Madam Speaker, I want to indicate that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Yellowhead.
I am happy this debate is happening because it is a very important issue. I am not very happy with the circumstances that brought it about but the Canadian Alliance members felt it was important that we have this emergency debate. We put in the request for it so we could air this item fully and let people know exactly our perspective on this topic.
Tuesday last week I got a call from my office saying that there was an important call from the Department of Agriculture and that an official wanted to brief me on a problem in my riding, I had no idea what to expect. It was not a very happy circumstance a few minutes later when the gentleman who briefed me told me there was a case of mad cow disease and it originated in an operation in the constituency of Peace River. That is the kind of news no one wants to hear quite frankly.
It took us all by surprise and certainly it took the wind out of the sails of those people in agriculture and those people who depend on that agricultural industry.
We are talking about a hardy lot, ranchers and farmers who have built up operations, carved them out of the prairies or carved them out of the forest and built up herds of animals through a lot of hard work. They are people who have contributed a lot to our society. They are a hardy stock indeed. This problem really did a number on them. They are concerned about their livelihood and they are concerned about the disease itself, how to isolate it and ensure that it does not spread. That is what I want to talk about today.
Peace River constituency is the place where this originated. This young man moved from Mississippi just three years ago. It is my understanding that he and his brother farmed crawfish in Mississippi. They came looking for opportunity in the Peace River country, as many people do. It is a land of opportunity and a place for farmers and others to develop their skills.
The man bought a cattle herd, never suspecting that he might have the animal with mad cow disease, only finding out when it went to market.
In the Peace River country there are over 2,800 cattle operations, farmers and ranchers who raise cattle. My brother has an operation that has 1,500 head of cattle, which is a very big operation. It takes a lot of work. In fact, there are over 380,000 cattle in the Peace River constituency. It is a huge industry. Farm equipment dealers and truckers are all affected. Farm equipment dealers sell over half their product to cattle operations. That is how large it is in my constituency. Things like auction marts and so on are affected as well.
Therefore it is very important to keep this issue in perspective. Yes, it is a big health concern, one with which we have deal. I think all people involved recognize that. We have to keep it in perspective because it is one case at this point, and may not be any more than that, out of 13.4 million cattle in Canada, with 5.2 million cattle in Alberta alone. As I said, there are almost 400,000 in my own constituency. If this turns out to be more than that, it still probably will be a very small situation compared with the total number we have.
However this is a huge industry. It is a huge economic downturn if this continues to develop, especially if the Canada-U.S. border is closed. It is important to us because we export so much product to the United States. My understanding is that we export about $4 billion worth of live or processed cattle to the United States per year.
It is a big industry in the U.S. too. There are 100 million cattle in the United States, which is a lot more than we have, so our cattle represents a pretty small part of their imports but it is still an important integrated business. The economies of Canada and the United States have become much more integrated in many sectors in the last few years. The automotive sector everyone knows about, but it is much more than that.
There are cattle from Alberta and from all of Canada in U.S. feedlots. There are cattle from the United States in Canadian feedlots and in my riding. I know the members for Medicine Hat and Lethbridge spoke earlier about how big the industry was in their ridings. It is important that we get on top of this issue just as soon as we can.
My colleague, our agriculture critic, said that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did a pretty good job on this. It is on top of it as it should be, but it is important that we deal with it quickly. The agency has taken the proper steps. It has isolated these herds. It has quarantined them when it has found out where they are. It is doing the trace out to find out, forward and backward, where this animal came from, where the offspring of the cow in question went to, and these have been identified. It has also destroyed the index or the herd from the Peace River country. It trucked it to a facility and the word came today that of the 150 cattle in the herd, no other animals tested positive. That is a very good sign indeed.
When the United States closed the border, it was a serious blow to us. However we can understand why it did that. It has a public which is concerned about it, especially after what happened in Britain over the years. The Americans want to know that we are handling this in a manner and dealing with it effectively and quickly.
I think Ann Veneman, the secretary of the department of agriculture in the United States, sent inspectors here to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in the province of Alberta to satisfy themselves that we were doing the necessary things to deal with it. They will no doubt go back and say that is exactly what has happened. The trace out will be in place pretty quickly and we will know exactly with what we are dealing. Those affected animals will be destroyed if need be and Canada will be back on the road to providing a very safe product.
However I want to emphasize in the clearest possible way, we have to keep this in perspective. There is probably only one animal at the moment out of 13.5 million cattle in Canada. Since 1987, Britain and other countries in Europe have had mad cow disease. Yes, it is a serious problem there, but we should think of the perspective. We know that 130 people died as a result of eating product from these animals, but that is out of 60 million people.
We know it is serious. We know we have to deal it. We know we have to isolate it to stop it from happening, but we should keep it in perspective, please. There is a huge industry and a huge economic impact for my riding and for all agricultural communities in which agricultural producers are working. There also is a huge economic impact for the country. If we get enough bad press and bad things happening all at once, I suggest it will slow down the Canadian economy.
It is important that we work with the United States in this integrated market to deal with this quickly. It is absolutely imperative that we have good communications with the U.S. authorities. I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture is working with his counterpart, Ann Veneman, to do just that.
It is vitally important that the Prime Minister realize how serious this is and make that phone call to George Bush. He should put the personal things aside. He has to talk to the President of the United States. We need the President to reassure his public, once this trace out is done, that Canada is dealing effectively with this problem, it is being isolated, it is being dealt with in the proper manner, so we can get back to supplying that product to the United States, or $4 billion a year. That is vitally important and I urge all the people involved, all the authorities, to continue to work as quickly as they can to deal with this issue.
I am very happy with the progress to date. We can be very happy that this will probably come to a successful resolution. I urge the Prime Minister to take that next step, reach out and talk to his counterpart in the United States to reassure the American public that Canada is doing all it can to deal with this in a very serious manner.
I know others will be debating tonight. I just want to reassure the people at home that the Canadian Alliance is taking this issue very seriously, not only from a health perspective, but from the economic perspective of those involved in the agriculture industry. This is a very important industry to us. We are working with the government and urging it to do whatever is necessary to deal with it in the proper manner.