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.


Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 6:15 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply is deemed to have been put, and the recorded division is deemed to have been demanded and deferred until Tuesday, May 27, 2003, at 3 p.m.

Do I have the unanimous consent of the House to see the clock as 6:30?

Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

May 26th, 2003 / 6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely, bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB


That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the member for Brandon—Souris.

I want to say how pleased we are that the Speaker granted my request, and I know there were requests by members of the Canadian Alliance and other parties, for the debate this evening on the threat to Canada posed by bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, better known as mad cow disease.

The recent discovery of a cow infected with BSE in Alberta is troubling. However thus far it is, thankfully, only a single case. The evidence indicates that the animal never entered the food chain for human consumption. The number of farms in quarantine in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia is so far not an indication of further cases but rather a testament to the speed with which officials are attempting to understand, decipher and deal with this one isolated case of BSE.

The very fact that the case was detected is a testament to the good work of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Province of Alberta. I commend the quick, efficient and dedicated work of all those officials involved in responding to this incident. Too often we forget and undervalue the tremendous work of people who work in the public interest and who are called to come forth in times of emergency. These people did that and they performed exceptionally well in this case.

However the reason so many members of the House sought an emergency debate is that we need to know precisely what the federal government intends to do now. It has the opportunity tonight to come and tell Parliament and the people.

Canada's beef industry is one of the largest in the world, second only to Australia and the United States, earning around $8 billion a year. Many individual Canadians face serious financial challenges as a result of the concerns generated by BSE.

No one here wants to play games of jurisdiction and I would implore the federal government not to get involved in any of those. Canada is a federal state and we have made that federalism work. We continue to be a world leader in health and safety standards. Canada's record of herd health is beyond reproach. We have earned a strong international reputation as the provider of the safest and highest quality beef in the world.

It is obvious that the magnitude of the threat posed by BSE is much bigger than simply one cow in one herd in Alberta. The Prime Minister--and I understand he did it to minimize to concern--runs the risk of minimizing the size of the problem by talking as though it is only one cow. What is at issue here is the highly valued and hard-earned international reputation of an essential multi-billion dollar Canadian industry.

The top five importers of Canadian beef, the United States, Mexico, Japan, South Korean and Taiwan, have now closed their borders to our exports. Other countries are following suit. These actions are costing the industry an estimated $6.3 million a day.

More broadly speaking, this case of BSE will have wide implications across the Canadian economy. Related food, transportation, hospitality and tourism industries are also threatened by potential damage from mad cow disease and the damaged reputation that this find has generated. Some estimates have placed that damage in many billions of dollars.

Quick action must be taken to protect our reputation and restore the much deserved confidence in the Canadian beef industry.

The first action that must be taken is to ensure that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has the resources and the capacities to conduct a timely and thorough investigation into this incident of BSE. The government must quickly trace any cattle or calves that may have come into contact with BSE and/or with feed made from the remains of cattle or calves.

The Progressive Conservative Party has long called for additional resources for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The government needs to respond quickly to the agency's request for more funding for tracing and containment efforts.

Federal coordination is essential to ensure that all the facts are known, the history of the animal in question has been traced, any other potential cases have been tracked down and the incident of BSE has been completely contained and eliminated.

Questions need to be asked as to whether there is any way to improve federal coordination.

Questions need to be asked as to whether there is any way to improve federal coordination. Are there any improvements that can be made to our national standards and the degree of consistency in food safety from jurisdiction to jurisdiction? Should there be further prohibitions on the use of animal remains from being used as animal feed or should high risk animal parts, such as brains or spinal cords, be banned from any human or animal consumption?

Questions should be asked about whether the current amount of inspectors and labs is sufficient. While some additional funding has been added in recent years, some labs have had their capacities reduced and pathologists are in shorter supply. Alberta agriculture's chief provincial veterinarian has estimated that between $6 million and $10 million are needed to fully restore inspection facilities.

Canada needs to examine whether our current food and agriculture emergency response system, known as FAERS, is as comprehensive and efficient as it should be. There are, however, no set criteria that need to be met in order to enact that response system and emergency actions remain up to the discretion of the minister. Under what specific criteria will the minister decide what emergency measures are necessary in this case? I hope he will be in the House tonight to spell those measures out.

I want to come to the question of compensation. In response to the ice storm that ravaged Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick in 1998, the federal government contributed more than $717 million to counteract more than $1 billion in damage. The federal government should be prepared to compensate and protect industries whose business is damaged and whose reputation is tarnished as a result of BSE.

I should make the point that existing programs will not be enough. Existing emergency assistance programs, apart from taking too long to kick in, will not in the aggregate deal with the concerns and the problems that this is bound to cause in the industry across the country. Certainly programs of support in agriculture itself are not enough. The Prime Minister and the government should stop pretending that there is some money out there waiting to be called upon by individuals. What they need to do instead is very clearly and quickly ante up for people whose livelihoods may be devastated and severely affected in these cases.

We have seen what happened in SARS. In SARS the economic victims are people largely in the greater Toronto area who are people often of low incomes, people often operating small businesses, people not able to deal with this sudden attack upon their livelihood that came from the SARS case. The same thing applies in the cattle industry.

Today my colleague from Perth made the point about the layoff of some 100 people in Guelph. There are problems of that kind across the country and those simply must be addressed. There can be no playing around on the question of compensation.

Once the situation is under control and the major immediate questions have been answered, the government must take the lead in securing the Canadian beef industry's access to foreign markets. A concerted effort must be made to counteract any damage that has been done to our reputation abroad.

Obviously one area where the government has to move immediately to restore confidence is the United States. As the largest client of our beef industry, 40% of Canadian beef exports go to the United States. Another large segment of our exports traverse the U.S. en route to Mexico, our second biggest client.

We should, by the way, speaking of the United States, not to be offensive or combative, we should note the intervention of Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. His intervention demonstrates that some Americans are prepared to exploit a crisis and misrepresent the facts to promote their own interests. In that context it is worth noting that between 1996-2002 several states in the United States, including Colorado, Kansas, Montana, South Dakota, have faced the challenge of chronic wasting disease in wild deer and elk. The Americans have also faced their own interstate bans such as the recent Ohio ban on importing deer and elk from Wisconsin.

This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed seriously on both sides of the border and it should not be exploited by Senator Dorgan or by anyone else.

The United States and all of Canada's customers have a right to demand assurances that Canadian beef is safe and the highest of quality. We must prove those assurances on the facts. We can work with the Americans and our other trading partners to avoid further drawn out border disputes that threaten an essential Canadian industry.

The Prime Minister should be involved in this issue directly. He should be talking directly to the President of the United States and making it clear that it is in both countries' interests to deal with the concerns raised by this discovery.

The government must assure that the free flow of goods across the border will resume and that the restrictions on Canadian beef are removed as soon as possible.

I see the signal that my time has expired. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your attention and I thank the House for granting this emergency debate on what is undoubtedly a very serious problem that must be addressed in the country.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely troublesome and problematic issue facing Canada's beef industry, without question. It is the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 10 years in Canada. It raises the issue of the human variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and immediately Canadian consumers are on the defensive.

This begs another question. I see the government on the defensive as well. It has reacted to this, and I thank the Speaker for granting the emergency debate. However I would like the right hon. member's opinion on this point.

I just left the aboriginal affairs committee, which has been meeting since 8 o'clock this morning. I asked the chair of that committee to cancel and abandon the committee to allow all members on it to participate in this debate because of the extreme set of circumstances.

This is an emergency, recognized by the House of Commons and the Speaker of the House of Commons, that takes precedence over the work of the House. Yet the chair of the committee completely refused to abandon debate at committee. It is still sitting, members are having their supper and the Liberal and opposition members on that committee will have no opportunity to participate in this debate. It is a total dereliction of duty on behalf of the government to recognize the important issue that it is.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before I give the floor to the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, I made the mistake of asking for questions and comments, and there are none. However now that the hon. member for South Shore has asked a question, I will allow the right hon. member for Calgary Centre to respond.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I regret the behaviour in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources. I have been there part of this afternoon myself, and it will be raised in the House tomorrow. There has been a series of quite untoward decisions by the chair.

Let me take the opportunity to make one thing very clear. There has been the discovery of a very serious disease that has apparently been limited now to one cow. However what has also been demonstrated by this experience is the excellence of the Canadian inspection team, the excellence of our scientists and the very high standards that protect Canada's invaluable reputation as a provider of food to the world. That is as important a reality as this surprise discovery on a farm in northwestern Alberta.

Without diminishing at all the importance of a threat that surprise discovery has generated, we should not allow any panic about the very high standard of food safety and the very high and exacting standard of inspection. Had there not been an exacting standard of inspection, this cow would never have been identified in the first instance. That is the message that should be sent to the world.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the right hon. gentleman from Calgary Centre for allowing me to speak after him for a short period of time on this very important issue. I also thank the right hon. gentleman for taking the initiative in putting forward his request for this emergency debate. Coming from Alberta and from cattle country, I know he recognizes the importance of this issue. I know he recognizes the importance of the livelihoods that are currently being affected, not only in his constituency but also in many constituencies across this country.

I would like to open my remarks by saying something that I just said in the agriculture committee a few moments ago. I congratulate the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and its staff for what I consider to be a yeoman's duty and job on this incident. I will never congratulate the government, but I will congratulate the department itself. It has kept an open line of communication, and it is transparent. It is a very serious issue, which the department dealt with immediately.

When officials found out there was a case in Alberta, it did not take CFIA very long to get the second test performed in our own labs in Winnipeg and to get a third test, confirming that test, out of London, England. The officials did what they had to do, and that in itself speaks to what the right hon. gentleman just talked about and that is the absolutely, totally safe food supply we have in Canada. I stand by that.

I say to every Canadian who will listen that we are very blessed to have a system in place to catch this type of incident. The fact is if that system were not in place, we would be suspect, but we are not suspect. We have very talented people in place. We have excellent individuals within CFIA who are prepared to put an effort into to ensure we have the safest food supply, not only in North America but in the world.

As mentioned by the right hon. member, one incident of BSE has been identified. I will not pronounce it as my colleague from South Shore did, but will just use the term BSE. In some 13.4 million cattle in Canada, one incident of this disease has been found. That is not to downplay what has happened because one incident is too much as we have seen already by the ramifications of that incident. What it tells us is that out of 13.4 million cattle, the process worked.

This debate tonight is more of an information session for the public than it is for us in the House. We in the House agree to the fact that our food supply is safe. The public has to recognize that this one incident involved an animal that never made it into the food chain. Provincial inspectors in Alberta caught the animal and disqualified it from the food chain. It went through a different process, and that is the rendering process. It did not get into the food chain, and that is a positive thing to know.

The CFIA got to work at that point in time and quarantined the case herd up in northern Alberta. Those animals were tested. Unfortunately, the only way to test is by depopulating the animal herd, and this was done. Officials tested all those animals and found they were free of BSE, as was expected by the way.

I had a conference call this past week with one of the doctors in which I asked him why the animals had to be destroyed. I told him I knew they had to test for BSE and that this herd probably did not have any other animals with this disease. The answer the doctor gave me was to bring consumer confidence back. He said that they were 99.999% assured that not one animal in that herd had BSE but the herd was put down simply to ensure people that we have confidence in our system. No other animals had BSE. I am sure the other quarantined herds that will be depopulated and will probably also be destroyed will show there is no other incidents of BSE. The system is all about that. It is about getting confidence back into the system.

I would just like to touch on a couple of things very quickly. One is to say to the government, let us be proactive in this issue and not reactive. That was touched on very eloquently by the right hon. member. We should not worry about nickels and dimes here. We have to ensure that the proper supports are put into place to ensure that the people, who are currently suffering, suffer no longer.

People in my constituency have called me and cry because they have no idea, no confidence, no understanding as to what will happen to them and their livelihoods from this day forward. We need to have systems in place. Financial systems, yes, but we also need to have social support systems in place to be supportive. We have agricultural people in every community in the country. Let us those people and that resource to assist the people who are currently in jeopardy. It is deep, serious jeopardy. Financially, yes, we have to have systems in place. Forget nickel and diming, as I said, and let us ensure we have it.

As the member said, when we had issues with the ice storm across Quebec and Ontario, dollars were there magically. Let us make dollars appear magically right now and let us ensure that those people who have those herds, who cannot sell those fat cattle and who cannot pay their farm payments right now have that support.

I had more people phone me up in the last week to say that they would be unable to generate enough cash to make their payments in the summer. As we probably know, or should know, agriculture payments are usually semi-annual, one in the summer and one in the fall. Unfortunately, now is the time they need the cash and they cannot get it. Maybe we should put in programs right now that allow Farm Credit Canada to allow dollars to flow so those people can make their payments or extend their payments. At least it would give them some confidence that there is some future for them.

We talked about not just the producers being affected, but the people on the periphery around agriculture, and they are substantial. It is a $30 billion industry if we take in the trucking, the auction marts and the packing plants. People do not know whether they will have a job today, tomorrow or next week. We have to put the support systems in place. That is proactive. Let us take it off the shelf, put it on the table and say how we will help those people who now have some difficulties.

That is the minister's responsibility, the department's responsibility and the government's responsibility. They have to react quickly because right now there are too many people who do not see a tomorrow. We have to give them a tomorrow and we have to give them hope so they can feed their families, pay their mortgages and make the payment that is on the baling equipment sitting in their backyard.

The last thing I would like to say is Canadians must recognize that this is a one-of occurrence, we hope. I should say there are some positive things. Let us give the producers some hope.

One thing I have seen over the last week is that the Americans, as I understand, want this border open as quickly as we do. I can honestly say, and again I will give some credit where credit is due, we have not had a terribly good relationship with the Americans on a number of issues, agriculture being one. We have country of origin labelling and we have other issues with which this government and this ministry did not deal very well. However, I can give it some credit where credit is due; it has dealt with this.

The Americans have been helping. They have USDA people here. They have been helping with making lab facilities available for us. They know they need us as badly as we need them. If there is a little ray of sunshine, Secretary of Agriculture Veneman certainly wants this issue resolved as quickly as we want it resolved, as quickly as the producers who have their trucks sitting at the border with fat cattle sitting in them want it resolved.

I can see that this has some positive opportunities to it. I hope it is not a week, three weeks or three months that this issue has to go before we can resolve it. I hope we can deal with this in the next 24 hours. I would like to hear from the minister, when he gets up to respond, just what kind of a timeline he sees because there are too many people in my constituency and constituencies across the country who need that little ray of hope. We do not need something dangled out there saying that it will happen. We know it will happen but we need it to happen sooner. We need it to happen now.

I pledge, and I know my leader, the right hon. gentleman will also pledge, as much support as we can give them as the Progressive Conservative Party to make this work.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings


Lyle Vanclief Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the opposition for asking for this debate, more appropriately this information session. I had already spoken to our House leader saying that we needed to have an opportunity such as this to tell Canadians about the situation that we are in. Because of the press coverage that we have had this weekend and this past week, I am sure every Canadian already knows about it.

As hon. members who have already spoken have pointed out very clearly, and I thank them for that, this was one cow out of over 13 million in the Canadian herd and one cow out of 3.6 million that are slaughtered each year in Canada. The system worked because the cow was found and the cow did not go into the food chain.

As has already been said, I too want to congratulate the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the agriculture and agri-food people in the government for the quick work that they did. When we look back at the proactive actions that have been taken over the last number of years in order to be ready for this type of situation if, unfortunately, it did happen, it proves that being proactive is far more effective than being reactive.

And because of that, within a very short time of discovering this, the federal government was informed by the province a week ago last Friday that there was a possible positive case of BSE. We tested it in the Winnipeg lab. At the time, I was out of the country and scheduled to give a keynote address at an international conference on food production in London, England, on Monday morning at 9:30.

I was informed on Saturday morning, London time, that we might have a BSE case and that the sample was being retested. I was informed late Sunday night that, unfortunately, it was confirmed positive. This was one time that I wished that we had proven that some people read something wrong, but I am proud that they read it right.

However, I wish that they had not had the opportunity. I immediately made the decision that I would return home. Instead of speaking at 9:30 the next morning, I left for the airport at 8:30. When we had the final confirmation from the lab in England early Tuesday morning, I was with my provincial colleague in Edmonton at 11 o'clock Edmonton time, just about three hours after we received the final final confirmation.

We have an excellent system here. We have been able to trace that animal through a number of different approaches. We certainly know where the animal was in the last few years. It was not an eight year old animal. It was about a six year old animal. We traced where it was through most of its lifetime.

We are taking a couple of tracks and we are confident that one track is almost 100%. Just in case it is not, we are going in the other direction as well. We have traced the animals that have left that herd where that case cow was and gone forward. We have traced the meat meal that was made from the animal from the rendering plant out to the feed mills and to the farms, and all the places that it went.

Some people have had the concern that as there were more quarantine sites, it meant that the disease was spreading. The disease was not spreading, but the trace out system was. Certainly, we hope that as the science and the work is done that we will be able to remove some of those quarantines. Will we be putting some animals down? Yes, and we already have.

As has already been said, the only way to test for this disease is to test the brain. All of the case herd have been put down. They all tested negative and negative is good. We wanted a negative test for BSE. We have put other livestock down as well.

I know nobody likes to put animals down for this kind of reason. We will not put down more animals than is necessary, but we will put down as many animals as is necessary because safety is number one and we will base those decisions on science.

The question has been raised about the timeline of getting the U.S. border opened with our largest customer. Those who have been following this closely have seen and heard Secretary Ann Veneman. I have had numerous phone calls with her. Those who have spoken are right. She has said to me that she wanted the border opened as badly as I did and I said that I wanted it opened pretty badly. So, we both agreed.

The industry is integrated between Canada and the United States. There are over half a million Canadian cattle in American feedlots and breeding herds. It is an integrated market, not only within Canada but also within North America. We have a North American reputation to protect as well. She has recognized that it is one cow and she has highly recognized our system here.

For example, this morning I had a call from a minister in Uruguay telling me very clearly that our system is respected and that there is confidence in our system. The European Union has not banned our product. It says that it has full confidence in our system.

As we go forward over the next few days, and I certainly hope it is a few days, I will be unable to give a timeline of exactly when the border might be opened. We will move as quickly as we can. It does take a little bit of time to put the animals down and to test the samples of the brains.

For those who wonder about the compensation to producers, we have regulations in Canada for any of these types of situations. The producers are compensated for their animals. The compensation is based on the market for those animals for the last number of months, not the market just on that day. For producers who are not able to sell their stock now, there is also the proposed business risk management program.

I now have the authority from my Treasury Board to sign it. As soon as the province has signed it, the business risk management program will be available for producers. It is better than the programs that have been there in the past. That was verified by the third party review assessment group in the not too distant past.

We have tried to be, I hope successfully, as up front and out there as we possibly can giving everyone all the information as quickly as we get it. We have put in place toll free lines and we have received well over a thousand calls from people wanting more information. We have quarantined 17 different sites to date. The tracking and tracing system is working quite well. We have the best tracking and tracing system in the world. We can be proud of that and the work that has been done.

When it comes to food safety, the investment that the government made in food safety, the environment, different areas in research, and the announcement that the Prime Minister and I made last June showed the proactive approach. It is a proactive approach that we wanted to put in place, but certainly did not hope or expect that we would have to use it for this reason at this time. Nevertheless it is something that we certainly will continue to build upon and work with the industry as we planned by putting in place even more rapidly food safety plans on farms as well as all the way through the food chain.

That is there now, but what we have been doing, and will continue to do, is to look at this and if there are some changes we see that are necessary to make it even better we will certainly do that. It is the same with the tracking and tracing system.

Two and a half years ago we started working with the beef industry in an identification program for beef cattle in Canada. As of July 1, 2002, it became law. Any animal, whether it is a dairy animal that has finished its dairy production and is going on to slaughter, and any animal that leaves a farm in Canada must have an ear tag which is registered in the system so that we know where the animal came from and it can be tracked.

This animal did not have that. We know the farm it came from because it was after 2002, but since it was born before that system was in place we did not have that information. However, there was some excellent work done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the provincial governments. I want to stress here that the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. have been extremely cooperative on this and they have been able to trace through records. The farms have been extremely cooperative on this as well and that is why we have been able to trace it.

In the future we will be able to trace it even better. For any animals that leave farms, we will not only know where they have been but we will know where they are. When they go somewhere, we will know where they went because that will all be in the system.

We have provincial slaughter facilities and we have federal slaughter facilities. I have full confidence in the safety of the food coming out of both of those systems. The difference being that in provincial slaughter houses the meat that is slaughtered there cannot be marketed outside that province. As far as health and safety is concerned, it is the same as the federal inspection. It was the provincial system that pulled this cow out of the food chain and tested it, and then passed the results on to the federal government.

However, in Whitehorse, ministers at the federal-provincial meeting in June 2001 said very clearly not only on this issue but on environmental and farm food safety issues that we need to go to national standards. If meat is going to cross the border of a province or out of the country it must have federal certification. We are well along in discussions with the provinces to combine those two systems into one system of inspection and certification.

Anything that we need to do is already underway. There is no question that because of this incident it has demonstrated that we must move even quicker than we had previously planned on.

I also wish to thank the United States. It has sent pathologists and its top person on BSE to Canada for a few days. It has offered its laboratories as have other countries. The United Kingdom has offered support to us. We think back when it had the terrible situation of foot and mouth disease. We sent a number of veterinarians and people over there to help. The United Kingdom has offered to do that and we certainly appreciate the support from everyone.

I am not diminishing the seriousness of this in any way, shape or form. The economic effect that this is will have will hopefully be only short term, for everyone in the beef industry and the spinoff industries from that. However, as far as food safety is concerned, we must keep it in perspective.

In closing, we can be proud of the system that we have. We can be proud of the fact that we constantly review it. Resources will not and are not a limiting factor. I am pleased that the Treasury Board has already said to us that it will be there if needed. That may very well be the case. But it was one cow. Our system found it and it did not go into the food chain.

I look forward to the comments of others. I may not be able to stay for the whole session this evening because of another committee that I am supposedly chairing, but again I want to thank the opposition for giving everyone the opportunity for what I consider to be an information session for Canadians and the House tonight.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

6:50 p.m.

Calgary Southwest

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake.

I rise tonight to address a very serious issue that is impacting all Canadians. That is the recent confirmation that BSE or mad cow disease has occurred. It has sent shock waves through the Canadian cattle industry. It has also led our trading partners to question the safety of the product that they are consuming.

As Leader of the Opposition, let me make this clear. As someone who is no defender, as everyone will know, of the government or its performance, let me state as clearly as possible that Canada has the safest food supply in the world. I have complete confidence that our food inspection system would not allow any infected animal into Canada's food supply, nor does the system allow for any animals that might test positive for BSE to move into the ruminant feed supply. In fact, the recent testing of the 150 cattle from the index herd has revealed no additional incident of BSE. Therefore I state again that Canada has the safest food supply in the world.

The reason I can say this with such confidence is that after the outbreak of BSE in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency took steps to prevent the introduction of BSE into Canada. For example, it has done the following: first, prohibiting the importation of products assessed to have a high risk of introducing BSE into Canada; second, only permitting the importation of meat and meat products from countries considered BSE free; third, creating a surveillance program in 1992 to test the brains of cattle for disease, since which time approximately 10,000 cattle have been tested; fourth, since 1997 banning the feeding of rendered protein products from ruminant animals to other ruminants; fifth, since 1990 making BSE a reportable disease; sixth, implementing all advice based on scientific facts that have been learned in the past 17 years since Great Britain had its BSE crisis; seventh and finally, assisting in the development of the Canadian cattle identification tagging program which tracks individual cattle from birth to slaughter.

It was important to take these steps to protect Canada's beef industry not only for consumers and for our trading partners but for the industry itself. As of February of this year there were nearly 13.4 million beef and dairy cattle in Canada. That is one cow for every 2.2 people. It is a huge industry. It has an enormous economic impact in this country.

Agrifood contributes 8.5% to Canada's GDP, but of all the sectors in the agrifood industry, beef production is the largest contributor to that figure. Last year alone the farm cash receipts for the sale of cattle was $7.6 billion. The economic impact to the industry extends well beyond the farm gate. Beef production contributes to the processing, retail, food service and transportation sectors and with all of these considered, beef production adds about $26 billion to the Canadian economy and employs about 100,000 people. This is why this one reported case of BSE is so important to all Canadians.

I must admit that when the announcement came last Tuesday, I was very shocked. I was of course pleased by how so many people responded and not the least bit surprised by the strong response from my senior agriculture critic, the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake. He was right on top of this immediately, asking for this debate and consulting with his colleagues across all political parties. I was also pleasantly surprised at the speed at which the government informed the Canadian public, the industry and our trading partners. Unlike the outbreak of SARS in Toronto where the minister and Prime Minister were nowhere to be found, our ministers of agriculture at both levels were front and centre answering the tough questions.

The daily briefings by the CFIA to the public and by the minister's office to members of Parliament have been helpful. They have been required to keep everyone informed and to prevent any kind of over-reaction. It is imperative that these briefings continue and that information is readily available to everyone here and around the world.

However, despite the positive aspects of the government's response, there is a significant underlying problem that we have to be frank about. That is the failure of the government to maintain solid, positive relations with our largest trading partner, the United States.

Seventy-five per cent of the exports of the beef industry go to the United States. Therefore, as of last Tuesday Canadians lost access to about $3 billion worth of their markets. The industry is losing millions of dollars daily. Because of our poor relations, some U.S. senators are looking for protectionist excuses and are calling on their government to keep our borders closed for an extended period of time even if no more cases of BSE are found.

What influence do we have in this kind of situation? Obviously the influence that the Canadian government has most strongly to deal with protectionist pressures in congress is normally in the executive branch of the government. But who is President Bush more likely to listen to on this matter, his own senators or a Liberal government with members who insult the president and the American people with impunity?

The Minister of Agriculture has been in contact with Secretary Veneman, but why has the Prime Minister not called President Bush to discuss this situation? We have asked this question already about the reconstruction of Iraq. We have asked it about SARS. We have asked these questions over and over again because all these situations have the potential to have a serious impact on the Canadian economy. In the case of SARS and in the case of this problem, there is the potential to do serious damage to the Canadian economy. We will need the Americans to be sympathetic to our interests rather than be hostile. The eating of a steak by the Prime Minister is simply not enough.

The next question is what has to be done in the future. The ongoing traces must be completed as expediently and accurately as possible. The government cannot drag its feet in determining the origin of the cow or the extent of this problem. It must continue to work with our trading partners to ensure they have every confidence in our food exports.

We know that members of Canada's cattle industry have visited our trading partners. The Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister should be part of these face to face meetings.

Of course we all hope that the border will reopen as soon as possible, perhaps tomorrow. But if it does not, the government will need to have a contingency plan in place to help mitigate the negative economic impact on the Canadian economy. The disaster safety net component under the agricultural policy framework cannot respond to a disastrous loss of our export markets.

The recent outbreak of SARS in Toronto resulted in layoffs. The government waived the two week waiting period for employment insurance in some affected areas. Layoffs are already occurring as a result of the BSE case, as I raised today. These workers should be given the same consideration as those workers in Toronto industries affected by SARS.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the Canadian cattle industry for its efforts in the creation of the Canadian cattle identification system. This system has enabled the tracking of some of the cattle involved in this investigation and will ensure that all are fully traceable in the future.

The cattle industry implemented the identification system in 2001. Unlike the bloated gun registry, this identification system has had 100% compliance and has registered nearly 25 million cattle for only $4 million. It is extremely impressive and indicates the efficiency of this system. Maybe the government should take some tips from people in the cattle industry on how to create an effective gun registry system, but that is a debate for another time. My guess is they would tell it not to create one at all.

I will be very brief as I see my time is almost out. Canada, we know, has the best farmers, the best food producers in the world. There are no straighter shooters and better people in this country than cattlemen. We should all be proud of that. We should not buy into the media hype. We should not buy into any doomsday predictions. Canadians should stand by our farm families through this crisis. Let us get past it and let us all go and have a steak for dinner.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, we meet here tonight in an emergency debate on an extremely serious issue. The issue is serious not in the area of health or food safety for Canadians. The issue is an economic emergency, an economic crisis that is affecting individual farm families and ranch families that depend on their cattle in particular for their livelihood.

It is not only the cattle producers of the country who have problems with this. It is every agricultural producer who produces ruminant animals. Bison is a growing industry in the country. I have neighbours in my area where I ranch who are exporting bison into the United States. There is a killing plant in North Dakota and from there it goes not only into North America but around the world. It is a delicacy in many areas.

The emergency is the economic well-being of thousands of Canadians and the stress it is putting on farm families, many of whom already have a lot of stress.

I will continue with that issue in just a minute, but I want to point out that when the issue arose on Tuesday and the government made its announcement through the federal Minister of Agriculture and the minister in Alberta, I commended the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and those two ministers in doing what was not done in Great Britain.

In Great Britain when the BSE outbreak happened 17 years ago, they tried to cover it up. They tried to tell the British people that there was no problem. That led to a distrust by consumers of their own government and their own industry. The reputation of farmers sank very low, almost worse than politicians.

In Canada we have a case where Canadians are looking at the reaction not only of the government members but the opposition members, all of whom wanted this emergency debate tonight. They are reassured that they can hear, see and question politicians and get the facts. We should not be believed blindly though. What has happened is that the scientific community and the university community have kicked in and are giving us independent facts.

That was the other problem in Britain 17 years ago. A lot of the science on BSE was unknown. No one had ever heard of this disease. For several years after BSE became known, Britain continued to feed renderings from ruminants back to ruminants and it spread the disease.

We do not do that in Canada. Since 1997 we have outlawed that as a feeding practice. That is why Canadians can be so confident that the food supply in our stores is as safe today as it was before last Tuesday when that case was discovered.

I know the government is working to do the trace-out and determine where the cow came from and where the offspring came from. It is working diligently to determine how the animal happened to come down with BSE and we will have to let that investigation go on.

I mentioned earlier the economic impact on the farm families. The average cattle operation, which relies on cattle and does not rely on grain or anything else, has probably in the neighbourhood of 250 to 500 cows in order to have a half reasonable living for a farm family.

Before last Tuesday, the inventory value for an average family with a small operation was anywhere between $500,000 and $700,000 worth of live animals out in the pasture and in the feedlot. By 4 o'clock on Tuesday afternoon their inventory value was at zero. The auction markets closed. That is what we are dealing with here. That is the importance of this issue.

Farm families have to make mortgage payments and they need to buy food. They spend on all the things that other Canadians, who have paycheques coming in, do. They still have these expenses but in fact they have no cashflow.

The urgency of the debate tonight is to re-establish our ability to export not only to the United States but to all our major customers around the world.

During question period this afternoon the member for Medicine Hat asked the Minister of Agriculture exactly what criteria was needed in order to conform with the requirements of our trading partners, the people to whom we want to sell our meat and our live cattle. The answer was accurate but only partially there. The answer was that they were doing the tracing. Well the investigation is very important but we know that the United States has questioned whether our regulatory system is in fact capable of guaranteeing this level of safe food supply for our exports. That has to be addressed.

We know that certain senators down in the United States have said that the timeframe of four months was too long from the time the animal was slaughtered until the brain tissue was actually examined. I agree that the timeframe was too long but my question and the question from the member for Medicine Hat for the minister was whether that was a requirement. We wanted to know if the United States was asking us to fix that.

The government has to tell Canadian farmers what the criteria is that not only the government has to meet but that they have to meet in order to reopen these borders. Tonight I am hoping that the government members, in consultation with the minister, can expand on just what Ann Veneman, the secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, has said is the specific criteria that we need to meet in order to start exporting again. Is it more inspectors? Is their HACCP program right? They are criticizing a certain part of it. We know that Senator Dorgan of course is criticizing but we will take that with a grain of salt. However they are not to be taken lightly and that is what we need from the government.

We do not need to be talking about compensation programs right now because there is no compensation program that will be able to cover a livestock industry that is based on exports. There is no market in Canada today because the price for our cows is based on exports. It is not based on a closed domestic market. If it were we would not be worrying about this. It is based on exports and that is why reopening the borders to our trading partners is so important.

Once again I want to emphasize this because it is so important. The government needs to tell farmers, ranchers and all Canadians exactly what it is that will open up that border. That is a reasonable request. If the answer is that they have not really told us specifically, that is fine, that is a legitimate answer, but I believe they may have given some very specific suggestions and I invite the government members, in response to these speeches from the opposition side, to try to cover these and give us some assurance that the border will be open within the next few weeks.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7:10 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this emergency debate requested by the Progressive Conservative Party and consented to by all of the political parties. It goes without saying that the first priority for the Bloc Quebecois is protecting the public and the need to protect the confidence of our trading partners.

We must point out the good work done by food inspectors, as well as the organizational work that this crisis requires. We commend the efforts of those involved, but we also need to learn lessons from the experience and the Bloc Quebecois would like to suggest a few solutions.

First, we need to take a more regional approach to health practices. While only one case of mad cow disease was diagnosed in Alberta, all of the provinces were affected by embargos from our trading partners. The American embargo on all ruminants has hit us especially hard, because the U.S. is our main buyer. While the Bloc Quebecois acknowledges that the American decision was reasonable during the diagnostic stage, we feel that it is unfair to continue the embargo when only one province is involved.

I would like to point out that with the controls Quebec has in place, if it controlled its own borders and health policy as a sovereign state, it would not be affected by the American embargo today.

I would also like to quote the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, Laurent Pellerin, who said on May 21:

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.

The current situation is especially frustrating for Quebec producers who, for a long time, have had a series of restrictions for the very purpose of ensuring the health of their livestock and the quality of their products. Quebec has not imported any product from countries considered at risk for contamination from mad cow disease for years now. Also, detection procedures were implemented and there has been mandatory reporting of the disease since 1990. Since 1993, well before the 1997 federal ban, Quebec cattle producers have made a commitment to not using meat meal to feed their livestock.

One example of the superiority of the Quebec program is without a doubt the tagging of cattle. Tracing cattle has been implemented in parallel in Canada and in Quebec. Quebec producers had until 2002 to tag their stock. Let us compare the two systems. The Canadian system has no centralized data base, for example. The Quebec system does. Canada collects only birth and death information, while Quebec collects information on all of the animal's comings and goings, such as birth and death, attendance at an agricultural exhibition, sale to a breeder.

The prevention system in place in Quebec is, therefore, highly efficient. The federal government must do everything within its area of jurisdiction to reassure importing countries immediately, 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 will ensure that the new measures implemented in order to regain the confidence of our partners will not be imposed coast to coast, that there is some flexibility in the regulations imposed by the government.

Second, it must be admitted that the federal government has neglected food safety. The federal government's inflexibility has kept the strategic framework for agriculture from being put into place so far. This strategic framework, which comprises a food safety and quality aspect and a disaster insurance aspect, needs greater flexibility if the provinces are to accept it and implement it promptly.

The provinces began their negotiations in good faith, and in June 2001 Quebec and several provinces gave agreement in principle. There is, however, no agreement on regulations based on a federal promise that it will show flexibility as far as the mechanisms for application are concerned. The federal government is proving to be inflexible, more concerned with its visibility than with producer safety.

Yet what Quebec is calling for is simple. The Financière agricole du Québec must continue in its role as designer and administrator of the farm risk management program. This is the most significant of Quebec's demands. The farm income stabilization program for Quebec and the farm income stabilization insurance program must be eligible for federal funding. The hang-up as far as the strategic framework for Quebec is concerned is a risk management envelope of $1.1 billion.

The producers say that the federal proposal is less generous than the previous programs. The federal government must review the methodology of its income stabilization project in order to ensure that producers do not accidentally lose out. The burden of proof is on the shoulders of the federal government.

At the same time, I would like to say something about the neglect that has led to a lack of renewal in the veterinary profession. Let us remember how the faculties of veterinary medicine have struggled for survival. The mad cow crisis reminds us of the importance of trained personnel. The Alberta minister of agriculture pointed out that his province has a severe shortage of veterinary pathologists. In Quebec, Maurice Vigneault, president of the UPA, Lotbinière-Mégantic, recently explained that many producers in his region are suffering because of a shortage of veterinarians. He said that everyone is stressed out. He even reported that five veterinarians at a clinic in Plessisville had chosen to limit their practice to the dairy sector, leaving 80 beef producers to find veterinarians from outside the area. There is a problem.

That is why the Bloc Quebecois fought so hard to save the Saint-Hyacinthe faculty of veterinary medicine. Briefly, the facts are as follows.

The faculty of veterinary medicine of the Université de Montréal is the only veterinary medicine research and teaching facility in Quebec and the only French-language veterinary medicine faculty in North America. There are four faculties of this kind in Canada. The faculty's problems began in 1999 after four lean years during which the budget was cut by 20%. That is when the American Veterinary Medical Association asked the faculty to improve its infrastructures by December 2001. The school had to submit a recovery plan and evidence that the budgets to correct the problems had been approved, which it did in December 2001. The North American association found the medical school's efforts to be sufficient and gave it two more years to find funding. After dozens of interventions and an act of good faith by the Government of Quebec, which came up with $41 million to modernize the faculty, the federal government agreed, under Bloc Quebecois pressure, to contribute $35 million. It should have contributed $59 million. Not enough effort was made in terms of funding.

As for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, I will repeat what the Auditor General said:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency should take additional action to identify what it needs in a future work force.

This was said in reference to the major staff shortage. The urgency to act went unanswered.

Mr. Speaker, you motioned to me. Do I still have one minute or five minutes to finish my speech?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In fact, time has elapsed. The Chair will agree to grant you one more minute.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7:20 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to finish. There are many points I would still like to raise, but I would like to conclude quickly by saying that the borders should be opened as soon as possible for Quebec. I hope that the federal government understands that the debate is about flexibility according to the regions affected. Rest assured that the Bloc Quebecois will continue to exert pressure at every opportunity.

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe I was entitled to 20 minutes and you stopped me after 10 minutes. Could you please check with the clerk?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Emergency Debate

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The member is completely right. The timer showed 10 minutes, but in fact, you have 20 minutes. The hon. member still has 10 minutes to continue his speech.