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A group of leaders in the agriculture and food industries is launching a national alliance to work toward achieving net zero in Canada's agri-food sector by 2050.

The Canadian Alliance for Net-Zero Agri-food includes companies such as RBC, Loblaw, Maple Leaf Foods, Nutrien and McCain Foods, as well as the University of Guelph's Arrell Food Institute, The Natural Step Canada, the Smart Prosperity Institute, and the BCG Centre for Canada’s Future.

In a news release, the alliance said if the agri-food sector continues along its current trajectory, its emissions could reach 196 million tonnes by 2050, representing 19 per cent of Canada's total emissions.

The alliance's first two initiatives are focused on advancing climate-smart agriculture and growing a national network to produce biogas.

One big gap that the alliance is looking to fill is in the measurement of carbon storage, and how to issue carbon credits for that storage, said RBC president and CEO Dave McKay at an event launching the alliance in downtown Toronto. The alliance wants to build a system to measure, report and verify carbon storage and offsets, he said.

“A big deliverable that we have through this is to actually create that system, which doesn't exist now, and then scale it across the country,” he said.

The alliance "has embarked on the design, development and in-field testing" of new tools for such a system, according to the CANZA website, beginning with a pilot project in Saskatchewan alongside researchers from the University of Guelph and the University of Saskatchewan.

The measurement of emissions also needs improvement, said Maple Leaf Foods' executive board chair Michael McCain at the event. Right now emissions are tracked in a fragmented way, and one objective for the alliance is to figure out how to make emissions tracking more accurate and also more real-time, he said.

Standardization across the entire chain is a key focus of the alliance, said Galen Weston, chairman and president of Loblaw, whether it’s the standardization of processes or of product labelling for customers.

Food industry leaders launch alliance to champion net zero in agri-food sector. #AgriFoodSector #NetZero

“We're trying to bring all of these disparate approaches together into one place so that we can turn them from ... small, very innovative projects to large high-impact initiatives.”

David Hughes, CEO of non-profit The Natural Step Canada, said in the news release that Canada is primed to become a "global beacon of sustainable agriculture."

The alliance said it's aiming to advance technology, policy, infrastructure and funding needed to help the agri-food sector work toward net zero.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 10, 2023.

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