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.
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.