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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7:25 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this very acceptable ruling, except that it has thrown me slightly.

I would like to tell the federal government that it has not done its share to compensate the workers of the softwood lumber industry affected by the trade dispute between Canada and the United States. Furthermore, the workers affected by the cod moratorium and the crab dispute are still waiting for federal assistance.

It must be said that, in all these instances, Quebec acted rapidly so as to focus on priorities. So, a comparison can be drawn with the compensation expected by Quebec and Quebec workers, as well as by those in the rest of Canada in this sector. This industry will be greatly affected by mad cow disease.

According to estimates, the various bans are costing Quebec producers $2 million per day, without considering the costs to the truckers, auction workers or meat packers. The economic consequences of a sustained ban on exports are astronomical, even though Quebec had taken all the necessary precautions to prevent such a situation.

Quebec's minister of agriculture has already announced that his department would study the need for compensation. It appears that, already, the price stabilization programs will not be sufficient to cover the losses. Some outputs will not be covered by these programs, for example, dairy calf and cull cattle. Price stabilization mechanisms are not designed to absorb the heavy losses associated with a catastrophe.

Despite appeals for aid, the minister remains silent. All he says is that the measures in place are sufficient. He even said this during a Canwest news broadcast on May 23. However, the minister needs to understand that he must act, as Quebec has done and as some of the provinces are doing. He must do his share. This is an emergency.

The Bloc finds it equally paradoxical that the Americans have imposed a ban on Quebec meat when some American states are much closer to Alberta than Quebec. As long as we belong to the federal system, we will continue to be subject to such paradoxes.

Once the diagnostic phase is complete, meaning once inspectors for the Canada Food Inspection Agency have identified the cause of the disease and the scope of the crisis is known, the federal government must work hard to restore the confidence of consumers and foreign buyers.

We also think that veal could be treated separately right away. That was the case in Europe, because there is no chance that calves could have ingested animal meals, which cause mad cow disease, because they have all been born since the use of animal meal was banned. This means veal could be exempt from the moratorium immediately.

There is also an example that is puzzling. New Castle Disease, which affects all birds including poultry, can destroy a flock quite quickly if animals have not been vaccinated. We know that certain flocks in the United States have been hit by it. What is the CFIA doing? Is it closing the border to all American states? No. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has said that California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas may not export poultry, but that the rest of the states may. Should the same not apply to beef?

There has been only one case in a very specific region. Should Quebec and Ontario not be considered separately, and each region of Canada be considered separately, as we are doing with the United States when it comes to New Castle Disease in poultry?

In closing, I would like to remind the House that we have already experienced a similar crisis in 1993, when one case was discovered, and we got through it. What is encouraging is that the American minister of agriculture says she is satisfied with the work of the CFIA. She says that the measures are temporary. So, we have hope, but the Canadian minister must lobby hard and inform the American officials.

The Quebec and Canadian industries have demonstrated in the past that their international reputation was very important to them and that they were ready to do everything necessary to maintain the highest possible standard of quality. I am sure they are prepared to do the same today.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7:30 p.m.


Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to rise on this emergency debate on BSE. It is my understanding that, as the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food noted in his remarks, this is more an information session than a debate. I appreciate what I have heard so far from all the speakers.

I thought I would add to that by talking a bit about mad cow and the bovine industry in Canada and then turn my thoughts to the ramifications on Canadians and the industry; some regretful look at cuts to federal inspection at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which occurred about a decade ago and some of the fallout from that perhaps; the meat inspection system as it is today because it does vary from province to province; and finally some interim steps that I think ought to be considered by the government opposite.

Before I begin, I might note, as a number of Canadians are concerned about the diminishing amount of green spaces in Canada, they would really like to see the House of Commons tonight and the number of green spaces available here.

The epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, or mad cow disease, has been spreading steadily in Europe for the past 20 years. The discovery of a case of mad cow disease six days ago in Alberta is now testing the measures introduced over the past decade or so to prevent the introduction and propagation of the disease in Canada.

Mad cow disease is a transmissible, a TSE which attacks the central nervous system of cattle. Other types of TSE include scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD in human beings. There is no treatment for the disease and there is no vaccine against it. The exact cause is unknown but as we heard, for those of us who were listening to As It Happens yesterday, it appears to be associated with the presence of an abnormal protein called a prion.

It is increasingly agreed that a new form of CJD identified in Great Britain in recent years could be caused by human exposure to BSE or mad cow. The exact origins are still unknown of this disease. An independent study which evaluated the British government's response to the appearance of the disease summed up current scientific knowledge about it.

The report rejected the initial hypothesis that BSE was transmitted by sheep with scrapie, instead suggesting that the disease broke out in the 1970s following a genetic mutation of a single cow. The carcass of the animal apparently entered the animal food chain because it was common at that time to add meat products, in particular rendered products from ruminants, which are identified as cattle, sheep, goats, deer, elk and bison, to cattle feed. The disease then spread in the late seventies and early eighties because of the use of such feed.

The protein that is linked to BSE is very resistant to heat and other normal procedures for inactivating disease causing agents. This means that it may not be destroyed in the rendering process which processes carcasses at an extremely high temperature.

In 1988, 15 years ago, Great Britain banned the use of rendered material in animal feeds, thus removing potentially contaminated material from the food chain. As a result, the number of BSE cases reported in Great Britain had been dropping progressively since the winter of 1992-93.

The interval between an animal's exposure to BSE and the appearance of symptoms varies on average between three and six years. The animal that was identified in Alberta was apparently six years old. Animals with BSE show a number of different symptoms including nervous or aggressive behaviour, abnormal posture, lack of coordination or difficulty in rising from a lying position. The symptoms may last for a period of two to six months before the animal actually succumbs to the disease.

The first case of BSE diagnosed in Canada was a beef cow that had been imported from Great Britain in 1987 at the age of six months. The second case was discovered, as I and others have noted, on May 20 last week in a cow from an Alberta ranch. Obviously the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is currently investigating how this second case came to be.

Following the discovery of the first case of mad cow in Canada 10 years ago, the animal was destroyed and the government attempted to trace every other head of cattle imported from the United Kingdom between the years 1982 and 1990, the date at which cattle imports from the U.K. were banned.

According to a report by the European Commission's scientific steering committee, Canada imported 160 head of cattle from the U.K. in that eight year period. Of these 160 animals, 53 had been slaughtered and entered the food chain, 16 had died and had been sent for rendering, and 11 were exported out of the country. Of the remaining 80, 79 were traced and withdrawn from production, culled and then incinerated, buried or returned to the U.K. This means that 70 head of cattle that could not be traced at that time either entered the human or animal food chain, to the best of the CFIA's knowledge.

That is a history of what has happened until now. Following the case in 1993, BSE in Canada now is a reportable disease and every suspected case must be reported to a federal veterinarian. There is also a surveillance program under which any cows showing possible symptoms of the disease must be tested.

Since 2001, in the last two years the Canadian cattle identification program for cattle and bison has backed up this eradication policy and the program makes it possible to follow the movements of individual animals from the herd of origin to the slaughterhouse.

Prior to 1997, there was no restriction on the use of meat meal or bone meal in cattle feed. Since 1997 it has been forbidden to feed ruminants with mammalian meat meal or bone meal except for meal made exclusively from pork or horse meat. Meal prepared from fish or poultry is still permitted for cattle feed. Animal meal is still permitted for feeding poultry, swine and pets. No other BSE specific regulatory measures apply to rendering plants.

Canada also controls imports of products assessed as having a high risk of introducing BSE into Canada. We allow, for example, imports of live ruminants and their meat and meat products only from countries that Canada considers BSE free. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canada has not imported ruminant derived meat meal or bone meal from Europe for the purpose of livestock feeding for more than a decade.

In December 2000, the CFIA suspended imports of rendered animal material of any species from any country that Canada did not recognize as BSE free. Canada is also proceeding with import controls on animal products and byproducts from countries where cases of BSE have been confirmed among non-imported animals. These animal products are evaluated on a case by case basis.

It is still too soon to say how a second case of mad cow disease has occurred. That is indeed what the CFIA inspectors and federal veterinarians are trying to do as they examine the animals that were slaughtered as a result of this one positive case coming to light. They believe that two options are possible. Either the animal was imported from a risk zone and contracted the disease before arriving in Canada, which is a theory that the CFIA appears to have rejected at the present time, or more likely, the animal, whether imported or born in Canada, may have contracted the disease here by consuming feed containing contaminated animal protein.

Whichever hypothesis turns out to be correct, the appearance of a case of BSE raises questions about the measures in place in Canada to restrict imports of animals from risk zones and to prevent contamination of feed intended for cattle as well as monitoring its use.

The ban on Canadian beef exports that began as soon as the positive identification for that black Angus cow in Alberta last week is significant. The Americans of course closed their border, and New Zealand, Japan and other countries did so as well. That of course is having a significant negative impact on a variety of people in the cattle industry. Certainly slaughterhouses and auction houses are cancelling sales, as we have heard this evening. The whole system is being backed up. We export, depending on which province, maybe 30% or 40% of our cattle, most of them to the United States, so a ban at the border will have a very negative impact on all of that.

In my own riding of Palliser, we have a slaughterhouse at Moose Jaw. The Minister of Labour in that province has written to the human resources minister here asking that Ottawa waive the two week waiting period with respect to employment insurance benefits for any workers whose livelihoods are affected by this mad cow disease and its outbreak.

There are a number of people who are impacted and it is something over which they have no control. In this case some people are on voluntary holidays or layoff for a couple of weeks until we see how long it is going to take for the tests to be concluded and the border to reopen. We are encouraged when we hear the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food say that his counterpart in the United States, Ann Veneman, wants that border open just as badly as he does and we do.

Byron Dorgan, our favourite American senator, and that is said tongue in cheek, says our inspection system was either negligent or incompetent to have waited more than three months to analyze a diseased cow. In fact, it is important to note that this animal was slaughtered or taken to a provincial plant and was put down. It is important to stress that it was not put into the food system, the human food chain. I think perhaps there is some criticism due for the fact that it took three months to analyze and confirm after this animal was killed that it indeed did have BSE or mad cow disease, but it is also important to recognize at the same time that we have had significant concerns in the meat packing, slaughtering and animal industry with CWD in deer and elk. I believe the preoccupation at that plant and that test ground has been to test the elk and the deer heads, and they finally got around to testing this black Angus animal.

Two years ago, the Auditor General reported that CFIA lacked the staff it needed to fulfill its mandate and that some files and problems had been neglected for long periods of time. There are veterinarians who are saying now that the CFIA is not able to keep up to other jurisdictions and does need more resources. I think those are some of the hard questions we need to look at in the wake of what has transpired over the past week.

One of the big questions in this case is whether the diseased cow ate contaminated food. There are those who say it is simply unsafe to render animals and to feed animals to other animals because that can recycle infectious agents. Again, those are important questions for the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and indeed for all Canadians to be satisfied on.

I mentioned the federal food inspection cuts. They occurred in the 1995 budget when the government created a single food inspection agency to collapse the activities of three departments, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Health Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, into one. The single agency was supposed to facilitate collaboration and help speed up work toward harmonizing standards among federal, provincial and municipal governments, but it had to do so with 44 million fewer dollars per year and 600 fewer employees than the three had prior to the amalgamation.

Indeed, according to a release from the then agriculture minister's office, which I will quote:

Commencing in 1998-99, total annual savings of $44 million are anticipated from the elimination of duplication and overlap following the creation of a single food inspection agency for the Government of Canada... it is anticipated the reductions may lead to the elimination of an additional 600 FTEs (Full-Time Equivalents--the service of an individual for one year) by 1998-99.

Those are some of the concerns that may be out there as a result of possible cutbacks. Again, we need to make sure that food safety is number one and we have the resources to ensure it is carried out.

At our agriculture and agri-food committee back in February we had some presentations on food and the slaughter of animals. I have looked at my notes from Dr. John Taylor in Manitoba and want to put some of his thoughts on the record because I thought what he had to say was of interest. He said in testimony in February that in Canada we have five levels of meat inspection: first, the federal system; second, a joint federal-provincial system; third, a provincial mandatory system; fourth, a provincial voluntary system; and finally and perhaps of most concern in some instances, we have no inspections at all, according to Dr. Taylor.

He said:

Even among the provincial governments we have some different inspection requirements... If you go back about five years, ministers of agriculture discussed a national standard for meat inspection. They concluded that they didn't want anything that was too stringent because it would have a significant negative impact on small plants in rural parts of the provinces and territories across Canada.

Given the very diverse standards, major driving forces for national standards created by international and domestic trade agreements, and market forces driven by retail chains that want a higher food safety standard and are starting to limit their purchases to federally inspected meat, the federal government and the provinces and territories developed the national meat and poultry regulations and code. The provinces and territories expected that this would allow for the interprovincial shipment of meat.

It has not done that yet and in light of this positive test for mad cow disease it is probably a good thing that it did not, but I think this will probably serve as a wake-up call for Canadians and for people in the food inspection business because of the dramatic impact that one hopefully isolated incident has caused already in the past six days in this country. It will serve as a wake-up call to ensure that we continue to have a very high secure standard of health safety from coast to coast to coast and that in fact the provinces and territories as well as the federal government have those kinds of securities in place in their slaughterhouses.

We can do more exporting internationally if we bring some of our provincial plants up to national standards. I think of the bison industry, which is a growing and important part of the agricultural industry in western Canada. The industry would love to be able to ship more of its product interprovincially and indeed internationally, but those animals have to be slaughtered at a federal plant. If we could get some of the provincial plants up to national standards, it would alleviate that problem significantly.

In conclusion, the other point I want to close on is the fact that this is having a significant impact on the ranchers, on farmers, and indeed on the folks who work in our packing plants, our packing house workers. I think there should be some short term programs put in place, such as waiving the two week waiting period for employment insurance benefits for those who pay into the system, for example, to assist them with putting food on their tables while these tests are carried out and finalized and we get the borders open again.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7:50 p.m.



Murray Calder Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the good member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant.

I am pleased to rise tonight to explain what the Canadian government is doing to protect Canadian export interests.

At the outset I first want to put to the House that as a rural member and a farmer, I know how worried my many constituents are about the discovery of a BSE infected cow in Alberta. Last week in my constituency I heard from farmers and food processors alike who are worried about the disruption of their livelihood.

We must keep things in perspective. That is what the government is going to do. This disruption is a very serious matter and it has an impact far beyond the beef industry. So far, only one cow has been infected and Canada's food industry is among the safest in the world. We hope that this disruption will be short and temporary.

As everyone knows, Canada is a very important exporter of beef and cattle. Canada has established itself as one of the most important beef and cattle exporters in the world. In 2002 beef and cattle exports were worth approximately $4 billion; beef valued at $2 billion and cattle valued at the other $2 billion.

This has made us the fourth largest exporter of beef behind only Australia, the United States and Brazil. We are a substantial player in the business of cattle exports. We are also a leading exporter of bovine genetics, valued at over $37 million in 2002. There is therefore no question about our important role in the world market and the need to take every step necessary to protect it.

Canada's major export market for beef and cattle is the United States at approximately $1.8 billion for cattle and $1.7 billion for beef; Mexico at $187 million for beef; Japan at $720,000 for cattle and $52 million for beef; South Korea at $200,000 for cattle and $43 million for beef; and Taiwan at $19 million for beef. Our other important markets include China, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia and the United Kingdom.

While the U.S. is by far our major market, our beef and cattle export markets are clearly diversified. As a result of one BSE case, nearly all our trading partners have suspended imports of beef and cattle from Canada: the United States, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and most others.

I can assure the House that the government is doing everything it can to ensure that our export markets are reopened as early as possible once the BSE situation is fully researched. It goes without saying that the steps we are taking to take control of the BSE situation in Canada are critical to restoring our market access. We need to be able to satisfy our trading partners and consumers that we have the BSE situation under control.

In this regard we immediately launched a comprehensive strategy to protect our trade interests. Our two pronged strategy includes: one, ensuring that our trading partners are kept fully informed of the efforts that we are making to take control of the situation in Canada with a view to ensuring early removal of trade measures once we have the BSE situation under control; and two, monitoring closely the measures being imposed by our trading partners to ensure that they are based on science and that they are not more trade restrictive than necessary to address the legitimate BSE concerns.

With respect to the first part of our strategy, right from the beginning we have been open and transparent with all our trading partners. On May 20, the day of the announcement of the BSE finding, the federal Minister of Agriculture spoke to U.S. secretary of agriculture Veneman and the Minister for International Trade spoke with U.S. trade representative Zoellick. By May 21 our embassies and consulates around the world were informing governments.

On May 21 our chief veterinary officer, Brian Evans, informed the Office International des Epizooties international committee, the international standards setting body for animal health issues, at their meeting in Paris. This is an ongoing process.

We are sending daily updates to all our embassies and consulates. Based on this information, they are providing constant updates to foreign governments.

In the United States, our largest market, our embassy is providing up to date information to the U.S. administration. They are in touch with congressional contacts and our consulates are informing authorities at the state level of the latest developments. Further, U.S. media are receiving technical briefings.

In all our other markets our embassies are contacting foreign government authorities and advising them of the most recent information.

As I said, this is an ongoing exercise. Our embassies and our consulates will continue to keep foreign governments well informed. We will continue to keep the OIE informed.

I would add that our efforts are being made at the highest levels. All of our ambassadors are giving this issue the highest priority. Almost without exception, foreign governments have responded positively to our timeliness and openness in providing complete information.

We are hopeful that these efforts will put us in a good position to have the import measures lifted as early as possible once we confirm that the immediate problem is under control.

As I said, the second part of our strategy is to ensure that measures being imposed by our trading partners are science based and not more trade restrictive than necessary.

I need to emphasize up front that both the WTO and NAFTA give members the right to impose sanitary and phytosanitary measures necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health. This is a fundamental right of all WTO and NAFTA members. Canada itself takes very seriously the right to impose SPS measures necessary for the protection of our human, animal or plant life or health. We therefore do not in any way question the right of our trading partners to impose measures on Canadian products based on legitimate health and safety concerns.

Both the WTO and NAFTA recognize the OIE as the international standard setting organization for animal health. Under the WTO and NAFTA, sanitary measures which conform to international standards, in this case the OIE, are deemed to be consistent with the WTO and NAFTA. Members therefore have the right to maintain measures necessary to prevent the introduction of BSE in accordance with OIE standards. However, we are being very vigilant in monitoring the measures imposed by our trading partners to ensure that their measures are in accordance with the OIE.

The OIE is very clear on products that are not to be included in BSE related measures, for instance, milk and milk products, semen and embryos, protein-free tallow and derivatives made from this tallow, and hides and skins.

We have asked our embassies and consulates to provide full details of the measures being imposed by our trading partners.

There are other issues that need to be sorted out with some of our trading partners, such as how they will be dealing with in-transit shipments. In some cases it is simply unclear. We need more information to inform our exporters. We are trying to get that information.

I see my time has run out. There is much more I would like to say on this issue, but the bottom line is that the government is taking this issue very seriously. We will try to get this problem resolved as quickly as possible.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

8 p.m.


Bob Speller Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak this evening in this emergency debate. I congratulate the Speaker of the House for allowing this debate because it is very important. It is one that members on all sides of the House feel is a very serious matter and is one that was supported unanimously in the House.

Coming from a rural part of southwestern Ontario I share with members, particularly those from the west, my colleagues from the Alliance Party and the Conservative Party, as well as my colleagues from the Liberal Party, who have shown tonight by being here that they support the cattle producers and agriculture across this country. All hon. members recognize the importance of this industry to our country.

There is no question that we in southwestern Ontario may not see the size of the farms and the ranches in western Canada, but we certainly sympathize with those in the west who are struggling through these hard times with the BSE problem. I too recognize that even in my own riding there are producers who are uncertain about their own futures given the severity of this problem.

Canada is one of the leaders in beef production. Canada is one of the top 10 beef producers in the world. In Canada three billion pounds of beef create some $30 billion in economic activity in this country. This is significant not only for agriculture but for the country as a whole. It has a major economic impact in this country. I think that is why the Speaker agreed to have this emergency debate tonight.

Members have spoken eloquently about the safety and the security of the Canadian food system. That security is being upheld at this time by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It plays a very important role in Canada in assuring Canadian consumers that the food on their plates is safe. It also allows people throughout the world to understand that we in Canada go over and above what is called for in making sure that the food our consumers eat and the food that we export is some of the safest and cleanest food in the world.

It was mentioned earlier that we double the international standard of testing of animals for BSE. It is significant to let all Canadians know that what we do as Canadians and what we have asked our government departments to do is to make sure that we go over and above the international standards for testing for BSE. I believe that is a very good approach to take in terms of making sure that our food is safe to eat.

That becomes important in terms of our exports. It becomes important in terms of making sure that our international markets, those countries in the world that have chosen at this time to stop Canadian imports of beef into their countries, recognize that the standard we have set will be no different for Canadians than what it is internationally. We will not ship outside the country anything that we believe is not fit for human consumption. Our standards go well beyond what the world would expect for this.

I want to take this opportunity to agree with the Minister of Agriculture. The help from our close colleagues in the United States has been very helpful in terms of moving forward to make sure they are sensitive and understand what it is that we actually do. Even though some people in the United States may question our standards, I do not think those questions have been coming from the U.S. administration or Ann Veneman, the American secretary of agriculture. I think those other questions were more politically motivated.

When we look at the facts and what we do, and our American friends have been here and have looked at what we do, I think the standard they would look at is to make sure that we can trace all the way back to make sure there are no other animals infected with this.

It was good to hear earlier that when the first tests of the initial herd came back there were no other cases. That is significant, as we said earlier. What will be more significant and take a little bit longer is when we are able to trace back all the way and assure our friends. I am glad they were here to see what we do. I am sure they will do what they can to make sure the border between Canada and the United States is open.

As with a number of other trade products, around 80% of our beef is exported to the United States. The Americans know that our beef system in North America is integrated. It is a system where beef travels back and forth across the border. It is one I know that the Americans also want to make sure is opened as quickly as possible.

I know it has been mentioned before but I think it is very important to reiterate what it is that Canada does to make sure that we do not have a spread of BSE. In 1992 Canada created the BSE surveillance program. It has tested nearly 5,000 cattle since the surveillance program started. As I said, that level far exceeds the international standards in this area. It made BSE a reportable disease and any suspected case of BSE must be reported immediately to a federal veterinary. In 1997 it banned the feeding of rendered protein products from ruminant animals to other ruminants, meaning other cattle and sheep. It made sure that since 1997 that did not happen. As we know, it was believed that was one of the leading causes of this happening and certainly led to the spread of BSE in Great Britain. It also created a cattle identification program, or tagging for cattle and bison, making it possible to trace individual movements of a herd from origin to slaughter. I want to assure Canadians that we can trace back to when the piece of beef came from the producer right to the plate. That is significant. I believe it will assure all Canadians that we have a very safe system.

As the Prime Minister did and as other politicians have done, I recently bought beef and served it to my children, not only because it is good tasting and not only to show solidarity for our beef farmers, but because I believe, having travelled across this country and having talked to Canadians and seen the market in action, that we do have the safest and most tastiest beef that any country can produce.

I hope all Canadians will take the lead of the Prime Minister and others in this House and buy some beef. It will show solidarity and support, not only for beef farmers in this country but for rural Canadians and indeed all Canadians who I believe hope this situation will be ended as quickly as possible.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

8:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is good to speak to this most important and critical issue tonight. I have one message for the government: It is absolutely critical that we get the border open and get it open now. We do not have a month or two months. We only have days left before this whole industry will go down the river. We do not need to hear any more about how good our testing is or how wonderful we do in the world. That is important for consumer confidence and we have heard that message time and time again but what we need now is action from the government. We need the border opened up, we need confidence put back with our trading partners, and we need it today.

I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Medicine Hat, my neighbour and colleague.

Our cattle and beef producers cannot withstand this issue for any extended length of time. They have been through years of drought. We have seen issues with the high dollar and with the country of origin labelling being thrown at them. One thing after another has been thrown at them and now this issue, an issue where science has proven us right. There is not a problem in this country with our beef. Let us do whatever is necessary to get that border reopened, get our trading partners back on side and let us get to work.

When we asked the minister today in the House of Commons what exactly the criteria was for the U.S. to reopen the border we did not get an answer. We also asked what the timeline was going to be to get the job done. We did not get an answer for that. Those are the answers that we need, our consumers need, our customers need and certainly the industry needs, and we need the answers now. If this thing carries on there will be a snowball effect that will be absolutely disastrous. The government had better realize that if panic starts in this industry and the bankers lose confidence that it can be overcome, we will have a big problem.

I sent a letter to the Prime Minister last week and asked him to make sure that the resources needed would be thrown at this and that there would be no shortage of people or whatever was needed to make sure the testing was done. I asked him to make sure that the fan out was finished, that confidence was restored to our consumers and our customers and that this industry gets back on the road.

We have seen tonight just a bit of what is happening with the overemphasis on our testing. I agree that testing is critical for consumer confidence. It is there. I have no doubt that our industry is safe and I have never stopped eating Alberta beef for one day.

I want to talk about the feedlot industry because it is in my riding. There are 950,000 head of cattle in this country on feed. Over half of them are in my riding or in southern Alberta. I know these people and I know how hard they work to maintain a clean industry and to maintain safety.

Let us look at the stats over the last few years for importing cattle from the U.S. into Canada. The producers have been telling the government for years that we have to bring in more cattle from the U.S. to calm the Americans down. They do not like to see our fat cattle go down there by the truckload and very few coming back. One year when it had the ability that industry brought in 200,000 head of cattle, quadrupling the number that comes in on an ordinary basis. It did that on its own just to show that it would buy these cattle if the opportunity was there.

We have been talking about the terminal feedlot protocol for years but it is not happening and it needs to happen. The U.S. is our closest trading partner. It buys 70% of what we produce. If we cannot ship it to the U.S. we do not have enough people in Canada to eat it. Therefore it is absolutely critical that we start this process and get that border opened up as soon as we can.

We are facing potential layoffs. I think the member for Medicine Hat might talk about this. He has a huge plant in his riding where a lot of this beef is processed. This plant has 2,500 employees and half of them will be laid off next week. This will have a snowball effect right across, not only in western Canada but in northwest U.S. A lot of the beef we produce goes down to Hyrum, Utah; Pasco, Washington; and Greeley, Colorado, and if that beef does not show up there they will have a problem.

Let us look at Canada. The spinoff effects on the trucking industry, the auction mart industry, the feed industry and on the people who grow barley and the people who grow the silage that goes into this will be absolutely incredible. One hundred feed train loads of barley go into southern Alberta into feedlot alley every day. That has created an industry in itself which has created a feeder industry into the feedlot business that is absolutely incredible.

Let us look at what else could happen to auction marts, to trucking firms and feed sales. Right now $11 million a day is being lost, which is $4 billion in a year. The numbers are astronomical. There are 950,000 to 1 million cattle and feedlots alone with over half of that in southern Alberta. We produce two and a half times more beef than we can consume. We need customers but we need our customers to have confidence in our product. The world needs to know that we have a safe product.

I believe our beef is safe and I will never stop eating it. I would not hesitate for a minute to feed it to my family or my grandchildren. However the markets are important and that confidence has to be restored.

There are 85,000 families in this country that make a living by raising cattle on cattle ranches, cattle farms, and 60,000 of those farms are in jeopardy because of this one issue. It is one cow. We must get it in perspective. It is one cow out of millions and we have shut down the border. We must get the criteria that is needed, get it done and get that border reopened. Everything else will take care of itself.

The people in this industry, all the way from the cow-calf guys, are very concerned. I just had a call from a rancher in southern Alberta who is very concerned. They will not be hitting the wall until fall when they have their yearlings or spring calves to get rid of but they realize that their customers, the people who will buy these animals, are in trouble right now. They need help and they need this border reopened.

This is a huge industry in southern Alberta and I believe they police themselves very well. They do a tremendous job of raising safe food and they go through the exercises to make sure that happens. I received letters from a couple of producers I have known for a long time who raise a lot of cattle in the area. They put out a scenario, which I think is important for us to put into perspective, as to what is happening right now as we speak.

The cattle inventory values dropped $100 a head in the first week of May 21-22. That week is past. During the second week cattle inventories will drop another $50 a head. That is $150 a head times 950,000 head in lots. Do the math. We are talking about a lot of money that has gone down the drain already. If we get into week three with more fear and uncertainty, it will cause complete market panic. If that does happen, the value of cattle will plummet. We are talking $350 to $500 a head, a huge amount; $500 million gone that will never come back.

This whole industry has been built on the sweat and hard work of people forever raising cattle. The big cattle ranches and cow-calf operations are what made people go out west. There are huge tracts of grassland. It has the best grass to feed cattle in the world. It is the people who invested their time, energy and their years building that industry who have made it second to none anywhere in the world. We need the cow-calf guy on the ground. We need the people who are finishing it.

We had a great system when the markets were there but in the last couple of years we have had the drought, the country of origin labelling threat and the high dollar which has taken 16% out of this industry in a few months. When a dollar shoots up that fast without anything holding it back it creates problems. People do not have enough time to adjust their inventories to make the changes they need to stay feasible. That happens in all export markets, not just in this industry.

However if these things continue to happen tumbleweeds will be blowing down the streets of many towns and cities in western Canada. The dollars that are turned over in this cattle feeding industry alone are absolutely huge and it keeps communities alive and keeps them going. Nothing creates as much wealth. Some 23% of all agriculture sales out of this country are in the cattle industry.

Let us do some things. Let us get that border open. We will do that by building confidence in our consumers and in our customers. We need to restore confidence in our producers and in the world. The most important people in whom we need to restore confidence are the bankers who bankroll these people. These people still have expenses and still need to feed their cattle as they grow but there is no income coming in.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

8:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

8:30 p.m.

Edmonton Southeast


David Kilgour Secretary 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

8:35 p.m.


Mark Eyking 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

8:40 p.m.


Pauline Picard 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

8:50 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

9 p.m.

Edmonton West


Anne McLellan Minister 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

May 26th, 2003 / 9:10 p.m.


Robert Bertrand 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

9:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

9:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield 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 Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

9:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy 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.