Madam Speaker, I must say that in this debate I am very impressed by the positive approach by all parties to this very serious situation in Canada.
The people who work in our cattle industry, from producers to processors, have worked hard with government over the years to ensure its growth. As a result, Canadian beef is among the best. Canada is well established as a world leader in beef production and exports. It is in the best interests of all Canadians to keep this industry strong.
Canada ranks as one of the world's top 10 producers of beef, accounting for 2.5% of the world's beef supply. To put that into perspective, each year Canada produces about three billion pounds of beef, contributing over $30 billion annually to Canada's economy. In 2002 our beef cattle industry was the single largest source of farm cash receipts at almost $8 billion.
Clearly the cattle industry makes an important contribution to Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector, and the Canadian economy as a whole. That is why the Government of Canada is committed to resolving this situation quickly and minimizing impact to Canada's cattle industry.
The U.S. accounts for over 80% of our exports of beef and nearly all our exports of live cattle. Confidence in the safety and security of Canada's food supply will reopen markets. We are maintaining close contact with the United States and other key trading partners throughout this investigation. While reopening the U.S. border to exports as soon as possible is important, our first priority remains public health and food safety for Canadians.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in cooperation with the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia and industry, is continuing its investigation around the clock and has made significant progress. I am pleased to report that the results of the rapid diagnostic tests of the depopulated case herd indicate that no other cows in that herd were infected with BSE.
Our commitment to keep Canada BSE free is not only a commitment to the well-being of our industry, but a commitment to the health and safety of all Canadians. The protection of human and animal health is not something we take lightly. I have every confidence in the system we have in place, which is reviewed regularly by the CFIA.
For nearly a decade, Canada has taken a number of measures to prevent the introduction or spread of BSE. Canada does not import commodities which are known to pose a risk of BSE from any country which is not BSE free. Canada has not imported ruminant-derived meat and bone meal from European countries for several decades. In 1997 the CFIA banned the feeding of rendered products from ruminant animals back to other ruminants, like cattle or sheep. In December 2000, the CFIA suspended the importation of rendered animal material of any species from any country that was not recognized as BSE free.
In addition, I would like to note that Canada's domestic BSE surveillance program is internationally recognized, and not only meets but exceeds international standards.
The number of samples being taken under this program is double the current international standard. The program tests all animals with symptoms which could be compatible with BSE, and the program goes beyond that to test mature animals without clinical signs of BSE.
Our extensive screening system is the reason why there have only ever been two cases of BSE diagnosed in this country, one in an imported cow in 1993 and of course the case that brings us to the House tonight. In both cases the cow did not enter the food chain. Our inspection system is working the way it should.
In the case before us, the cow was deemed unfit for human consumption, not because it showed symptoms of BSE but because an inspector diagnosed it with a much less serious affliction, pneumonia, and pulled it from the system. This is a clear indication of the level of scrutiny placed on meat destined for the food chain. It is a clear indication that Canada's food safety and food quality system works.
In closing, I would like to express our gratitude to the industry and particularly to the farmers, who have been most directly affected by this situation, for their cooperation and support from day one. By working together, I am confident we will resolve this matter soon. Then our industry can return its attention to doing what it does best, producing exceptional beef and beef products which meet the highest standards of quality for Canadians.