Mr. Speaker, I am happy to enter into the debate on the issue of BSE. I should say initially that there was a brief time in my life when I actually raised beef cattle. Although I was only a small producer, I certainly learned the trials and tribulations of that industry.
I can well remember back some 15 years ago when it seems to me we were selling beef cattle at 75¢ a hundredweight. Those numbers have not changed very appreciably in the ensuing years, and the BSE issue, of course, has made that even worse.
During that same period of time overhead costs to that industry have increased tremendously. The cost of fuel to run tractors and so forth has multiplied exponentially. The actual profitability of the cattle industry in the first place is very slight.
I heard people talk about the capital involved in, for instance, a feedlot operation. People's margins are very small so they rely very much on heavy volumes. Significant changes in the input and output prices of a commodity will cause tremendous fluctuations in one's bottom line. This of course is what we are dealing with today.
The cattle industry in Canada is a very significant one. It represents something like 20% of farm cash receipts in Canada among all agricultural industries. It represents about a $6.6 billion industry. From the statistics I have seen, Canada has 103,673 beef producers and 77% of these are a small size with less than 122 head. These producers represent over $3 billion in export trade.
When I first heard about the issue of BSE, I, like so many farmers in my area, thought that this would be resolved possibly quicker than it has. I do not think a lot of us fully understood the ramifications of BSE and its impact on our industry.
Cattle producers in my area often wonder out loud why one cow in the province of Alberta caused such consternation. I have often heard them say that the markets in Britain are closer than the incidence of mad cow disease, so why are they caught up in this issue.
Mr. Speaker, I want to remind you that I am sharing my time with the member for Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.
The reality is that we do not segregate where in a country the disease occurs. It is simply that the whole country is embargoed. As we know, the Europeans, the Japanese and others have lived through this peril to some great extent.
Quite frankly, Canada is noted as a BSE country. As much as we talk about it and debate it in this chamber, that is the reality. We have a reportable case of BSE and Canada is designated as a BSE country.
I know many of our consumers would demand us to be diligent on the importation of food from other countries that had this disease. Indeed, Britain, which had an incident of BSE, still does not export beef to the United States.
We can see that in the 100 days that we have been talking about this incident since it occurred in Canada, we have actually been very successful in opening the borders to Canadian beef production, more so than any other country. We are also entering into protocols with Mexico to try to find ways of actually importing, exporting and transporting cattle through the United States to Mexico.
Some very positive things are going on. The substance of the motion is that somehow nothing has been happening, and that just is not the case.
I was one of the members of our rural caucus who was able to meet with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. It was interesting to hear most of those gentlemen, in their opening comments, thank the government for its efforts. They wanted to thank the governments for acting promptly on the file in the sense that it realized the shortfall would impact cattle producers who ship live cattle across the Canadian border and for the fact that we had found a system that would actually get money into their hands to alleviate some pain and suffering.
Some people think that my riding of Durham is somehow part of the Greater Toronto Authority. In some small ways it is, but I can say that General Motors is the largest economic producer in my riding and second is beef cattle. The cattle industry is worth $1.2 billion to the province of Ontario and is rated as the number two generator in Ontario agriculture, only behind the dairy industry. There are approximately 200 producers in Durham. That is just under 1% of all of the producers in the province of Ontario.
Before May 20, finished cattle were selling at $1,500 a head or $1.10 per pound. In July, after the BSE issue hit, that price went down to 30¢ a pound. That is a significant drop in the selling price of cattle.
Since the border reopened to packaged beef products the price has rebounded. I wanted to emphasize that because it seems to have been totally missed in this debate. Producers in my riding have said that this rebound in price back to 75¢ has been a significant boon to those who ship live cattle because they have been able to ship to slaughter houses in Montreal. That has been a significant recovery in the industry but we do not talk about that here.
In fact that was a specific result of government policy and efforts to reopen the border to Canadian beef shipments that has had a positive impact on producers in my riding. Those producers are not, unlike the debate that is going on here today from some of the members in the opposition, blaming the government per se. They are saying that they appreciate the efforts the government is making. Of course they would like the government to do more. They would like the border to be 100% open to live cattle and put them back where they were before May 20.
I know the cattlemen, who are proud, rigorous and independent entrepreneurs, understand that this is an issue that will not go away easily. We are a BSE noted country and all of the discussion in this chamber will not make that issue go away.
The class of livestock that was hardest hit was culled cattle, which is very important to the cattle producers today. Usually they would get 50¢ per pound or about $650 a cow when they shipped them. Today that price is 5¢ to 12¢ and there is no subsidy on culled cattle. The big issue with a lot of producers is to how to cull their herds. The fact of the matter is that there is no cash flow coming from that.
There has been a lot of discussion about the agricultural policy framework. Yes, it is the truth, even within my riding, that people in the agricultural industry are not happy with the way the agricultural policy framework has been put together. My experience with the farm community has been that it is very difficult to get agreement among all the producers and all the industries within the agricultural sector. Quite frankly, I think we are missing the boat if we feel that it is a form of blackmail, as was mentioned here today, because it is not. In fact, we need to have signed agreements to let money flow.
Since agriculture is under federal-provincial jurisdiction, we need agreements with the provinces to make money flow. Money is available. We might not like exactly how the policy framework is put in place. The federal government and Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has talked about a review process that is in place.
We have the machinery to review that as it is going on but by all means I would encourage the province of Ontario, in particular, to sign the agreement and get the money flowing into the producers hands who really need it. The whole purpose of this program is to deal with risk management .
I know my time is running out, but one other issue I want to talk about is the dairy industry. This is one industry that has been overlooked in this process. I have a number of breeders in my area who ship dairy cattle not only to the United States but worldwide. They are prevented from shipping those cattle today. That has had a tremendous negative impact on them. Of course there is no subsidy. There is a recognition that somehow we should try to address that issue. The reality is they have been negatively impacted through no particular fault of their own but because of the discovery of BSE in one animal. This was certainly the most expensive animal that we have ever seen in this country and possibly in the world.
I do not support the motion. I think it is grandstanding. The opposition does not seem to think that we should have an independent foreign policy, but certainly the producers have an independent mind and think we are doing a lot of positive things.