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.