House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was taiwan.


Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

8:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by acknowledging a few people: my leader who gave a great speech on this whole issue a little earlier this evening and the member for Selkirk--Interlake who has done an outstanding job as the Canadian Alliance agriculture critic. He has done a great job of analyzing the situation and has had media interviews over the last week or so.

I also want to acknowledge my friend from Lethbridge who just spoke. He knows better than most people in the country about the impact this has having on especially the feeder industry. It is absolutely devastating, and I want to congratulate the member on the job he is doing representing the people of Lethbridge on this issue.

I also want to say there are people in the cattlemen's association in particular who have done an outstanding job. Neil Jahnke, head of the CCA, has been a great spokesman for the industry and has been forthright with the government and has worked cooperatively with officials on this issue. I get to work locally with Arno Doerksen who has done a great job on this.

I also want to pass on my congratulations to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that jumped on this issue as soon as it became public. It has done a very good job of assuring the public that it has the issue in hand. That is really important. I want people to understand the size of the problem in terms of risk to health first of all. There is a very small problem.

Let us go over the facts. In a 13.4 million cattle-cow herd in Canada, one cow was discovered with BSE. That herd was quarantined when it was discovered. It was sent to be slaughtered so the herd could be tested. The initial testing has been done and there is no indication of BSE in that herd. Any other herd that has been even remotely associated with that cow has been quarantined.Therefore there is no way that these cattle can enter the food chain.

I want to point out by the way that the first cow that was found never did enter the food chain. Right away people get concerned but that animal never got into the food chain. Since that time the trace out has continued. When there is even a remote association with that initial cow those herds are quarantined.

I think many people automatically want to compare this to what happened in the U.K. back 17 years ago when all of this first began. However there is no comparison. The numbers I have of the problem that hit the U.K. and Europe was 400,000 infected cattle. We have one infected cow. Out of that 400,000, about 100 people became ill. We have no one who is ill. There is a very tiny chance.

We also have to remember that in Europe the practice was to consume parts of that cow that we would not consume in Canada, and they are the ones that ultimately can cause some kinds of diseases. We do not even consume those organs in Canada. Therefore there is absolutely no risk in Canada. We should not be concerned about this.

Having said, we know there are protocols in place so if there is an incident of BSE that crops up of mad cow, right away the border is closed.

However now I want to drive home again the impact that has on Alberta and on western Canada in particular, but also the entire country. I can speak best of course about my riding.

My riding is the riding of Medicine Hat. We are an area that raises a tremendous amount of cattle. In additional to raising cattle, we also process cattle. We have a meat packing plant in my riding and we process a tremendous amount of beef every week. We have 2,400 people who work at the meat packing plant, Lakeside Packers in Brooks, Alberta. Those people incidentally come from all over the world. There are about 60 languages spoken on the floor of Lakeside. That reflects the fact that people come from all over the world to work there. They make good wages and they are a tremendous benefit to our community. It is impossible to overstate the positive economic benefit they have had in our community.

I want to point out also that through this time, even though the company cannot really process beef or not very much of it anyway, it has managed to come up with a way to provide its employees with 32 hours a week of pay even though there is not that much work for them.

To its credit, Cargill down the way in High River has done the same thing and should be recognized for that.

However they cannot do that forever. They will be in a situation where they will have to start to lay off folks. We urge the government to give the same consideration to people in Alberta and places affected by this, when it comes to employment insurance, as it did for the people in Toronto when the SARS epidemic hit. I think that is only fair.

I also want to emphasize a point that my friend just made a minute ago. I was talking with a friend of mine on Sunday morning, a guy I have known for quite a few years. There was a bunch of us standing around, talking about this whole issue. I told people what I had heard lately and my friend looked at me and said, “If this continues very much longer, a few more days, I will be done. I will be bankrupt.” He grows the feed to supply some of the big feeders in Rick's riding. Of course those guys are in no position right now to look after their payables. This man is close to losing everything he has worked for over many years, and I am afraid to say he is one of many.

We have talked a bit about the feeders but there are the guys who supply the feeders. Then there are the big packing plants like Lakeside and Cargill that could probably weather this for a while longer. Ultimately the cow-calf guys, although not immediately, will be in jeopardy if that border does not get open.

Therefore, what do we do now? There are a number of things we have to do. That trace out has to be finished as soon as possible. They have to track down all the cattle associated with that cow and all the cattle, or animals of any kind, associated in any way with that processed diseased animal. It did not end up in the human food chain but it did end up being rendered and that has to be traced now. We have to find out where all that went, those animals have to be quarantined and that all has to be done as fast as we can. I urge the government to take whatever resources it has to take to do that. It is just so critical.

The second thing is, and I already touched on this, the human resources minister has to prepare a package so that people who are affected by this do not have to go through the two week waiting period and that they get the same consideration the people in Toronto got when the SARS epidemic hit. Again, this is through no fault of their own.

Another important point, which my leader raised today in question period, is these supplemental permits that are issued to countries to bring beef into Canada over and above what they are allowed under their tariff rate quotas has to stop. That beef was allowed in because the understanding was that if Canada exported so much beef to the United States, we could not look after domestic processors. Guess what? We have a glut of beef now. There is no reason to allow this over-quota beef into Canada. It does not make a huge difference, but it does make a difference. I hope the trade minister will work right away to deal with that. It would mean the stopping of about 50,000 tonnes of overseas beef coming into Canada and would allow us to feed our own market.

There are two final points that I want to make. One thing that has to happen, as my friend said a minute ago and as I asked about in question period today, is we need to establish from the Americans what criteria have to be met if we are to open that border up and export our beef and our live cattle into the United States once again.

I understand the Americans are working with us, and I appreciate that. I think they want to get that border open. However we need to know, and the government has an obligation to tell producers, to give them confidence that the government is on the job. It has an obligation to tell them the criteria so producers and the government, the CFIA, can meet those standards. That is important.

The final point is, where is the Prime Minister on this file? It was great that he was eating a steak on TV. That is fine. That is good. He should have been on the phone to our closest ally, the President of the United States, but he has so burnt up that relationship that he is afraid to do it. That is a shame. At a time like this when we need the influence of the Prime Minister, we cannot count on it because of his own sorry record when it comes to Canada-United States relationships. Unfortunately, that burns a bridge that we vitally need at this time.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

8:30 p.m.

Edmonton Southeast Alberta


David Kilgour LiberalSecretary of State (Asia-Pacific)

Mr. Speaker, I love Alberta beef. We are talking tonight about an economic issue, not a health issue. Canadians have every reason to have continued confidence in the safety of our food and all of us must continue to eat beef without concern or fear.

It is important to stress to Albertans, all Canadians and the international community that so far we are looking at the infection of a single cow from a single farm, one cow out of perhaps 5 million or 6 million in Alberta and many more millions, as we just heard perhaps 12 million or 13 million, for the country as a whole.

In 2002 Canadian cattle and beef exports were valued at about $4 billion. In Alberta, beef and cattle production provides $3.8 billion in farm cash receipts per year, which translates to 51% of the farm production income. The cattle industry contributes $15 billion to our national economy. Annual exports, including both interprovincial and international, totalled approximately $1.7 billion in calender year 2002.

There has been excellent cooperation between the federal and provincial governments, the industry and our trading partners in finding a resolution to this situation.

The events of the past week have shown that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working closely with its provincial counterparts, other stakeholders in the industry, and international agencies. The agency actedd quickly and with transparency, keeping the population informed at every stage.

The identification of this one cow at slaughter and its subsequent removal from the human food chain is evidence that Canadian meat inspection and food safety systems are working effectively. Canada's procedures to detect BSE are among the most rigorous in the world. Since 1993 we have tested 10,000 animals on a random basis, twice the internationally recommended level of testing. Although there is no question as to the safety of our food system, there should be a full review of our livestock inspection practices to ensure their accuracy and expediency.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has now placed a total of 17 cattle herds under quarantine in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia as part of its investigation. The increasing number of herds under quarantine is a normal occurrence in an investigation of this type. It demonstrates the thoroughness of the effort. It does not indicate that the situation is getting worse, and this cannot be stressed too strongly. The investigation is progressing as quickly as possible and the CFIA remains committed to keeping the public informed as new information becomes available.

Yesterday the Canadian Cattlemen's Association issued the following statement:

The negative BSE rapid test results for the cattle in the index herd are what we anticipated. We're confident that this situation is confined to one cow. However we must leave no stone unturned in our efforts to reassure our markets and trading partners that the situation has been contained. Additional precautionary slaughter and testing will be necessary. The sooner our borders can be reopened to exports, the sooner our industry will recover. The best thing our government can do for beef producers right now is to take all the necessary steps to get the borders reopened as quickly as possible.

My colleagues across the aisle and on this side have made that point repeatedly tonight.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Alberta minister of agriculture, Shirley McClellan, when she said that government and industry must be prepared to do whatever they must to restore public confidence and reopen international borders. As she so rightly pointed out, we should not euthanize herds without scientific reasoning. We must not unduly cause suffering for our cattle producers.

It has been clear that those who lose their stock will receive compensation, but last night on the news something was made clear: there are losses that we will never be able to compensate. Alberta rancher Harvey Buckley told CTV News :

The thing you can't replace in your cow herd of course is your genetics and your breeding over the years.

By moving quickly to get the answers and reassurances needed, it is these kinds of losses that can be reduced or minimized.

The impact on our economy has not gone unnoticed. Canadians on farms, in processing plants, slaughterhouses, auction houses and trucking companies already are feeling the effects. As the long term impact is not yet known, we must move to assist them in the short term. Today in the House of Commons the Prime Minister asked the Minister of Human Resources to see what she can do in order to be just for these people like we have done for the people of Toronto.

The events over the past week extend far beyond the confines of a single city. It reaches all parts of the country. It is our entire border that has been closed to beef exports. The investigation must move quickly to have the border reopened.

First and foremost, the steps we are taking to control the BSE situation in Canada are critical to restoring our market access. In this regard, as we have heard tonight, we are being very proactive in keeping our trading partners informed of the actions we are taking. Second, we are reviewing the trade measures being imposed to ensure that they are science based and no more trade restrictive than necessary.

It is important to note that the European Union has not closed its borders to Canadian beef. When asked why Europe does not share the concerns of the countries that are banning Canadian beef imports, Beate Gminder, the spokesperson for the European Commission's health and consumer protection department said that Europe has more experience with this disease, commonly known as the mad cow disease. She further stated:

The problem is that the reaction is always very emotional because people understand very little about BSE. But once you understand it, you realize you can manage the disease.

We must proceed with cautious urgency. Farms cannot remain under indefinite quarantines. The border must be reopened. Testing must proceed quickly and definitively to reassure Canadians and the international community that Alberta and Canadian beef is the safest in the world.

Marty Carpenter, food service team leader at the Beef Information Centre, stated:

It was a safe product yesterday, it is a safe product today and it will be a safe product tomorrow. Essentially, what consumers need to understand is the A-grades of beef they're buying in the grocery store are under 22 months of age and BSE doesn't manifest itself in animals under 30 months of age. So the risk of ingesting BSE-infected beef is extremely remote, extremely remote.

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with my colleague so in closing, I will quote the Alberta Cattle Commission by saying “if it ain't Alberta, it ain't beef”.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

8:35 p.m.


Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is my first address to a debate in the House.

I am a farmer. My family has been in the beef industry for 30 years. This is a very volatile occupation under normal circumstances, but this incident has again shown us the challenges beef farmers are facing.

The last week has shown us that elected officials and government agencies working together are dealing with the challenges that the industry is facing. Canadian farmers have also stepped up to the plate. Five years ago they developed better feeding and tracking practices for their herds. This is obvious in the reports of the last 24 hours. Through the commitment by farmers to healthier and safer products for consumers, we can be assured that our beef is safe.

I must make one thing very clear: the system does work. It is obvious from the events of the past few days that government agencies have worked hard and swiftly to investigate and determine the origins of the one animal suffering from BSE.

The system responded quickly to track the history of the infected animal and determine what possible hazards exist. All evidence indicates that one infected cow never entered the food chain. Farms have been quarantined and extensive testing has been done and is being done.

The Canadian beef industry and the agricultural industry in Canada are regulated and very specific. They also have important guidelines that make them among the safest and strongest in the world.

Five years ago strict and tough regulations dealing with the types of feed that we feed our livestock were implemented. I know on my farm, as well as those of my farming colleagues, that we feed our cattle with forages and whole grains. There is routine testing and inspections of livestock to ensure the quality and safety of the beef being eaten in Canada and exported to other countries.

Two years ago I was asked by the Prime Minister to be part of the agriculture task force. I had the opportunity to travel throughout the country to see firsthand the Canadian agricultural industry at work in many provinces. I personally met with ranchers and beef farmers, as well as people in the food industry in western Canada. It became very clear to me that we truly have a world renowned beef industry with a reputation for unsurpassed quality.

With all my years of being a farmer and being involved in the agriculture industry in Nova Scotia, I never truly realized the magnitude of this country's agriculture industry. The agriculture industry is of immense importance to the Canadian economy and provides a livelihood for many Canadians. An industry worth over $30 billion annually is an industry worth taking care of and we do take the health of the industry very seriously.

We must hope that the American food inspection delegation in Canada will realize the high standards and the safety of our inspection processes and will reopen the border for the safe and high quality beef we produce in this country.

I would like to reiterate what I have been saying. The system works. The regulations and high standards of the beef industry are the best in the world. The response from both levels of government has been swift and thorough.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and its provincial counterparts have worked together. Information has been open, honest and transparent. A concerted effort is being made to restore confidence in our markets. We are doing everything to open the U.S. border.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has proven to be a highly capable and effective agency in preventing any harm to consumers.

The issues are being dealt with. They are a priority for all stakeholders.

The country's beef farmers have many challenges. If it is not the weather, it is the marketplace itself. All farmers in this country work hard and deserve to have their industries protected and their livelihoods secured. We have all worked hard and will continue to work hard in the future for the farmers and the agricultural industry.

In closing, I thank all my colleagues for their attention to this very important issue that we are facing.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

8:40 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I rise to speak in this emergency debate, a number of people in my riding are going through difficult times, and some may find themselves unemployed. Since the media reported the case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, discovered in Alberta, events have unfolded very rapidly. The crisis in the Canadian cattle industry does not respect provincial boundaries.

I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Jonquière.

Cattle producers in Quebec also say they have been just as affected by the American embargo and the drop in prices as their counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The announcement of the bad news was immediately followed by an American embargo on Canadian beef. A number of other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, followed Uncle Sam's lead.

The consequences of this embargo were immediate. The price of beef dropped from $4.03 to $3.19 per kg. The price of cattle ready for slaughter fell by 21% in less than a week. These figures come from the committee of 250 fed cattle producers of the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec.

In an interview with a daily paper, the group's president, Jacques Desrosiers, himself a steer farmer said, and I quote:

For now, feeders can continue to feed the animals. We can survive for a few weeks, but if it lasts more than four weeks, if it lasts for months, we will lose more than half of our stocks. This could represent a million dollars for me, and I am unable to sustain that kind of loss.

The shock wave has spread all the way to my riding, which has a huge agricultural base. A major producer, Entreprises agricoles Saint-Joachim Inc., has ended up with some 3,000 head of cattle on its hands because of the embargo. When you consider that it costs between $2 and $3 a day to feed an animal, you can imagine the losses that Mr. Autot, from Saint-Joachim-de-Courval, and this company will sustain if the situation does not improve soon.

Producers are holding on to their herds, which is bringing meat packing plants to a standstill. Again, in my riding, in the municipality of Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover, employees of the Colbex meat packing plant owned by the Dubé family could lose their jobs. Fifteen have already been laid off and management has had to give advance notice to all workers, which is 196 people in this company alone.

The harmful effects of the ban have gone so far as to impact exports of cattle embryos. Embryotech, the third Chinese company to locate in the Drummondville industrial park, specializes in the development of an embryo culture technique that ought to provide China with a 10 million-strong herd of good dairy cattle within 10 years. China being one of the countries that has closed its doors to our exports, Embryotech's activities are, at the very least, compromised for the moment. As well, the hiring process to staff 50 positions in this company has been slowed down.

The federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food claims embryos are not affected by the ban. That is not the reality as described by the management of Embryotech to a journalist in my region. That is a brief overview of the situation in my riding.

Let us now examine the Liberal government's attitude. The day after the announcement of the beef export ban, representatives of the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec were at the door of the federal Department of Agriculture and Agri-food calling for it to put in place emergency financial assistance programs to compensate producers for the losses sustained.

The federation feels that this financial assistance should also include other segments of the Quebec cattle industry such as auction yards, abattoirs and the like.

Yet the Prime Minister himself has refused this form of assistance, and this afternoon in oral question period, the Liberal member for Shefford had nothing more to say than that the workers in this industry will be able to draw employment insurance after a waiting period of 15 days, and at about the 55% level, not 55% of their actual earnings, but 55 of the actual value of the employment.

Clearly, this form of assistance is not serious.

As for the Minister of Agriculture, a few hours ago, he told the committee that the investigation now going on to trace the origin of the sick animal would not lack for funding. That is fine for the investigation, but what about the producers, the slaughterhouses that have been shut down, the distribution network, the auctions, the transporters? In short, everything has stopped. The president of the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, Laurent Pellerin, says it is a catastrophe.

The embargo is not only on beef, but on all ruminants; veal, goats, sheep, lambs, and farm-raised bison and deer. There is a bison farmer in my riding. He has the same problems.

The questions we hear from everyone affected are: Does the government have an assistance program? What should the industry expect from government? Will there be compensation for the losses?

How did we get to this point? Simply because this government decided to make draconian cuts to agriculture. We have a shortage of laboratories and veterinarians. The faculties of veterinary medicine at the universities do not have the funding necessary to hire professors and buy state-of-the-art equipment.

The situation is a paradox. Canada is one of the world's largest cattle producers. And yet there are only two specialists in mad cow disease in this country.

My hon. friend from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and I fought to get federal funding for the faculty of veterinary medicine at the Université de Montréal, so that it could get accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Weeks have passed. The Liberal government is still humming and hawing and the faculty of veterinary medicine is left with partial accreditation.

As to why it took more than three months to get results from the tests carried out on the animal's carcass, let us just say that it is a consequence of Liberal cuts. Brain samples from the animal waited a long time for testing in Alberta's only public laboratory. There is only one laboratory to look out for the interests of an industry worth nearly $4 billion. Ten years ago, there were four, but budget cuts have done away with three of them, and saved $10 million.

Canada is paying the price now for cuts made in the past. In fact, it would be fair to say that it is Quebeckers and all Canadians who are footing the bill because of this government's lack of long-term vision.

How much will this crisis cost? How much longer will it take to trace the origins of the infected animal?

The minister is talking about the risk management program that is already in place, but he seems to be the only one who believes in the program. When answering my questions at the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the minister said he wants the problem to be resolved as soon as possible to limit the damage, but he did not elaborate on possible compensation.

Quebec farmers are currently being unfairly penalized by the onset of mad cow disease outside of Quebec. Cattle farmers are being hard hit by the embargo declared by several countries on importing ruminants and ruminant products. This situation is especially frustrating to farmers, who have been subjected for a long time to a series of restrictions aiming specifically to ensure the health of livestock and the irreproachable quality of their products. For many years, farmers have avoided importing products from countries at risk for spreading the disease and have also undergone all the detection procedures that were implemented for mad cow disease and other reportable diseases.

In conclusion, since the Quebec prevention system is very effective, what is the federal government waiting for to do everything it can to reassure importing countries and to allow Quebec farmers to resume exporting?

I would like to point out that if Quebec were sovereign at this time, we would not be in this situation. We would not be caught up in this crisis in Quebec.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part this evening in this extremely important debate. I want to thank the leader of the Progressive Conservatives for having asked for this emergency debate, because it is extremely important for Canada and Quebec.

The priority for the Bloc Quebecois in this matter is to protect the public and preserve the confidence of our trading partners.

The solution to this crisis does not lie in centralization, but rather in adopting a more regional approach to health practices.

Although a single case of mad cow has been diagnosed in Canada, all the provinces were included in the ban by our foreign partners. The U.S. ban on all ruminants is particularly damaging, because that country is our main buyer.

Although the Bloc Quebecois considers the Americans' decision to be reasonable at this stage in the testing, we believe that it would be unfair for this ban to continue and to be applied to provinces not affected.

The Bloc Quebecois notes, as my hon. colleague from Drummond said, that if Quebec were sovereign and controlled its own borders and its own health policies, it would not be affected by the U.S. ban today. The president of the UPA, Mr. Laurent Pellerin, said the exact same thing during a press conference on May 22, 2003:

If we were separate provinces each with its own distinct inspection system and if we had a more regional approach to product marketing systems, only one province would have to deal with this problem.

This situation is particularly frustrating for Quebec producers who have long been subject to a series of constraints aimed at ensuring herd health and irreproachable product quality.

So, for many years, not only have they not imported any products from countries considered “at risk” for mad cow disease, but the detection process for cases of mad cow has been implemented and, in Quebec, mandatory reporting of this disease has existed since 1990. Since 1993, Quebec producers have been prohibited from feeding animal meal to their cattle, well before the federal ban of 1997.

I want to give the House a conclusive example of the superiority of Quebec's system: cattle tagging. Implanting cattle with tags for tracking purposes was established simultaneously in Canada and Quebec. Quebec producers had until June 2002 to tag their cattle.

I will tell the House the difference between the establishment of this practice in Quebec and in Canada. In Quebec, there is a centralized database, but not in Canada.

In Quebec, we collect information on all the comings and goings of an animal: birth, death, participation in an agricultural exhibition, sale to a breeder. This is all done with bar codes. So, when the consumer buys beef at the grocery store, there is a bar code on the packaging, the same one that has followed the animal from birth right up to the consumer's plate. In Canada, they keep information on birth and death only. The animal is not followed throughout its life span. The advantage of what is done in Quebec is clear. It is far superior.

Given the existence of a highly efficient system of prevention in Quebec, the federal government must do everything within its area of jurisdiction to reassure importing countries so Quebec producers can resume exports.

In the weeks to come, once the federal authorities have established the diagnosis and we have a better idea of the scope of the crisis, the Bloc Quebecois will ensue that the new measures implemented in order to regain the confidence of our partners will not be imposed coast to coast. In short, different regions of the country have different practices and must therefore be handled differently.

The federal government has neglected food safety in the last 10 years by neglecting to replace staff at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and by threatening the funding of faculties of veterinary medicine.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency was created in 1997 in a consolidation of the food safety and inspection components of three federal departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The objective was to facilitate a more uniform and consistent approach to food safety and quality standards and to food product inspection according to risk level. The agency does not have sole responsibility for food safety, but it is at the heart of the Canadian food safety system.

The CFIA estimated it was “short 500 staff positions across all of the Agency's inspection programs”, according to chapter 25 of the December 2000 Auditor General's report. The CFIA has a serious staff recruitment problem.

In 2000, the agency estimated that by 2006, 734 employees would be eligible to retire, including 33% of the veterinary science group and 29% of the inspector group. The Auditor General stated, “The agency has already experienced some difficulty in recruiting for some positions”.

The Auditor General added, and I quote:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency should take additional action to identify what it needs in a future work force and to develop a plan for creating the work force that it needs to deliver its mandate in the future. The Agency should measure employees' views on whether Agency values are fully practiced.

The federal government has not done its part to compensate workers in the softwood lumber industry affected by the trade dispute between Canada and the United States. My riding is the most heavily affected region in Canada. And, in addition, we are still waiting for federal government assistance for workers affected by the cod moratorium and the crab dispute.

The Bloc Quebecois finds it ironic that the United States is imposing an embargo on Quebec meat when certain American states are closer to Alberta than Quebec. As long as we are a part of the federal system, we will have to live with this kind of paradox.

Here is a brief list of the federal government's responsibilities. First, it must support cattle producers affected by the crisis, as it helped Toronto with the SARS crisis. It must also examine Quebec's practices, which are effective, thanks in large part to its tracking system that is more effective than the federal system. Third, it must ensure that farmers from provinces with higher standards, such as Quebec, are exempt from the American embargo. It must defend the interests of cattle producers. Fourth, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food comes from Quebec, from the riding of Portneuf; he needs to get the message out and ensure that Quebec is not affected by the lower standards put in place by the federal government.

The federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food must act quickly to restore confidence in our cattle products. This is what the minister must do, while continuing to assess and analyze whether mad cow disease has spread to other herds.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

Edmonton West Alberta


Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Health

Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to speak on such an important issue that concerns us all this evening.

My first words this evening are for the cattle ranchers and the beef industry as a whole in our country. As a member of Parliament from Alberta, I have witnessed many selfless acts by these remarkable people in the past week. Their interest in the issue of food safety and concern about BSE have been longstanding and well documented.

We all know no one is more optimistic than an Alberta farmer. Now we also know of their resolute spirit and willingness to deal with challenges both large and small. After the events of this past week, there is little doubt that food safety is a rancher's number one priority. The dedication of farmers and ranchers to ensuring quality and safety represents Canadians' first line of defence.

I would like to thank our beef producers for their steadfastness at this difficult time. We respect and support their efforts and know they will be part of future solutions.

Health Canada and the Government of Canada as a whole also place the utmost priority on ensuring the health and safety of Canadians.

Let me reinforce the fact that the information available to date suggests that we are dealing with a single case: one cow infected with BSE. I cannot stress often enough that this cow did not enter the human food supply.

The risks to human health at this time are very low, virtually non-existent. We have no information that would lead us to suggest that Canadians should modify their food choices. I am confident in stating that the Canadian food supply is safe.

Of course the confirmation of the single case of BSE is a concern for everyone involved in food protection and food safety, but let there be no doubt about the resolve of the government to ensure that BSE does not become part of the Canadian agricultural landscape.

Many lessons have been learned from the United Kingdom and the European experiences. Health Canada, Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency all have been proactive on numerous policy fronts to ensure the safety of the Canadian food supply.

Based on what we learn in the ongoing BSE investigation, there is little doubt that Health Canada and our partners in food safety will make further enhancements to our food safety policy.

Let me highlight some of the measures that the government has taken in the past few years. Canada prohibits importation of beef and beef products from countries not designated as BSE free. Since 1997, Canada has banned the feeding of rendered protein products from ruminant animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, bison, deer and elk, to other ruminants. Exposure to BSE contaminated feed is considered to be the largest risk factor for the spread of BSE in cattle. This measure is therefore an extremely important part of our strategy.

In addition, we will continue to protect the integrity of Canada's human blood system in light of recent events. I would like to note that blood donations have been prohibited for a number of years from anyone who has spent significant periods of time in countries with substantial occurrences of BSE.

It is important to stress that the discovery of the single case of BSE in Canada does not affect Canadians' ability to donate blood. Careful monitoring will ensure the safety of Canada's blood supply.

Health Canada is also closely monitoring the situation as it relates to the use of rendered animal products as source materials for vaccines, cosmetics and biological products.

The government takes the threat of BSE very seriously. We are aware of the potential impacts in terms of human health and on the Canadian economy.

Even though we are in the midst of an extremely important investigation, we should not lose sight of the important work that has already been done by our public health and food inspection personnel. People are working around the clock to get to the bottom of the issue and we all owe them a very great vote of thanks.

Let me assure Canadians that we will do everything necessary in the future to reassure our ranchers, farmers, trading partners and consumers that Canadian beef is safe and that our food safety net exceeds international standards.

Health Canada will continue to work in support of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in its investigation of the one confirmed BSE case. As I have said, current evidence suggests the risk to human health appears to be very low, almost non-existent, infinitesimal, very small indeed.

Is there more to do with respect to our food safety policy? Yes, there is. Will we do what is necessary to restore confidence? Yes, we will. By working together with ranchers, beef processors, exporters, food inspection authorities, health departments, provincial governments, our international trading partners and other stakeholders, I am confident that Canada's food safety net will be one of the very safest in the world. It will continue to be one of the very safest in the world.

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to have participated in this important debate this evening and I should have indicated at the outset that I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

9:10 p.m.


Robert Bertrand Liberal Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, every day of our lives we unknowingly take for granted benefits, advantages and opportunities that are inaccessible to most people in the world.

The quality and abundance of food that we eat is part of the exceptional benefits to which we often give little thought.

That explains why Canadians are surprised and worried about the recent discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly referred to as mad cow disease.

I completely understand this surprise and concern. We all know what anxiety this disease has already caused elsewhere in the world.

That is why I want to assure all Canadians that the Government of Canada, particularly the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, is taking this situation very seriously.

We quickly took all the necessary measures in cooperation with the provincial authorities. I also want to assure Canadians and our trade partners that this was an isolated case, one animal out of more than 3.5 million animals that are slaughtered in Canada each year. The disease was detected in an animal and that animal was destroyed. It never entered the food chain.

We know that there is no such thing as zero risk, not even in science, but we know that under the circumstances, Canada has taken all necessary precautions and has acted promptly and properly.

For many years, Canada has enjoyed worldwide recognition for its food quality control system and, in particular, for its vigilance and effectiveness in the fight against BSE.

Since 1993, the last time a case of BSE was discovered in Canada, we have tested some 10,000 animals, which is double the recommended international standard. No other diseased animals have been identified.

Our inspection system is working very well. In particular, our beef is very reliable and its quality is recognized around the world.

I would also like to emphasize the excellent work being done every day by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which manages 14 inspection programs covering food, plants and animals in 18 regions.

The agency's role includes: enforcing the standards established by Health Canada regarding food hygiene and nutritional quality; establishing standards for the health of animals and plant protection; monitoring their application and enforcement; and providing inspection and regulatory enforcement services.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency employs 5,500 people to meet the demands of consumers and domestic and international markets. Its staff consists of many specialists: veterinarians, inspectors, systems specialists, support employees, financial officers, researchers and laboratory technicians.

The organization consists of four operational centres subdivided into 18 regional offices, 185 field offices including border crossings and 408 offices in non-governmental establishments such as slaughterhouses.

The agency also includes 22 laboratories and research institutions that offer scientific advice, design and implement new technologies, provide analysis and conduct research.

It is also worth mentioning that farmers and anyone who works in agriculture in Canada are among the most effective and conscientious in the world.

I would like to remind this House and all Canadians that we can still be very proud to live in a country that is the envy of the world for the quality of life that it continues to give us, including the excellent food that we eat.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

9:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

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.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

9:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege and a pleasure for me to speak on this important issue. It is an issue that certainly grips my riding in a way like no other issue I have seen to date since becoming a member of Parliament and being the voice of the riding in the House.

I do not think people in central Canada or in other parts of Canada quite understand the impact that this has in a riding that has a predominance of cow-calf operators, auctioneers, feedlot operators, and the number of truckers who are actually involved in the agriculture industry. I could go on and on to describe just how many people are impacted because of one cow that broke out with the mad cow disease.

My hon. colleague for Peace River just talked about the one farm that was quarantined in his area, actually the farm where the animal was found. We are pleased with the news that came out yesterday with regard to all of the trace-out animals from that herd being negative. It certainly looks like that was the only animal out of 13.4 million cattle in Canada that came down with this disease.

We are hoping that is truly going to be the case in all of the rest of the trace-outs. It is imperative that we do everything that we possibly can and do it as quickly as we can because we are talking about a very short timeline to be able to stop the bleeding from the negative impact of trading with the United States and open up the border as soon as possible and get the cattle moving again.

It is a small window of opportunity before it has some devastating impacts on the industry. I do not think ordinary Canadians quite understand that because they do not understand how the feedlot operation really works. It talks about nickels and dimes, and actual pennies of profits per animal and it is a very tight margin. These margins are based on pounds per day. If an animal stays in the feedlot too long it gets too fat and the quality goes down. It affects things in a significant way and we are talking a small amount of time before an animal has to be moved or the quality is considerably compromised.

I was trying to get a bit of a handle on how it was impacting the individuals in my riding of Yellowhead today. We have three large farms that have been quarantined in my riding. One of the large farms is a 10,000 animal feedlot. The individual who I was talking to was absolutely devastated because his farm was quarantined and it means he cannot move an animal off the farm.

The chance of him having any animals on his farm with BSE is very slim. Nonetheless, he has been put in a compromised situation that is absolutely devastating to him. When I talked to him and asked how it was actually impacting on him, he had a difficult time describing what it was like.

Farmers in western ridings have just come through the most horrendous year that we possibly could imagine. There was the drought situation in our riding last year. They are survivors. They are individuals who have gone to the wall to save their industry. The feedlot operators are paying additional prices for the products they are feeding the animals. It has been a very difficult winter, difficult last summer, and they were just coming into spring and finally getting a little bit of grass growing. Finally there was an opportunity to feed the animals some fresh product in a fresh start to the year, and to be hit by this is absolutely devastating to the industry. I cannot emphasize enough just how that impacts.

There is another thing we must realize about agriculture. In the oil and gas industry, every time there is a primary job lost it has a ripple effect of four other jobs or every time there is a job created it is a one in four or one in three increase, but in agriculture every time we lose a primary job in agriculture the spin-off is one in seven. That means that for every job lost there are seven others that it impacts. So, it is seven other jobs or seven other families.

The ripple effect is massive. It is absolutely imperative that we understand the dynamics of that as we see the crippling effect this one animal has had on the industry and how it could impact it.

Therein lies the reason and the rationale for an emergency debate in the House. We take this very seriously and we do everything we possibly can. That is why we asked the minister today, what will it take with his counterpart in the United States, what criteria have to be met, and what exactly does the industry have to do to be able to open that border up and allow the product to move back and forth and regain some stability?

Hopefully by the end of this week that will happen. However, even with the trace-outs coming back, the opening of the border, and we start to rebuild back to where we were before this disease started, we must know that the government is there to stand beside the industry. We must ensure that the industry knows that the government is there to help and assist as it did with the SARS crisis that has impacted the Toronto area.

We know that it is very important to rebuild the credibility of the Toronto area and all of Canada because of the black mark that has been inflicted because of the SARS disease. The government was there to hand out at least $10 million to bring back the international market. We are certainly expecting a nod from the government. Having the Prime Minister eat a plateful of beef does not quite do it.

Most Canadians have no problem understanding that the beef is safe. That is not the issue. The issue is that the international community must know that. To do that we must put some investments into that to be able to ensure that those markets are rebuilt. If we do not, the devastation and the impact will be phenomenal.

Members might say that this devastation and the impact is a natural thing, that we should expect that. Why would a government treat one industry different than another? Why would the government look at tourism and the impact on that differently than the impact on agriculture? People in my riding are uncertain of what the government is prepared to do as far as standing up for the industry because of what the industry went through in the last year. Last year was a one in 133 year drought. This was a natural disaster that impacted my riding and agriculture in a way that has never happened before.

Yet we saw absolutely nothing coming from the federal government to assist in drought relief in our area. It was a shameful year. It was a year that our farmers more or less shrugged their shoulders and wondered what is actually happening. They wondered if they counted and if they mattered. Are they not Canadians and do they not pay taxes? These are the questions that I get from my riding every day when I talk about representing my constituents and being their voice here in the House of Commons.

It is very important that we get that nod. It is interesting and I listened with great interest this evening as we heard from Liberal members on the other side, in fact, some ministers said that they would be there for the beef industry. I will be holding those ministers to their words. I will say that I heard it here. Canadians have heard it here. It was not very specific, but the indication was there. We will have to make it specific so that the people in my riding will know that the government will not treat them as second class citizens. They want to know that the government will be there to assist them in their time of need. Believe me this is a time of need.

In this debate we must understand, that although it was one animal, that the survivors, the farmers in my riding and the industry, they are survivors because they are very aggressive. They are survivors because they are proactive. One of the things that will save this industry is the proactive measure that farmers have provided and that is the identification of animals. Last July this became compulsory. Due to that compulsory tagging we can follow a product from the shelf right back to the actual herd that it came from. Because of that we have the safest product in the world as far as beef. We also have the best product in the world. Alberta alone, if it is looked at as an export nation, is the fifth largest exporter of beef in the world.

It is a phenomenal industry that must be protected, not only in Alberta but across Canada, because of its importance as an economic driver and a social driver, and as an engine that will sustain Canada in the long run. The government must take this very seriously.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

9:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, there are a number of issues before us tonight. I would like to thank my colleague from Calgary Centre for requesting this emergency debate on this extremely important issue. He spoke to it earlier along with the member for Brandon--Souris.

There are a couple of questions which I do not think have been answered in this debate. I was pleased to be here earlier to hear the minister reply to the member for Calgary Centre and the member for Brandon--Souris, and explain to the House the steps he took as minister to at least alleviate, if not totally prevent, any repercussions that could occur here. The thing that I did not hear the minister say is that he immediately contacted the rendering plants in Canada to ensure there was no brain or spinal cord material going through those rendering plants. After seeing the devastation of the beef industry in Britain and the repercussions throughout Europe, I would have thought this was something we would have done already, that we would not be waiting to discuss this in an emergency debate.

We have a beef industry in Canada that is worth $30 billion. That is a tremendous industry. That of course includes not just the farms and the sale of livestock, but certainly also includes trucking, the associated industries, the feed mills, the slaughterhouses, and the grocery store chains. We cannot stand a $30 billion hit to the economy of this country. We are out of time in our relationship with our largest and most important trading partner. I would not be off base to say it is at an all-time low. We have had members of the government call our largest trading partner bastards in the House of Commons. I would hope that is unacceptable language and behaviour for a member of Parliament, but it still happened.

The government made some decisions in our relationship with our traditional allies on the war in Iraq. I do not think those repercussions are through yet. I do not think that is over yet. We have a softwood lumber crisis which may or may not have a little break in the weather tomorrow with the WTO hearing, but we are not expecting any breakthroughs and the government is preparing us for the worst.

On top of this, we end up with the very worst thing that could happen to one of the biggest industries in this country, an industry that much of rural Canada is dependent upon. I do not think that the government can do enough to reassure consumers, our traditional trading partners, and the people around the world, the Americans, the Mexicans, the Japanese, and the Taiwanese who buy Canadian beef.

I appreciate the fact that the minister cut short his trip in Britain, returned back and took charge. That is to be commended. What the minister has not done is come up with any concrete plan on how we are going to cull the herds if they need to be culled, how the compensation package is going to be developed, or even if there is going to be one. I certainly have not heard it. Quite frankly, if I were a beef farmer with anywhere from 100 to maybe 2,000 head of beef, I would be extremely concerned on that particular issue.

We had a similar catastrophe with scrapie in the sheep flocks in Quebec. Those animals were purchased not just at their market value, but at their earning potential. I have not heard the minister say that. If an animal on a farm in Alberta or in P.E.I. for some reason has to be put down, I would expect the farmer to receive full compensation. First of all there has to be compliance, and in order to have compliance people have to buy into the idea. In order to have that, there has to be proper and adequate compensation. If we could pay up to $600 for a purebred ewe in Quebec, an animal that could be bought on the market for anywhere from $250 to $325, then I expect we could do the same type of thing for a herd of cows in Alberta or Saskatchewan or Manitoba. I think that is the type of action that will get support from farmers and a larger buy-in to some of the difficult decisions that will have to be made.

I am not satisfied that the issue of compensation to farmers has been settled, and the issue of compensation will be directly linked, in my opinion, to consumer support for the beef industry. Consumers are worried right now because they see the government reacting but they do not have enough information. Many are looking at this from the point of view of fear, not from the point of view of science. I think this is certainly one time when the minister needs to show leadership. He has started to do that. There needs to be more of it.

How many people know that mad cow disease or BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is not passed on by muscle? It is only passed on by nervous tissue. The majority of Canadians probably do not even understand that. The department of agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have to get out that message.

Right now only one cow is involved and it did not enter the food chain. I do not think we can say that enough, because the consumer generally is not aware of that. No one has stopped buying Canadian beef yet, but they could. The border is closed down. This is an extremely serious issue, and it is one, quite frankly, that I would have hoped to see a ministerial statement on in the House, reassuring, first, consumers in Canada, and second, the beef industry. The safety of our food supply is not something that can be questioned. The safety of our food supply is not something that can even be debated. It has to be guaranteed. It has to be written in stone.

What is the relationship right now between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture? Have our officials been talking to American vets? Have they been talking to British vets? Have we brought in extra help from experts around the world? We are still chasing one cow back to its herd of origin. Apparently that has been done, but we still do not know where that cow came from. We still do not know where it contracted BSE.

This is not a debate to put doubt in the minds of consumers. This is a debate to reassure consumers and the only way we are going to do that is to give them information, enough information so they are reassured that every step has been taken that could be taken. I am not certain that is the case. I appreciate the 10 minutes the minister gave us here tonight, but I was not satisfied with the 10 minutes. I would have liked to hear half an hour and I would like to hear the minister explain at a press conference exactly what he has done to guarantee food safety for all Canadians.

The $10 million a day we are losing in beef exports should be a bit of a driver behind responsible action here. I am not going to speak at length on this. I very much appreciate this opportunity and I would like to summarize my comments.

First, we have a $30 billion industry that is extremely important to all Canadians and especially to rural Canadians. We have a farm and agriculture industry that is already threatened on many fronts and this is one more threat that is going to be very difficult to deal with. Next, we have an absolute responsibility and an immediate demand to satisfy Canadian consumers that their food supply is safe. It is safe, but we have to back that up with sound reason and policies that reassure the public. Also, we have to reassure farmers that we are not going to go through in Canada what farmers went through in Britain. I quite sincerely believe that it will not be the case, but at the same time farmers have to be reassured that they are going to be paid for any animals they have to put down, and paid very adequately. We did it with scrapie, as we should have, and now we will have to do it with the beef herds that are being put down.

It is okay for the minister to say he returned from vacation, and he is doing everything that can be done, but my original question was, have they taken the brain material and the spinal columns out of the rendering plants? I do not know. I would like to know the answer to that question. Has that occurred? I would hope so, but we do not know the answer to that question. Feed designated for non-ruminant species sometimes ends up in ruminant species. Mistakes are made.

We have excellent health and food safety standards through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Is there a backup? Are the backups working?

There are still a number of questions not being answered here and at risk is a $30 billion industry. I do not think we can ignore that. I think it is a huge risk, and I am not sure the government is up to the task, although I hope it is.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

9:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House tonight to speak on an issue that is of huge concern to all Canadians, an issue that is of concern specifically to my constituency of Crowfoot, east-central Alberta, a riding that has a high number of producers and feedlots in the agricultural sector in Crowfoot and east-central Alberta.

Just over two years ago I was elected as a new member of Parliament for Crowfoot to represent the people of east-central Alberta, to come down here and make sure that the concerns of the agricultural sector, the gas and the oil industry and all the people living in this riding were heard here in Ottawa.

As a new member of Parliament, shortly after the election, in January or February, I stood in the House to take part in another emergency debate that had far-reaching and serious consequences for the province of Alberta, for western Canada and for the livestock industry in particular. It was a debate about another infectious disease. The year was 2001. I am sure that most viewers, most people listening to the debate tonight, can recall 2001 and the threatening infection of foot and mouth disease, the horrors of watching on television the billowing smoke from pits in Great Britain and other parts of the world where animals were slaughtered and burned, where a disease was rampant and threatening the livelihood of producers in Great Britain and other countries, a disease that was driving people out of the livestock business.

I recall receiving as a new member of Parliament over 100 e-mails at my office in Ottawa one evening, e-mails showing concern about the status of our precautions and regulations ensuring that foot and mouth disease would not come into this country. I remember leaving the House of Commons at night and, recognizing the two hour difference between Ontario and Alberta, going back to my office and calling some 20 or 30 people on that list, all concerned about foot and mouth disease, an epidemic that devastated the livestock industry in England.

Fortunately for us, foot and mouth disease did not hit this country. Many precautions were taken immediately. We know that many young people were prohibited from joining school groups and other groups going to visit some of those countries infected with foot and mouth. A lot of people ended up paying a high price to prevent the disease from coming to Canada. Above all else, we saw an industry that rallied and responded in a time of crisis, an industry that said, “We must protect the safety of our food supply. We must protect our industry, the livelihood of the farmers, the cattle producers”. And the cattle industry responded.

Many members of Parliament, including me, initiated a series of public meetings throughout their own constituencies, meetings that had a type of educational forum on this infectious disease. I know that in Crowfoot, in Camrose the CRE brought in Canadian Food Inspection agents. I organized a meeting in Stettler. Close to 250 or 300 people came out that evening and again a member of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was on hand to answer questions and to respond to the fears and the emotions of many of the producers and the public in general.

Residents of Crowfoot, as all western ranchers, were naturally nervous about a potential Canadian outbreak for obvious reasons. They greatly feared if the disease hit anywhere in North America that the borders would be closed between our country and the United States, that the borders between Canada and all of our trading partners would be shut down. Those fears were well founded.

That is precisely what has happened now with this infectious disease despite there being only one confirmed case, a very isolated case of BSE, or mad cow disease. Most recent reports, even yesterday and today, have indicated that so far mad cow disease in Canada has been limited to one cow. Results from 192 animals that have been tested in the same herd and other herds have shown that there is no trace of BSE in any of those animals.

The ability that we have in this industry to effectively register and trace the cattle from that ranch and the cattle from the offspring from that cow is to be commended. We now have in place a resource that we can explain to our trading partners. We have the ability to police and guard against the spreading of this or any other type of infectious disease.

At a time like this, it is imperative that we realize the perspective of what we talk about here. It is imperative that we realize that out of 13.4 million cattle in this country, we have one isolated incident of mad cow disease. That is one too many. Out of 5.2 million cattle in Alberta we have one cow with mad cow disease, or BSE, that has tested positive to that disease. We must keep this in perspective.

I submit to all members tonight that the industry, that those involved in the leadership and in the administration or working within the cattle industry would tell us that they will effectively do what needs to be done to make sure that our markets are protected and that the fears of the general public will be diminished.

However, a huge concern of mine is that the investigation has yet to pinpoint the source of the disease which is causing the United States, Russia, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries to temporarily ban Canadian shipments of beef.

The president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association has said that the only way to restore consumer confidence and to reopen the international markets is to have the investigation completed as soon as possible. This is exactly what we are welcoming. We are welcoming a complete and indepth investigation. We are welcoming the Americans or any of our trading partners who want to come and assure themselves of the safety of this beef, but get to the bottom of where this one came from.

We recognize that the only way to restore consumer confidence, to reopen international markets is to complete this investigation and not to complete it with just a quick yes, everything is okay, but to be absolutely comprehensive in carrying out the investigation.

To date, 17 farms have been quarantined: 12 farms in Alberta; 2 farms in Saskatchewan; and 3 farms in British Columbia. These have been quarantined while federal inspectors continue to comb through the records of the ranches, the mills, the rendering plants to determine the source of this disease. Until the source is determined, until the markets are assured, beef exporters continue to wait and continue to be hurt.

Some suggest that the hit is as big as $11 million a day. Not being able to access the key markets such as the United States and Japan hurts this industry to the tune of $11 million a day.

The cattle industry has been one of the very bright spots in Canadian agriculture over the last couple of years as grain farmers, especially last year, were devastated by the worst drought in 133 years. Successively year after year after year it has hurt the agricultural sector. It has hurt the beef industry. It has hurt the livestock industry. Perhaps it has hurt the grain industry as much, but the cattle industry has been one of the strongest saving graces for agriculture that we have had. Imagine the effect on agriculture as a whole if we would not have had a cattle industry over the last five, six, seven, maybe 10 years.

As the third largest exporter of beef in the world, in 2002 Canada exported $4.3 billion worth of beef and beef products. Seventy per cent of Canada's beef production is exported and 75% of that is exported to the United States. Approximately 100,000 Canadians are employed directly within the cattle industry, from ranchers to feedlot operators, to those who work in packing plants and slaughterhouses, transporters, butchers and those who are employed in the auction markets.

The auction markets are shut down. They are closed down. A sign on the highway says “No sale this week”. That is because they want to protect the industry. That is because they want to assure the Canadian public that the product they are putting on that plate is grade A Alberta beef and it is the best in the world.

Suffice it to say, the livelihood of a significant number of Canadians, particularly Albertans and the vast majority of my constituents, depend on a healthy and vibrant beef industry. Alberta's livestock transport industry could be crippled if the scare over mad cow disease lasts more than a couple of weeks. One livestock transporting company in Alberta said that even if the United States ban is lifted immediately on Canadian beef, the situation could be dire for truckers.

We know that last year a lot of the trucking companies that truck barley and grain were basically sitting idle. The grain trailers were not brought out. The combines were not brought out. The harvest was not brought out. I would not say many, but some of them bought cattle liners and have been moving cattle across the province and the west from Alberta into the United States. Out of 60 trucks one company utilizes, it can only keep 10 to 15 busy enough to survive as there are only small amounts of work available for shipping other types of livestock or moving cattle to pasture.

I spoke to an operations manager of a trucking company. He said that if the boycott goes beyond two or three weeks, men are going to start losing their trucks. Truckers are paid on average between $1,500 and $2,500 for taking cattle across the border to the United States. I was reading in the newspaper that Roberge Trucking, the largest livestock transporter in Alberta, has switched part of its operation looking for other things to move, shipping freight.

As just stated, the impact of this isolated case of BSE has reached well beyond cattle breeders and producers. To a certain degree it has also affected the dairy cattle and dairies. Milk producers, for example, in the province of Alberta have been very quick to assure the Canadian public that dairy cows have not been affected at all by this mad cow disease. They have been quick to point out that the latest scientific evidence shows that BSE is not transmitted through dairy products such as cheese and yogourt and that the World Health Organization has confirmed that milk from cows infected with BSE does not contain any traces of the agent believed to cause the disease.

Other sectors and other industries, including the dairy industry, are rallying to alleviate the concerns of the public. It is a frenzy. We need to assure Canadians.

Alberta Milk, the province's milk marketing board, has attempted to inform Canadians that it was not a milk cow that was infected. It is emphasizing the fact that the infected animal did not enter the food chain.

Despite this message, according to Gerry Gartner of the Saskatchewan Milk Control Board, the dairy industry has been caught in the net when it comes to the U.S. ban on Canadian live cattle imports. While milk products have not or cannot be affected by the ban, even the movement of dairy cows can be.

A lot of the cattle industry whether it is beef or any other industry now is feeling the pinch. The agricultural industry as a whole continues to be negatively affected by this isolated incident. Therefore I appreciated what the Canadian Alliance members did when they called for this debate this evening, recognizing how it has affected this sector. I appreciated the agriculture critic from the Canadian Alliance thanking the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for its quick and steadfast message that beef is safe. It is safe to eat.

I too would like to applaud the CFIA for being quick to respond and quick to begin the trace-outs and quick to begin all the requirements that are needed to satisfy the consumer.

Tonight I would even recognize and thank the Prime Minister for his symbolic gesture last week in promoting the same message. I do not think that tonight is the evening to stand in the House of Commons and let partisan politics dictate questioning any move by politicians and question their motives for what they are doing. I applaud all those who have stepped forward to encourage consumers and the general public.

I would also like to recognize and thank Alberta agriculture minister Shirley McClellan for her response and her efforts during these very trying times. In Alberta I think we can be very confident that we have a minister who understands agriculture. She understands the cattle industry. She understands the impact that this type of disease has on the industry in her province.

I applaud her this evening. I applaud the way the governments in the press conferences have been open and have let the public know about the threat and about how they are responding to it.

It is not the time to try to cover up anything. This is not the time when we try to pretend it did not happen. This is the time when we respond and prove that we have the best inspection requirements probably around the world. The inspectors have responded quickly, to their credit.

In 1997 Canada banned feed made from cattle remains from being fed to other cattle to guard against BSE. In 1993 Canada prevented the importation of cattle from countries that were affected with such diseases. Under the Health of Animals Act, feeding prohibited material is punishable by a maximum $250,000 fine and/or two years in prison.

I suggest that we vigilantly ensure that this rule is followed. In cases where individuals knowingly would do anything like this--and I do not believe anyone has; I still wait to see how this isolated incident came about--we need to remind the public that penalties will be enforced. We must be vigilant at all times when it comes to the safety of our food chain. We must be diligent in acting accordingly in cases where safety has been jeopardized.

In closing, I encourage the government to continue to be transparent and effective in the handling of this one isolated case. I also encourage the Canadian beef industry to continue in its professional and responsible manner with which it has gone about business over the last couple of weeks, individuals like Neil Jahnke, the president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, whom I have seen on television, and Arno Doerksen out of Gem, Alberta, on behalf of the Alberta Cattle Commission. I am confident that with their ability and their professionalism to effectively manage this situation, in concert with the federal and provincial governments, we will see a positive outcome here. Yesterday the Canadian Feed Industry Association met. It has assured us that all guidelines are being met.

All parties wish a speedy end to this outbreak and to the CFIA inspections.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

10:10 p.m.


Andy Savoy Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

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.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

10:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that we are addressing not just this very challenging situation related to what is known as mad cow disease, but early in the day we were also addressing another crisis, being the SARS crisis, which has been upon us as a nation. This tests to the ultimate the capabilities of a nation to properly respond to something as dire as a health issue, something as critical as this type of issue.

We saw in the SARS crisis a situation where the government responded, but in the views of many, including the views of those of us on this side, the initial response was delayed. It was not as forthcoming as it could of and should have been. The effect of course on our country and certainly on our economy has been extreme, into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

We have watched what has happened with the onset of, as we have heard from members here tonight and earlier today, one animal being affected. The entire herd from which that animal came is declared as being clean from this disease. The federal government appears to have acted more responsibly this time. I believe it is the responsibility of opposition to properly criticize when criticism is due and to give credit where credit is due.

I believe, and I think all members here agree, that Canada has a food protection system, a food inspection system, certainly related to livestock, that we would argue is second to none in the world. The response we have seen, other than a couple of questions that we have, has been swift and right out front to address this problem.

I appreciate the fact that though the Prime Minister seems to have had a delayed reaction on the SARS problem, he was right out there on this issue. Some people may wonder what is the value in a photo opportunity, as the Prime Minister took to show that he was dining on Canadian beef. However it is important that he did that. It is a show of confidence. If a picture is worth a thousand words, that picture could or may be worth thousands of jobs in the long run.

The fact of the matter is, there are still questions. There are still herds that are, as we know, quarantined right now and there is still some ongoing testing. The question I am putting to the government, at this stage in what we hope is the winding down of this crisis, is what specifically is the government prepared to do in relation to compensation for those who are affected in this industry? It is not enough to say that there are EI programs for workers who are laid off. As hon. members know there is a time delay under normal circumstances before which workers can actually claim their compensation. We are asking that it be expedited so those who have been hit instantly by this crisis can have their needs met in rapid fashion.

It is more than just workers. The House has heard from our agricultural critic how many of the farm programs are affected. Yes, there are certain farm compensation programs in place, but none really tailored to deal directly with an issue of this magnitude. We are asking the government to work closely with and consult with all farm groups to ensure that the expediency of relief and of compensation be the factor at this moment.

Further to that, certainly there are the primary producers. However sometimes we forget in this entire chain of economic activity how many tens of thousands of people are affected. Think of the packing plants, the abattoirs, the trucking and all the ancillary operations that go into not just the production of the beef itself but the processing of it. This is an incredibly intensive and extensive industry.

I would suggest that Canadians, especially Canadians in western Canada, know that producers and operators in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada are also being affected by this. However this is a time in our history as a country where people, especially in western Canada, are sensing and have sensed for quite a period of time alienation from a federal government whose operations cause them to wonder if the care is really there.

The questions have already been put to me by producers and people in my own constituency in Okanagan—Coquihalla. As we know, the Douglas Lake Ranch is situated there. There are also other ranching operations. People are saying that if ever there were an opportunity for the federal government to show that it cares about the plight of all Canadians in all regions it is now. This is the opportunity in which the federal government can move with speed, with clarity and with a sense of conviction that all Canadians are important.

I have talked about people in my own constituency, producers and processors who are affected. I have talked with people in Quebec who are equally affected, people who have operations related to the processing and the production of quality meat products. Across the country the cry is going out to the federal government that the normal periods of time to produce compensation for many will not suffice this time. It will be a matter of swiftness and expediency because the instant this situation hit the news, the very day the headlines broke, packing plant operations began to shut down. Reefers began to return from the border, trucks with meat product that were turned back at the border. This happened instantly. There was not the luxury of a one week, two week or three week delay.

The government needs to realize that although we will work through this crisis, and we hope it is in a relatively short period of time, and the confidence worldwide about Canadian beef products will be restored, and we believe that will happen, many economic operations will be lost in the process, perhaps never to return, unless the government is there with compensation in a realistic way.

Right now, whether we talk about the truckers, or the people who work in those packing plants, or the abattoir and packing operations themselves, they have been hit with something they have never been hit with before. We cannot afford to see what happened in Europe and Great Britain, take place here. As a matter of fact, we are confident that we will not see that. We are confident that this is already working through the process. Therefore, time is clearly of the essence.

I listened carefully as our leader, the leader of the official opposition, put the question to the Prime Minister today. He asked what specifically would be in place and if the normal timelines could be overlooked as the government moves to deal with the operation we face. Clearly he seems to be aware of the problem but we are looking for more direct comment. We are looking for a more direct commitment. We want to hear from the Minister of Agriculture, from the Minister of Human Resources Development and from the other ministers that the program is actually in place. We are hearing from people on the other side of the border. We are hearing from the major customers in the United States.

In B.C. alone we are talking about a multi-million dollar industry. We have already been hit in British Columbia with the down side of the softwood lumber difficulties. We have already been hit economically with the pine beetle infestation. It has already impacted, in a severe way, on the economy in British Columbia. We literally cannot take another shock to the economic system in British Columbia. The message has to go out that the government will be there in a significant way, and it has to go out immediately.

People making long term market decisions right now are literally waiting for the government's response to this. People in the futures market are making their long term decisions right now. This will have an effect on the consumer and on the person buying at the retail end, right down to the number of train cars and refrigerator trucks that will be ordered in the long term. Those decisions are being made right now in the short term.

We urge the government to not just back up what already is a worldclass food production and food safety system that we are proud of here in Canada, but to also show that it is a people protecting government and that it will protect those who are being hurt.

Other nations instantly closed their borders to Canadian products. I am not saying we would not do the same but we must deal with the issues. We have the issue of over-quota. We know there has been a surplus of quota in Canada in the recent past brought in from other countries. Just as those countries have now closed their borders to Canadian products, we are asking again for swift action. We are asking the government to come to certain conclusions that would allow Canadian producers to take up that slack. We are asking the government to take action that is swift, that is focused and that will be effective.

We have heard that the government wants to act in that fashion. Within the next few days the specific type of assistance that it comes up with will be a measure of its commitment, certainly to the industry across the country but also to the variety of industries that are being affected: our cattle industry, the guide and outfitters associations, the truckers, the packing plants and the processors.

Thousands of Canadians and investors are waiting to hear specifically what the government is prepared to do to meet the needs of Canadians, especially in an area that is so important to western Canada.

We ask the government to act. We ask it to do it clearly and with determination and in a way that will allow many people who have built their lives, their families and their businesses around this industry to survive and continue on. We want people to be able to look back and say that this was the day the government acted quickly, took clear action and spared an industry from long term injury that could have been far worse had it not acted. That is what we are looking for, that is what we are asking for and that is what we are hoping to see.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

10:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I would like to close the debate by following up on the remarks made by my colleague from New Brunswick.

I compliment members on all sides of the House for a very positive debate this evening and for bringing forward their creative ideas. Having the minister's staff and departmental staff listening to the wisdom of the remarks and the suggestions being made is the only way these emergency debates are productive. When they do that they are able to come up with the best possible solutions. Tremendous compliments have already been given to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for its quick action.

It is evident to beef farmers and everyone involved in the industry, such as packers and so on, that Parliament, with its quick action and staying until 10:30 tonight, understands the seriousness of the situation. We do care and we will try to do what we can to solve the problem. We will be watching it very closely.

I thank all members of Parliament who participated in the debate tonight.

Bovine Spongiform EncephalopathyEmergency Debate

10:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am satisfied that the debate has now been concluded and I therefore declare the motion carried.

Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 10:30 p.m.)