirm on an international scale all of the sustainable measures they are taking.

“The first year will primarily be around the engagement and industry engagement and some research pieces around which international standards we should really be focusing on,” said Wilton, who added pilot projects will roll out after that with federal funding.

“This new initiative is an important tool to tell our story and build consumers’ trust for our producers,” Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of agriculture, said in a written statement.

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