House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

The Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

The Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

The Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

The Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until April 21, 2004, just before private members' business.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely, the avian flu.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

moved:

That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the decision you made a couple of days ago to undertake this emergency debate. It is more than necessary considering the situation at hand. On behalf of my leader, the leader of the Conservative Party, and my colleagues, I thank the Speaker of the House of Commons for understanding the need for this debate.

The leader of the Conservative Party expresses his sincere disappointment for not being able to address this issue as he had previously committed to a function out of Ottawa and did not know the debate would come up this fast.

Everything I say here is meant as conservative and constructive criticism. I would like us all to keep the partisan politics out of this. I know many of the farmers across the country are watching the debate and listening for what will be said. What is necessary is that we take the high road on this issue. It is a serious debate and much will be said worth listening to.

I am going to talk about a number of issues to begin this debate. First, the non-economic impact of the avian flu to our farmers; second, the real economic impact of the flu; third, management by government, government practices; fourth, the small chicken farmer and the specialty bird farmers who are affected; and finally, our expectations of government.

I want to first address the need for this debate. Producers and processors need a clear definition of what is going to happen to them in the future.

Second, compensation is a serious issue and based upon my experience and our experience in the House here over the years in dealing with the government, we have watched many times where a crisis passed and many of those involved have been forgotten. I can refer to the hepatitis C crisis where victims have been forgotten for the moneys they should have received as victims; the cull of the elk herd in the BSE crisis and people are still waiting for funding for that; and the SARS flu victims as well.

We in the Fraser Valley I know are not prepared to wait for years and go hand and foot to the government, whichever government it will be, and wait for some form of funding compensation for our losses.

Third, we have an obligation to speak out for the small farmer and the specialty farmer whose voice has not been heard very much to date.

Fourth, we must ensure that the federal government ,through the CFIA, has a stable, effective plan for a future farm crisis in this industry.

Finally, Ottawa must understand that a serious issue has happened west of the Rockies in avian flu but that does not mean that it is not a national issue. It means that it happened in a locale but that it is still a national issue.

I am disturbed by the Prime Minister's comments about letting us understand that in British Columbia things should be a national issue but, on the other hand, recent comments suggesting that this is a problem that is west of the Rockies. It is irrelevant, quite frankly, where the problem is. This is a national crisis.

I just talked to the agriculture minister and I am glad he is in the House. In his response yesterday to my question about compensation to farmers and producers for neutralizing manure, shipping manure, down time, loss of production and other related costs, he basically said that I and my colleagues had waited for six weeks before bringing this to the House.

That, in effect, was quite true. Actually neither I nor my colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster, our agriculture critic, brought this issue up in question period. The reason was that we wanted to give all governments, provincial and federal, time to work this thing out without making a national political issue out of it.

In fact, we watched what was happening and now is the time to discuss the issue. I have no intention of interfering with the good job John Van Dongen, our B.C. agriculture minister, is doing and that of the producers and processors. It had been, for me personally, a time to observe, a time to learn and a time to assess the problem itself.

Thus far, after five weeks, what I see in observation is that we are intent on killing everything with feathers, consulting with some people but not all people, committing very little by way of compensation and insisting that everything is under control with the CFIA but, in fact, the virus is continuing to expand even though drastic measures have been taken. We have some questions on whether or not this process is working and we intend to cover that.

I will go over my first issue, which is the non-economic impact. A lot of people across the country watching the debate tonight should understand that this loss of production time has a significant impact on our farmers. An idle farm is not what our farmers and their families are used to. They are used to working day and night, seven days a week. This idle time is not good because it creates worry for them. They are thinking about the time they have to restart and when the income will start coming in. Those kind of things are the non-monetary concerns that many of our farmers are having now, their families and, quite frankly, our whole community of Abbotsford, which is a support industry throughout the lower mainland for these farmers.

Another non-monetary impact of this issue is the image of chickens as a food.

I do receive all the materials that farmers send out and one of the documents, which they sent out recently, entitled “From our family to yours”, is a very good document. It explains a lot of the things that the chicken farmers are doing to promote chicken as a food, a sustenance, and all the activities that they undertake across the country.

I will just give some examples. They sponsor and present at agriculture and classroom meetings and events across Canada. They appear at and sponsor the Dieticians of Canada's annual conference. They create school kits and so on. This avian flu affects that image.

I will be directing some of my comments to the minister on how we can actually try to fix that image because it will be tarnished to some extent.

Those are the non-economic impacts. What I want to talk about, more importantly, is the economic impact of the avian flue: the cost of depopulating. The Government of Canada does reimburse for the cost of repopulating each chicken in an amount of anywhere from $3 to $33, which was the amount used by the CFIA, but $33 is far in excess of an upper limit that they will be giving. I suspect it will be around $3 or $4 but the minister can correct me on that, on breeders and so on.

However, I want to discuss the real additional costs, the costs that are not included in farm income programs or the costs that are not included to date or being considered by the government. What I really want to impress on the minister here tonight is that it is those costs that have to be considered, and not later but sooner.

There is also the cost of downtime and the loss of production. Some of these farms have to wait until the last farm is cleaned up and restarted again. This is going to be a long time and it will be unproductive time. That downtime is an actual cost to our farmers.

There is also the cost of start up time. The repopulation of the chickens and other birds is another cost that they will incur. It is not a normal cost. It is an additional cost.

There is the cost of neutralizing the manure and of shipping out the manure.

There is interest on idle revenue-producing equipment. The farmers have all the equipment sitting there but they cannot use it. So they are paying the bills and paying the interest to the bank.

They have to pay for feed when no product is eating. Chickens are not eating but they have the feed sitting there.

There is a cost for processors in unproductive operating time while plants are shut down. They still need the processing plant even though it is not being used.

Innovative unemployment programs: job sharing, health care, waiting periods for EI, and so on. Those are all additional costs of somebody out there and the government has to look at sharing in it.

Heightened biosecurity initiatives. There is no doubt that at the end of the day that will be something we do not want passed on to the farmers. We want the government to share in the cost of that. We also have industry public relations when all this is done.

Those are actual costs that the government has to commit to and commit to tonight, quite frankly.

Also, we have the cost of depopulating other specialty birds. I will talk more about that later, but the amount that is on the schedule for the specialty birds, ducks, geese, quail, pigeons and so on, is far too low for the amount of the actual costs of repopulating the birds. Those are the things we want to talk about tonight.

I want to talk about management by government. I am no expert in the management of this crisis but, from my observations and after discussions, some questions need to be asked. I hope the minister, who will be speaking after me, addresses these issues concretely. How exactly did this virus start? We are in a position to know that now. What control measures were in place? If effective control measures were put in place, then why is it still spreading? We have not had a new farm in three days but it is still spreading.

Rumour has it that the measures that the CFIA had and continue to have in place are part of the cause of the spread of the virus. We want to know if that is in fact so. Nobody is putting blame. We are just trying to get some answers.

Why kill all birds including specialty birds? Is there a national strategy in place to deal with these kinds of issues because, if this does go somewhere else, what will the strategy be? Do we continue to kill every bird everywhere or is there some strategy that the government has learned now that it must implement?

It appears that local specialists, and I know this is a fact, to some extent are not being consulted, and I would like to know why.

In addition to that, small chicken farmers and specialty bird farmers are really not being consulted. They are included in the large mass of farmers but specialty bird farmers have unique issues.

What mistakes made during the BSE crisis are being repeated here, if they are at all? I know there will be some talk tonight about the cull of the elk herds, for instance. It has been quite a long time since that happened and I do not think there has been reimbursement, and if there has, it has only been recently. Our farmers should not and cannot wait for a year or two down the road to be reimbursed.

Why is removal of the manure taking so long? Why is a company like JF BioEnergy not being considered? I want to talk a bit more about JF BioEnergy. I had an opportunity to visit the company this week. It has a very unique piece of equipment that can help but it has been pooh-poohed along the way.

Those are all legitimate questions given to me from various producers, processors and related industry people. I can assure everyone in the House of Commons tonight that there is an expectation of clear and concise answers. I can assure the farmers, the producers and the associated industries who may be watching the debate tonight, that we do expect an answer. In talking to the minister, he said that he would have some. The time for generalities is gone.

With regard to the small chicken farmer, I understand that not all farmers can be contacted at once but we must have the assurance that all farmers will be consulted as it is their livelihood that we are destroying. I must tell the minister that, as I understand it, a lot of specialty farmers were not consulted but have been thrown into the mix of this larger problem.

These farmers are asking for a voice to stop the massacre of all healthy fowl. I do not know why the CFIA wants to kill everything with feathers but if it does, I wonder why the virus continues to spread, not in sequence but from farm to farm, skipping geological areas. For instance, it moves from Abbotsford all of a sudden over to Cloverdale, a distance of maybe 30 kilometres. What is in between all that and why did it spread like that if we have such a great program in place?

Small farmers feel that their operations are being sacrificed and that they should be exempt from eradication unless their birds prove to be positively affected. In one case, CFIA officials have informed a small farmer that because he was within one kilometre of an infected barn, he must depopulate, yet his hearty outdoor birds are not ill and will not become ill unless they are in direct contact with the virus by means of people or equipment. They do not understand why, so someone should consult with them as to why.

In another case CFIA officials have admitted to a farmer, off the record that is, that they agree with all his arguments that their approach is heavy handed, but they have no idea what else to do. They told him the edict came from Ottawa and they are just following orders. If that is the case and if the orders must be followed, why tell the farmer they do not know what they are doing, that they are just following orders? It is time to go back and say to these people to stop creating this acrimony.

I want to talk about specialty birds, including pigeons, ducks and geese. This too is an area where a large amount of damage is being inflicted. These birds include, as I said, pigeons, ducks, geese and other fowl, such as quail. This area was overlooked in the time leading up to the eradication decision, yet the impact is most severe. These farmers are not supported by supply management and will suffer the loss of irreplaceable breeds, the loss of niche markets and the capital investment required to start over again.

Let me reflect what these specialty farmers are saying. This is coming from those specialty farmers. One, avian influenza is not a disease that infects ducks and geese to kill them, and therefore they should be exempt from this mass kill.

Two, Dr. Bruce Burton said, “There are significant genetic treasures in the Fraser Valley. They are isolated and totally unaffected by this curse. Once lost, they will be gone forever in a meaningful way, rare breeds of quail, chickens, racing pigeons, commercial ducks that are superior in growth, uniformity and egg production to any in the world. It is imperative that a way to preserve these species is found”.

Their third comment is that the Health of Animals Act states that specialty farmers will be paid a maximum of $30 for a duck or a goose, but how does this allow for the irreplaceable breeds they have? How is this reimbursement for years of investment in a particular breed? Without proper reimbursement the government will effectively legislate them out of business.

Fourth, specialty farmers risk having new entrants into the specialty bird industry, because they are not supply managed, upon repopulation. The existing industry will have lost their competitive advantage.

Finally, there are many other issues facing specialty farmers. I encourage the minister to contact their association or other specialty farmers and anybody else out there watching. It is different. They do have different needs.

Now the pigeons. This is an incredible story. I met with pigeon farmers who are very concerned. I note that I only have two minutes remaining so I will have to push this. The problem is that they have a very unique industry. To replace their pigeons would cost much more than the amount the government is prepared to give.

Let me get to our expectations of government. Act with confidence and in the interests of everyone. Make certain that the steps taken are the best options available. Do not walk away from those that will be bankrupt once the job is finished. Listen to all the people who should be involved, not just some. Declare what caused the virus. Admit what spread the virus. Complete a national strategy for such events that may occur in the future. Get the money in the hands of the producers and processors now, not when they go on hands and knees later. Implement tax deferrals on income received. Spend money on promotions for chickens and specialty birds. Involve our local experts; they do know what they are talking about. Ensure everything possible is being done to look after those who are becoming unemployed.

In summation, our farmers are the best in the world. They are innovative. They are, in the truest sense of the word, real entrepreneurs. Rules and bureaucracy and partisan politics cannot step in the way of assisting these business people. Let us agree here tonight to immediately fund the cost of eradication, advance funds on other related costs, defer taxes on funds received, develop a national strategy for such cases, consider specialty farmers as unique, and assist employees who are laid off.

As for the government, accept this submission here in the house of the common people as non-partisan constructive criticism, so together we do what is the responsibility of a national government and that is, assist those who genuinely need it.

I want to compliment those farmers, processors, producers and like industries who provided us the information which I put forward to the government.

God bless our farmers and God bless Canada.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:15 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Speller Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate. I appreciate the comments by the member for Langley--Abbotsford and I certainly take up his challenge to hold this debate in a non-partisan way. I think all parties would agree that these sorts of issues should not be treated in a partisan manner.

As the member knows, I recently visited the Fraser Valley to see first hand the work that is being done to stamp out this highly contagious disease. I was particularly impressed by the attitude of his constituents. The people there are going through a very difficult time. They are responding with the spirit of determination to do whatever is necessary to stamp out this disease and to restore health to the poultry industry in British Columbia.

The Prime Minister has also been active on this file. He has been advised by myself and the CFIA on the new developments. He has spoken with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, as well as myself, and assured us of the Government of Canada's commitment to eradicate the avian influenza, and as I said, to restore the B.C. poultry industry.

Let me take a moment to remind the House of what has happened so far. On February 19 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the presence of avian influenza in British Columbia. This is highly pathogenic. Avian influenza is a reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be reported to the CFIA and all reported suspected cases are immediately investigated by inspectors from that agency.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency responded to the outbreak immediately by placing infected premises under quarantine and by depopulating all of the birds on the infected farms. Because avian influenza is so contagious, a surveillance program was put in place. On March 11 I issued a ministerial order that defined the control area that imposed movement restrictions of birds and bird products. The order also defined a surveillance region and a high risk region where movement restrictions were beyond those in the remainder of the control area.

Despite these measures, avian influenza continued to spread throughout the high risk area and in fact the control area. That is why I announced on April 5 the depopulation of all commercial poultry flocks and other backyard birds in the control area. This includes approximately 19 million birds.

I want to tell hon. members that this decision was not taken lightly. It was based on the recommendations of the CFIA, in consultation with the province of British Columbia and the poultry industry. It was clear to us that the rapid spread of the virus required an aggressive response.

To date, the CFIA has confirmed avian influenza on some 31 farms. Depopulation of these farms has been completed.

The CFIA is now in the process of depopulating the entire control area. First targeted premises are where the infection is present or suspected. By eliminating the birds that are most at risk as quickly as possible, we will help minimize the risk of further spread. We should see fewer and fewer cases of infection as the depopulation progresses.

At the same time, tests are being conducted on the samples from all depopulated flocks. Poultry that are free of avian influenza will be eligible for human consumption and sent to commercial slaughter facilities.

I understand that this depopulation process is difficult for all affected bird owners, particularly those with smaller flocks and those who keep their birds as pets. Unfortunately, avian influenza is an indiscriminate and unrelenting virus. All birds in captivity are susceptible and all pose a risk to spreading the disease.

I have great sympathy for the poultry owners in the region, but I know that this depopulation is the best way to save the industry overall.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will assess on a case by case basis situations such as exotic birds, pets, or birds in zoos. Birds that are enclosed within residential premises will not likely be affected by the depopulation.

The Government of Canada is also aware there is concern that this outbreak of avian influenza may cause significant financial hardship for not only the producers in the industry but also the surrounding communities. I certainly understand the level of anxiety over potential financial losses. That is why I want to make it very clear what it is the government is doing.

Under the Health of Animals Act, our government compensates all farm owners who currently own birds that are being destroyed. Under the act, owners are paid market value for the flocks that are ordered destroyed. As for the broader compensation for economic loss, that is yet to be determined. We are currently working with the industry and the provincial government to understand the extent and the impact this is having on industry. Once this investigation is complete, we will be in a much better position to talk about further compensation.

As members of the House already know, Agriculture Canada also has income stabilization programs that are available to all farmers in times of disaster.

The province of British Columbia and the industry agree that our first priority is to eradicate the disease. Depopulation is not the only tool we have to stamp out this disease. We have enhanced our collaboration with B.C.'s ministry of agriculture and food and the fisheries lab. I have great appreciation and respect for the expertise of these provincial laboratories. The Abbotsford facilities have provided invaluable help to our efforts to eradicate the disease. As well, Premier Gordon Campbell has made available the full resources of the provincial emergency program to support this effort.

With a disease that spreads so quickly and so easily, the movement of people and equipment is likely the most significant factor behind the spread of this disease. Therefore it is essential that all of the proper biosecurity protocols are followed to further prevent the progression of this disease. That is why the CFIA has now taken legal steps that require poultry owners to control access to their premises by affixing a notice at the entrance of their properties prohibiting unauthorized entry to their farms. These signs are being distributed throughout all premises in the control area.

Before allowing anybody onto their farms, poultry producers must ensure that the proper biosecurity measures are being taken. These include ensuring that all vehicles such as feed trucks and other suppliers are thoroughly cleaned and approved by disinfectant; thoroughly washing and disinfecting all equipment entering and leaving the farm; making sure that all workers and visitors wear clean protective clothing and footwear, and if possible owners are asked to provide coveralls and boots; and placing a foot bath at the entrance to all poultry houses.

To ensure people are aware of these additional measures, we have increased our public awareness activities. Public notices have been distributed. Regular technical briefings are being held to keep the media informed. An information session was held on April 15 to allow poultry producers and residents to speak freely with agency officials.

I know that with the current influenza situation in Asia, people are concerned about the human health implications of this disease. I must stress that the virus that exists in the Fraser Valley is not the same strain that is causing human sickness and illness throughout Asia.

Two workers involved in the avian response were infected by the virus and contracted pink eye as a result. Both have since recovered. There has been no evidence of person to person transmission of this virus and the risk to human health remains very, very low.

As a precaution, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has taken extensive measures to protect the health of those involved in the Fraser Valley investigation and response.

In accordance with Health Canada regulations, all staff have been outfitted with biocontainment suits and must attend occupational health and safety hazard awareness sessions to educate them on the essential precautionary measures.

I would like to speak now about the importance of partnerships in eradicating this disease. The depopulation effort requires the assistance and cooperation of all partners, including the province and the poultry industry.

The CFIA is working closely with those partners to move as quickly as possible in the depopulation. We are also speaking regularly with our American counterparts to keep them informed of the situation.

There has been great cooperation among federal departments and agencies. The CFIA is working closely with colleagues in Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Department of External Affairs. We are also collaborating with the USDA. A U.S. epidemiologist is working with us in fact in British Columbia as part of an epidemiological investigation.

As I said earlier, Premier Campbell, the province of British Columbia and particularly the minister of agriculture there have been very helpful and instrumental in this effort.

The CFIA has worked closely with both the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the B.C. Ministry of Health Services and local health officials throughout the expanded depopulation efforts to ensure that all appropriate measures are taken to monitor and to protect the health of those involved in the avian influenza response.

Throughout this effort, the poultry industry has been very understanding and very supportive. It is understood that governments and industry share a common goal, and that is eradicating this outbreak as soon as possible so that the poultry industry can return to normal.

There has been a high level of cooperation from the residents of the Fraser Valley. In particular, I commend the people who live and work in the controlled area for taking immediate precautions to help us prevent the spread of this disease.

Canada has an excellent worldwide reputation for a comprehensive and responsive animal health system. We are well respected for our ability to address present and emerging challenges. Our animal health and safety system has been put to the test as a result of this recent outbreak of avian influenza. However, by working with our partners from the federal and provincial governments to local health authorities and from industry to consumers, we can stamp out this outbreak and uphold Canada's reputation for its responsive animal and food safety system.

I would be very pleased to answer the questions of my colleagues on this issue and I appreciate once again their commitment to treat this issue on a non-partisan basis. We all in the House work with our communities to represent our constituents and to ensure that we address these serious issues with not only speed but through cooperative effort.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

The Speaker

There are about seven minutes remaining in the time allotted for the minister. Is it agreed that it be used for questions?

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, we will not go past the seven minutes because there are many people who want to speak. If we do have further questions, it would be good if the minister did get back and talk to us about it.

One thing I was looking for when I originally made my speech was more of a commitment. I mentioned that the income stabilization programs did not really look after some of the costs such as the neutralizing of the material, the shipping of the material and particularly the down time and the interest on the loans that farmers have. All these things are very important.

I know the minister has said that, yes, the government will pay for the birds that are killed, and we understand that, but this other aspect is even as serious or more serious.

The other issue I would like the minister to address is the speciality birds. I did not have time in my speech to cover that, but the value and the compensation price listed in regulations is far too low for specialty birds. Many of them cost well in excess of $50 to $60 to replace, but farmers will only get a maximum of $30. That will definitely bankrupt those farmers.

Therefore, I would like those two questions answered.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, those are important questions. Let me start with specialty birds. I agree, there are birds that are much more valuable than that. What the hon. member said earlier about the genetics and the long line of some of these birds over a great deal of time is very worrisome.

In terms of my approach to it, and I have asked my officials to ensure that we look at these cases on a case by case basis, our overall goal is to move to depopulate that whole area. However, I want to start by depopulating those areas that are completely around the infected area where we believe there could be a spread of that disease.

The backyard flocks and some of these specialties I want to leave those until later on and work with these people to ensure we do not do something that is unnecessary. The belief by the best science that we know is that this is the approach we have to take. However, I want to ensure that maybe further on in the process if it is found that we have to take greater action with these specialty birds, that we do that, but I want to put them later on in the system. There is no question it is widely believed that this is the approach we need to take, but I understand that there is a problem.

We want to work with all groups. I noticed the hon. member mentioned earlier that he felt there was not enough consultation with some of these other groups. I think if he checks that, in fact there has been. I have asked my people to get out and talk to as many of these groups as quickly as possible so we have a better understanding of their situation.

However, he can well understand that it is just an enormous task and we have a lot of people. From across the country, we have brought in CFIA people and the provincial ministry has brought in people too. We are trying to get out and do as much of this consultation as possible. At the same time we are trying to hold open public consultations in case we miss people. We want to give them the chance to let us know their views and let us know more about their particular situation.

In terms of other compensation, it really is too early to get a good understanding of what impact this has. I think in terms of jobs, we will see as we begin to kill more birds, with the processing of those birds those jobs will be there. However, there are other areas and certainly the hon. member has brought them up.

In the areas we need to look at, our priority right now is to depopulate those areas. This is really where we are putting all of our efforts. These other issues will be talked about with the industry and provincial government, and those talks will continue to go on. However, with respect to our resources, they are now really in the area of trying to eradicate the disease.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister of Agriculture for taking some time to respond to questions. I too will be brief with mine.

We know that British Columbia is not the only place in North America that has had avian flu this spring. Certainly Delaware and Texas have had it. As I look at this, it strikes me that we are killing, depopulating, way more birds than are being depopulated there. It seem to me that it has been contained much faster in those two states. Is it because it is a different strain of avian flu? Is it because the USDA and the Texas agricultural officials have acted more quickly?

The final question is, when this is all over, will we have something like an international panel on BSE that will come and look at what we did right and wrong on this issue?

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the situation in those areas was low pathogen. We get avian influenza, low pathogen, periodically. We have had it in Canada before. It is easily controllable.

We believe that what happened on the B.C. premises was that it mutated from a low pathogen into a high pathogen on the same farm. Therefore, we had results back from that farm that said it was low pathogen and we were treating it as there might be a possibility of high pathogen. Unfortunately, it somehow mutated and got out of control. That is what we believe happened and that is why it spread a lot quicker here.

The only other high pathogen was in the Texas area. It was able to control it because it tested as high pathogen right away. That is why we feel it got out of control.

We are putting in, as you mentioned today in question period, important biosecurity. We have as much bio-security as we think is necessary now, although we need to look at these issues maybe after this is all over. As you say, maybe an international--

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:35 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will know he has to address his remarks to the Chair, but the time has expired as well for his speech. We have gone over, so we will have to move on.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Champlain.

Avian Flu
Emergency Debate

7:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to this evening's debate on the avian flu.

Over the past 12 months we have gone through various experiences in Canada with agriculture-related diseases that affect our livestock. We all know about mad cow disease, which is still causing major problems throughout Canada, including in Quebec, some 4,000 km from the source of the disease. Farmers are paying the price for a disease that, in my opinion, was not so serious and existed very far away from the major herds in Quebec.

Avian flu is a highly contagious disease and is transmitted to birds in general, including wild and domestic birds, and even those kept as pets. It should be noted that this disease is not easily transmitted to humans.

When such an epidemic strikes, it is essential to prevent the public from panicking, thinking that it poses a risk to humans. Avian influenza could be contracted by humans only through close contact with birds, for example by individuals working in poultry houses or with poultry, thereby increasing their risk of contracting the virus. There are only one or two cases where humans have contracted avian influenza. So, it is important that the public knows that there is no cause for panic here.

At the same time, it is important to take all the necessary measures to control this disease. People in Vancouver and British Colombia are not responsible for the outbreak of this disease, but I think that we must congratulate them for taking the necessary precautions to prevent the disease from spreading any further.

Thirty-one farms are said to be affected. Despite the precautions, we see just how easy it is for the disease to spread from farm to farm, particularly among poultry farms. I heard comments, for example, about the way poultry carcasses were buried or burned, and people mentioned the risk of crows and wild animals carrying and spreading the disease, causing more serious problems.

I personally had the opportunity to work in this field; I used to inspect such farms. I can tell you that one can never be too careful about contact between farms. The minister said that it is absolutely essential for visitors to take all the necessary precautions, and I fully agree. The cars and trucks driven by those needing to visit such farms must be inspected. It is absolutely essential that the necessary efforts be made so that, at that level, the disease is not spread within a riding or outside it.

Enormous damage has already been done. We can imagine what this means for poultry farmers who have to slaughter their entire stock and sterilize all their equipment.

This is a fairly considerable loss of revenue, a major financial loss. I hope that the minister will look to providing assistance for these people, who are not responsible for such an epidemic in their area.

Often people think that there is substantial assistance when there is reimbursement of the value of a slaughtered bird. I can tell you from experience that this is not true. When birds are slaughtered, it is often in a quarantine situation and so a great deal of expense is incurred to ensure that the entire farm and its surroundings are sterilized. This is a very expensive undertaking.

As I said, people ought not to panic in this case because this is a disease rarely transmitted to humans. The necessary precautions must be taken, however, to ensure farms are inspected.

I would like to congratulate the minister in this instance, because action was taken quickly enough that the disease is so far limited to only one region of British Columbia. In fact, all 31 affected farms are in the same area.

Had the same been done, or had there been perhaps a little less panic about mad cow, the burden on the taxpayer would have been far less.

As I have already said, Quebec producers have suffered, and are still suffering, financially because of one mad cow 4,000 km away. That time they did not deal with only the area in which there was an epidemic and so the whole country suffered.

Now, at least where avian flu is concerned, they do know how to monitor the situation, so the rest of the industry will not suffer if all necessary precautions are taken. Precautions must be taken, and we can never take too many if we want other countries to continue to trade with us. Let us keep in mind how heavy the cost was in the case of mad cow, because the border was closed down.

We know that the entire poultry production is quota-driven. This is what is called supply management. Because of the 19 million chickens to be slaughtered—and we hope that is as high as the number will go—there will be a shortage, and we will have to accept imports. Caution is in order, however, because the entire supply management system cannot be made to suffer from the presence of this disease in one part of the country. This is why the import licences for poultry must be temporary ones.

What the farmer fears is that the border will open to quota-free imports and that this will become a habit. We will be very tough about this. The Bloc Quebecois agrees with quota-free imports for replacing the losses, but not if this creates a poultry shortage here. Nonetheless, this needs to be limited to this case exclusively, in other words, temporary permits need to be granted.

In my opinion, with specialization in agriculture and the huge size of farms, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food should, in the future, be more cautious and increase the number of inspectors and surveillance of farms.

Farmers need to be encouraged to conduct their own surveillance in order to limit as much as possible epidemics that could be extremely serious for all large-scale cattle or poultry farmers. I am certain that inspecting farms and taking precautions to contain diseases such as this one will prevent epidemics that could be extremely serious for all farmers.

Sometimes when I would visit farms with 100,000 chickens, or 20,000, 25,000 or 30,000 turkeys, I would say to myself that it would be catastrophic if ever we had to cull all this poultry because of a disease that might spread across the country. We know this type of poultry breeding exists throughout the country.

We have to applaud the fact that the current threat was limited only to the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. All the stakeholders who have to work in agriculture must take extreme precautions to ensure that there is as little risk as possible of epidemic in the future.

I am pleased that we are having this debate tonight because this is a major problem. Naturally, I call upon the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to help those who are suffering the impact of the avian flu. We are ready to offer our assistance in replacing the destroyed birds by imports as far as possible. Nevertheless, as I was saying, the import permits must be temporary.

The minister replied earlier to some of the questions I had. I was wondering, for example, what would happen if someone had to destroy a flock of very expensive animals, such as emus. I do not know if there are any in the region affected by this disease, but here in Quebec there are several farms that raise these extremely expensive birds, which can cost many hundreds of dollars each.

In such a case, do we have the necessary provisions to compensate producers if, unfortunately, such farms were affected by this disease? The birds would have to be slaughtered if that happened.

Perhaps we will have an opportunity to ask a few more questions of the minister. Right now, however, people are living with insecurity. They wonder what will happen if a similar disease were to strike farms raising specialized fowl whose unit value is infinitely greater than that of a chicken or a turkey.

We were speaking about geese earlier. I know that in Quebec—and perhaps not only in Quebec—there are emus and ostriches that cost around $1,000 each. Can we guarantee that we will help these producers or the producers in the region where fowl are being destroyed, if they have that kind of farm?

I thank you for proposing this debate this evening. I think it is an extremely important one. We expect the minister to take precautions to pay the producers who are facing this disease, but we also want him to take the opportunity, perhaps, to add some inspectors and veterinarians. With the quality and the large scale of our farms, we must take the precaution of increasing safety so that no catastrophe occurs, which could be disastrous for all of Quebec and Canadian agriculture.