Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the emergency debate on our agricultural sector.
I will take this opportunity to talk about food safety, an issue that is very important to the agricultural industry and to all Canadians. Food safety has become an issue in the media recently as a result of Canada's decision to suspend imports of food products from Brazil.
I would like to remind the House that Canada has one of the safest food supplies in the world, and during this debate I want to explain to the House how the current issues involving Brazilian food products have arisen as a result of our vigorous measures to put the health and safety of Canadians first and foremost.
We have a system of laws, regulations, inspections and product approval procedures that protects the health and safety of our food supply. The system is based on checks and balances to ensure that all parties fulfil their responsibilities. Imported products are subject to the same rigorous production and inspection standards that we set for our own domestic food products. Canadians expect no less.
Recently the food inspection systems in Canada and in other countries have had to respond to a new and troubling development, the growing threat of TSEs, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. TSEs are fatal diseases that affect the central nervous system of animals or humans. They include diseases such as scrapie in sheep. In elk and deer, they take the form of chronic wasting disease.
In the past few years there has been a growing concern about the form TSEs take in cattle, bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, also known as mad cow disease. Researchers speculate that ingesting BSE infected beef may be related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the form that TSE takes in humans.
Canada has taken several measures to prevent the introduction of BSE or the spread of TSEs. So far these measures have proven to be successful. We have no reason to believe that BSE exists in Canada, but there is no such thing as zero risk and we cannot guarantee that a case of BSE will never occur in Canada.
In today's debate on what is happening in agriculture, I wish to reassure the House that the government has placed a very high priority on keeping BSE out of Canada. As a front line of defence, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency implements Health Canada's policy of keeping animals diagnosed or suspected of being infected with TSE out of the human or animal food chain.
Canadian veterinarians and livestock producers have been alerted to the signs of BSE. They must report suspected cases to a federal veterinarian. Adult cattle exhibiting symptoms suggestive of BSE are destroyed and subjected to a laboratory examination for BSE. Canada tests hundreds of cattle for BSE every year and has tested over 4,800 cattle in total since its BSE surveillance program was started. This level of testing exceeds international recommendations.
However, I want to emphasize that Canadians have a right to expect that the food that comes into this country meets the same high standards we apply to domestic products, so we have a policy of not importing ruminant meat and meat products from countries that have BSE.
We also have additional import controls in place for other animal products and byproducts from countries which have confirmed BSE in native animals. In fact, since December 7 we have suspended the importation of rendered material from all species from any country that has BSE. These countries include: the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Portugal, Denmark, Spain and Italy.
However, there are troubling signs that BSE may have spread beyond the countries where it first became a problem. For that reason, Canada has implemented a fair and reasonable policy to require our trading partners to provide us with information that would permit us to assess BSE status. In May 1998 we sent our trading partners notification of these policies. We provided a questionnaire to be used in assessing BSE status in these countries.
Our trading partners responded, except for one country, Brazil. Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand and the United States all provided information that has allowed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to conduct a proper assessment. Brazil did not. All these countries have been recognized as BSE free in accordance with the established process. Brazil has not. In addition, further information came to light that Brazil may have imported cattle from European Union countries that are not free of BSE.
In the interest of the health and safety of Canadians, we cannot stand by and let food products come into the country that we cannot demonstrate are BSE free. That is why earlier this month Canada suspended current imports of canned corned beef and liquid beef extract from Brazil. We proceeded with the removal of these products from the marketplace.
Until Brazil can show that it meets the established process to determine the safety of its beef products, we cannot let these products into the country. This is a health issue. Those who would confuse this issue with other disputes Canada has with Brazil are, in effect, asking the government to take its eye off the ball. The first and foremost priority is the health and safety of all Canadians.
Canada is taking an extra step to help resolve this issue.
Today the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that a team of scientists would conduct an onsite visit in Brazil as part of a continuing process to fully assess the Brazilian regulatory system for the risk of BSE. The team will be joined by officials from the United States and Mexico that are also working with Canada to review the documentation provided by Brazil on its BSE situation.
Together we are assessing three specific risk factors: Brazil's feeding and rendering practices, its import practices, and its surveillance and laboratory procedures. We need further information on these factors before we can have confidence that the Brazilian regulatory system is keeping BSE out of that country. Once the information is complete it will be reviewed and verified.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is doing everything possible to expedite this process and complete the assessment as quickly as it can. If Brazil meets Canada's requirement and is assessed as free of BSE, the temporary suspension of imports will be lifted.
Canadians can be proud of the high standards set by its food health and safety system. We have one of the best systems in the world, but that does not mean that we will allow ourselves to become complacent.
We will continue to be vigilant, to learn, to reassess, and to respond as science and experience evolve. We impose rigorous standards on the food produced in this country. We impose the same standards on the food that comes into this country. In today's debate on the state of agriculture in Canada, the strength of that food and safety system deserves the support of the House.
In the very brief time remaining, allow me to address the current crisis in our grains and oilseeds industries. A combination of factors has challenged our agricultural producers. Subsidies to our trade competitors, especially the U.S.; global grain stocks surpluses; and financial and political instability in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe have decreased demand for our commodities and pushed prices to their lowest levels in 20 years.
Unpredictable weather last spring and summer plagued farmers in my constituency of Erie—Lincoln. Many fields were too wet to plant, notwithstanding all the spring soil preparation that had been completed and the significant costs incurred. Indeed the cost of diesel and nitrogen fertilizers increased over 20% during the year 2000.
For those who got their seeds in the ground the situation only deteriorated. When the cool damp weather persisted crop growth was stunted or non-existent. At the end of June in place of crops that should have been lush and green, there were vast expanses of dried mud hard as concrete peaking above ponds of water. The 2000 crop year in my area was quite literally a washout with no yield or a pitifully poor yield.
As a result some farmers in my area are experiencing a disastrous cash crisis. I recall one young farmer coming to the microphone at an OFA meeting and advising that he had saved $10,000 a year for the previous 10 years to accumulate enough capital to buy a farm and embark upon a career he dearly loved. In one growing season his equity was drowned out. It was enough to make a grown man cry. In fact, that is exactly what he did before all those assembled.
This evening we have heard the many forms of safety net policies already in place. Last summer the federal and provincial ministers of agriculture reached an agreement on a new three year framework for safety nets. The Canadian farm income program will provide up to $5.5 billion in support to farmers over the length of the agreement, $3.3 billion from the federal government and $2.2 billion from the provincial government.
Farm groups have long been calling for a disaster component as part of the safety net programming. The Liberal government has responded to this request with new funding of over $1.2 billion for disaster relief over the life of the agreement.
For the first time producers have a safety net framework that includes such programs as NISA, crop insurance and its companion programs, as well as disaster relief programming.
The spring credit advance program also deserves mention. Under the 2000 spring credit advance program, $356 million in advances were issued to 31,000 producers. An evaluation of the 2000 spring credit advance program indicates that the program was well received by producers as it provided low cost access to credit. The spring credit advance program will be available for the 2001 crop year as well.
For the current year, advance payments program producer organizations have given over $925 million in advances to producers to provide cash flow until they sell their 2000 crops. Producers may continue to apply for these advances until May 31 of this year.
We cannot allow our grain farmers to continue down a path to extinction. The sovereignty of our food supply is too important.