Mr. Chair, it was very important to me to participate in this take note debate on the mad cow crisis. The major issue for us in Quebec is for the federal government to provide an aid package that addresses Quebec's problem with cull, and also to move forward with the regionalization of the food inspection system.
I wanted to take part in this debate because the region I represent is largely rural. Agriculture is vital to the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska. The Arthabaska RCM is the largest milk and beef producer in Quebec. The region offers many exceptional cheeses, including one called Sir Laurier d'Arthabaska, for your information. There are also hog and poultry farms, and speciality crops such as cranberry, honey and maple syrup.
Centre-du-Québec is a major dairy region with more than 150,000 farms representing 16.3% of dairy production in Quebec. In the Eastern Townships, the other region that overlaps my riding, there are roughly 1,000 dairy farms.
The mad cow crisis affects all these dairy and beef farmers. Last week, I attended Expo-Boeuf in Victoriaville, the main city in my riding. It was a great success again this year, but I must admit that the morale of the producers is quite low these days. No wonder, prices have dropped by 30% to 70%.
The mad cow crisis has affected dairy farmers who sell their cull, in particular. My colleague, the Bloc Quebecois critic for agriculture and agri-food and member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, said it well at the beginning of this take note debate: the federal government did not consider Quebec's particular problem when it announced its recent aid package. Dairy farmers cull 25% of their cows a year, but the federal government is compensating them for only 16% of their herd.
I know that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was present at that time. I trust that he paid careful attention to what the hon. member said, since she herself is a farmer and was, moreover, once named Quebec's woman farmer of the year. It is praiseworthy, appreciated even, that the government is pressuring the United States to reopen the border to Canadian cattle and beef. We all realize, however, that the situation is likely to remain unchanged until the U.S. election is over.
So far, all efforts have been unsuccessful, and there are no indications that the situation will change in the near future. The steps taken to increase slaughter capacity and to develop new export markets are also welcome, but the basic issue has not been settled. Recently the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec, the Union des producteurs agricoles and the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec issued a press release—on September 10 to be precise—in which they stated that the announced assistance was inadequate and did not in any way meet the requirements of the beef and dairy producers.
The two federations and the UPA estimate the need in Quebec at over $141 million, while the transition support measures will total only $15 to $20 million. As I said, the minister was there for the first part of the debate, and I would also have liked him to have been with me in Chesterville a few weeks ago when I had supper with a beef producer. He would have understood that producers are on the verge of financial ruin because of this continuing crisis. He would have been asked by someone from the agricultural community whether his program was really tailored to the particularities of Quebec and the actual needs of producers. I made a promise to the farmer that I would pass on his message, which is why I am here before you this evening for this take-note debate.
A number of my Bloc Quebecois colleagues have, moreover, raised another glaring problem with the federal industry assistance plan, and rightly so: it totally ignores any regionalization of hygiene practices. The mad cow crisis ought never to have affected Quebec producers, who have been subject to more stringent rules than the Canadian ones for a long time. Not only the Bloc Quebecois but the entire industry is calling upon the federal government to recognize this other particularity of Quebec and to enter into discussions with Quebec in order to regionalize the food inspection system, dividing Canada into several regions.
That would make it possible for Quebec producers to be spared in a similar crisis in the future. Why should Quebec's producers be penalized because of one case of mad cow discovered 5,000 km from them, when Quebec has established a system that makes it possible to trace the animal from birth to death? We also banned animal meal four years before Ottawa did.
The former Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food maintained that it was impossible to impose territorial measures within a single country. I hope his successor will be more sensitive to the Quebec context, but unfortunately I have my doubts, based on this government's record.
Canada has , in fact, applied regionalization, less than a year ago in the case of the American chickens with Newcastle disease. Various American states were affected by this contagious viral disease that primarily attacks poultry. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency imposed restrictions only on the four states affected, California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas.
If such regionalization of public health measures had been in place, Quebec's producers would not have been suffering for over a year and a half. They would have been spared. The idea is not to have provinces confronting each other. The same thing would have happened if the case had been found somewhere other than Alberta.
It is obvious to me that if Quebec had been sovereign and in control of its borders and public health policies, it would not be subject to the American embargo today. In the meantime, we must continue to put pressure on the federal government to grant sufficient assistance to compensate for the drop in cattle prices.
Contrary to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said earlier this evening, we are not asking for a privilege. Quebec's producers are not asking for any privileges. They are asking for an assistance program that takes into account Quebec's cull cow problem, which is not found elsewhere. It is not complicated; there is no privilege involved; there is only justice.