House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.


Avian FluEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC


That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the decision you made a couple of days ago to undertake this emergency debate. It is more than necessary considering the situation at hand. On behalf of my leader, the leader of the Conservative Party, and my colleagues, I thank the Speaker of the House of Commons for understanding the need for this debate.

The leader of the Conservative Party expresses his sincere disappointment for not being able to address this issue as he had previously committed to a function out of Ottawa and did not know the debate would come up this fast.

Everything I say here is meant as conservative and constructive criticism. I would like us all to keep the partisan politics out of this. I know many of the farmers across the country are watching the debate and listening for what will be said. What is necessary is that we take the high road on this issue. It is a serious debate and much will be said worth listening to.

I am going to talk about a number of issues to begin this debate. First, the non-economic impact of the avian flu to our farmers; second, the real economic impact of the flu; third, management by government, government practices; fourth, the small chicken farmer and the specialty bird farmers who are affected; and finally, our expectations of government.

I want to first address the need for this debate. Producers and processors need a clear definition of what is going to happen to them in the future.

Second, compensation is a serious issue and based upon my experience and our experience in the House here over the years in dealing with the government, we have watched many times where a crisis passed and many of those involved have been forgotten. I can refer to the hepatitis C crisis where victims have been forgotten for the moneys they should have received as victims; the cull of the elk herd in the BSE crisis and people are still waiting for funding for that; and the SARS flu victims as well.

We in the Fraser Valley I know are not prepared to wait for years and go hand and foot to the government, whichever government it will be, and wait for some form of funding compensation for our losses.

Third, we have an obligation to speak out for the small farmer and the specialty farmer whose voice has not been heard very much to date.

Fourth, we must ensure that the federal government ,through the CFIA, has a stable, effective plan for a future farm crisis in this industry.

Finally, Ottawa must understand that a serious issue has happened west of the Rockies in avian flu but that does not mean that it is not a national issue. It means that it happened in a locale but that it is still a national issue.

I am disturbed by the Prime Minister's comments about letting us understand that in British Columbia things should be a national issue but, on the other hand, recent comments suggesting that this is a problem that is west of the Rockies. It is irrelevant, quite frankly, where the problem is. This is a national crisis.

I just talked to the agriculture minister and I am glad he is in the House. In his response yesterday to my question about compensation to farmers and producers for neutralizing manure, shipping manure, down time, loss of production and other related costs, he basically said that I and my colleagues had waited for six weeks before bringing this to the House.

That, in effect, was quite true. Actually neither I nor my colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster, our agriculture critic, brought this issue up in question period. The reason was that we wanted to give all governments, provincial and federal, time to work this thing out without making a national political issue out of it.

In fact, we watched what was happening and now is the time to discuss the issue. I have no intention of interfering with the good job John Van Dongen, our B.C. agriculture minister, is doing and that of the producers and processors. It had been, for me personally, a time to observe, a time to learn and a time to assess the problem itself.

Thus far, after five weeks, what I see in observation is that we are intent on killing everything with feathers, consulting with some people but not all people, committing very little by way of compensation and insisting that everything is under control with the CFIA but, in fact, the virus is continuing to expand even though drastic measures have been taken. We have some questions on whether or not this process is working and we intend to cover that.

I will go over my first issue, which is the non-economic impact. A lot of people across the country watching the debate tonight should understand that this loss of production time has a significant impact on our farmers. An idle farm is not what our farmers and their families are used to. They are used to working day and night, seven days a week. This idle time is not good because it creates worry for them. They are thinking about the time they have to restart and when the income will start coming in. Those kind of things are the non-monetary concerns that many of our farmers are having now, their families and, quite frankly, our whole community of Abbotsford, which is a support industry throughout the lower mainland for these farmers.

Another non-monetary impact of this issue is the image of chickens as a food.

I do receive all the materials that farmers send out and one of the documents, which they sent out recently, entitled “From our family to yours”, is a very good document. It explains a lot of the things that the chicken farmers are doing to promote chicken as a food, a sustenance, and all the activities that they undertake across the country.

I will just give some examples. They sponsor and present at agriculture and classroom meetings and events across Canada. They appear at and sponsor the Dieticians of Canada's annual conference. They create school kits and so on. This avian flu affects that image.

I will be directing some of my comments to the minister on how we can actually try to fix that image because it will be tarnished to some extent.

Those are the non-economic impacts. What I want to talk about, more importantly, is the economic impact of the avian flue: the cost of depopulating. The Government of Canada does reimburse for the cost of repopulating each chicken in an amount of anywhere from $3 to $33, which was the amount used by the CFIA, but $33 is far in excess of an upper limit that they will be giving. I suspect it will be around $3 or $4 but the minister can correct me on that, on breeders and so on.

However, I want to discuss the real additional costs, the costs that are not included in farm income programs or the costs that are not included to date or being considered by the government. What I really want to impress on the minister here tonight is that it is those costs that have to be considered, and not later but sooner.

There is also the cost of downtime and the loss of production. Some of these farms have to wait until the last farm is cleaned up and restarted again. This is going to be a long time and it will be unproductive time. That downtime is an actual cost to our farmers.

There is also the cost of start up time. The repopulation of the chickens and other birds is another cost that they will incur. It is not a normal cost. It is an additional cost.

There is the cost of neutralizing the manure and of shipping out the manure.

There is interest on idle revenue-producing equipment. The farmers have all the equipment sitting there but they cannot use it. So they are paying the bills and paying the interest to the bank.

They have to pay for feed when no product is eating. Chickens are not eating but they have the feed sitting there.

There is a cost for processors in unproductive operating time while plants are shut down. They still need the processing plant even though it is not being used.

Innovative unemployment programs: job sharing, health care, waiting periods for EI, and so on. Those are all additional costs of somebody out there and the government has to look at sharing in it.

Heightened biosecurity initiatives. There is no doubt that at the end of the day that will be something we do not want passed on to the farmers. We want the government to share in the cost of that. We also have industry public relations when all this is done.

Those are actual costs that the government has to commit to and commit to tonight, quite frankly.

Also, we have the cost of depopulating other specialty birds. I will talk more about that later, but the amount that is on the schedule for the specialty birds, ducks, geese, quail, pigeons and so on, is far too low for the amount of the actual costs of repopulating the birds. Those are the things we want to talk about tonight.

I want to talk about management by government. I am no expert in the management of this crisis but, from my observations and after discussions, some questions need to be asked. I hope the minister, who will be speaking after me, addresses these issues concretely. How exactly did this virus start? We are in a position to know that now. What control measures were in place? If effective control measures were put in place, then why is it still spreading? We have not had a new farm in three days but it is still spreading.

Rumour has it that the measures that the CFIA had and continue to have in place are part of the cause of the spread of the virus. We want to know if that is in fact so. Nobody is putting blame. We are just trying to get some answers.

Why kill all birds including specialty birds? Is there a national strategy in place to deal with these kinds of issues because, if this does go somewhere else, what will the strategy be? Do we continue to kill every bird everywhere or is there some strategy that the government has learned now that it must implement?

It appears that local specialists, and I know this is a fact, to some extent are not being consulted, and I would like to know why.

In addition to that, small chicken farmers and specialty bird farmers are really not being consulted. They are included in the large mass of farmers but specialty bird farmers have unique issues.

What mistakes made during the BSE crisis are being repeated here, if they are at all? I know there will be some talk tonight about the cull of the elk herds, for instance. It has been quite a long time since that happened and I do not think there has been reimbursement, and if there has, it has only been recently. Our farmers should not and cannot wait for a year or two down the road to be reimbursed.

Why is removal of the manure taking so long? Why is a company like JF BioEnergy not being considered? I want to talk a bit more about JF BioEnergy. I had an opportunity to visit the company this week. It has a very unique piece of equipment that can help but it has been pooh-poohed along the way.

Those are all legitimate questions given to me from various producers, processors and related industry people. I can assure everyone in the House of Commons tonight that there is an expectation of clear and concise answers. I can assure the farmers, the producers and the associated industries who may be watching the debate tonight, that we do expect an answer. In talking to the minister, he said that he would have some. The time for generalities is gone.

With regard to the small chicken farmer, I understand that not all farmers can be contacted at once but we must have the assurance that all farmers will be consulted as it is their livelihood that we are destroying. I must tell the minister that, as I understand it, a lot of specialty farmers were not consulted but have been thrown into the mix of this larger problem.

These farmers are asking for a voice to stop the massacre of all healthy fowl. I do not know why the CFIA wants to kill everything with feathers but if it does, I wonder why the virus continues to spread, not in sequence but from farm to farm, skipping geological areas. For instance, it moves from Abbotsford all of a sudden over to Cloverdale, a distance of maybe 30 kilometres. What is in between all that and why did it spread like that if we have such a great program in place?

Small farmers feel that their operations are being sacrificed and that they should be exempt from eradication unless their birds prove to be positively affected. In one case, CFIA officials have informed a small farmer that because he was within one kilometre of an infected barn, he must depopulate, yet his hearty outdoor birds are not ill and will not become ill unless they are in direct contact with the virus by means of people or equipment. They do not understand why, so someone should consult with them as to why.

In another case CFIA officials have admitted to a farmer, off the record that is, that they agree with all his arguments that their approach is heavy handed, but they have no idea what else to do. They told him the edict came from Ottawa and they are just following orders. If that is the case and if the orders must be followed, why tell the farmer they do not know what they are doing, that they are just following orders? It is time to go back and say to these people to stop creating this acrimony.

I want to talk about specialty birds, including pigeons, ducks and geese. This too is an area where a large amount of damage is being inflicted. These birds include, as I said, pigeons, ducks, geese and other fowl, such as quail. This area was overlooked in the time leading up to the eradication decision, yet the impact is most severe. These farmers are not supported by supply management and will suffer the loss of irreplaceable breeds, the loss of niche markets and the capital investment required to start over again.

Let me reflect what these specialty farmers are saying. This is coming from those specialty farmers. One, avian influenza is not a disease that infects ducks and geese to kill them, and therefore they should be exempt from this mass kill.

Two, Dr. Bruce Burton said, “There are significant genetic treasures in the Fraser Valley. They are isolated and totally unaffected by this curse. Once lost, they will be gone forever in a meaningful way, rare breeds of quail, chickens, racing pigeons, commercial ducks that are superior in growth, uniformity and egg production to any in the world. It is imperative that a way to preserve these species is found”.

Their third comment is that the Health of Animals Act states that specialty farmers will be paid a maximum of $30 for a duck or a goose, but how does this allow for the irreplaceable breeds they have? How is this reimbursement for years of investment in a particular breed? Without proper reimbursement the government will effectively legislate them out of business.

Fourth, specialty farmers risk having new entrants into the specialty bird industry, because they are not supply managed, upon repopulation. The existing industry will have lost their competitive advantage.

Finally, there are many other issues facing specialty farmers. I encourage the minister to contact their association or other specialty farmers and anybody else out there watching. It is different. They do have different needs.

Now the pigeons. This is an incredible story. I met with pigeon farmers who are very concerned. I note that I only have two minutes remaining so I will have to push this. The problem is that they have a very unique industry. To replace their pigeons would cost much more than the amount the government is prepared to give.

Let me get to our expectations of government. Act with confidence and in the interests of everyone. Make certain that the steps taken are the best options available. Do not walk away from those that will be bankrupt once the job is finished. Listen to all the people who should be involved, not just some. Declare what caused the virus. Admit what spread the virus. Complete a national strategy for such events that may occur in the future. Get the money in the hands of the producers and processors now, not when they go on hands and knees later. Implement tax deferrals on income received. Spend money on promotions for chickens and specialty birds. Involve our local experts; they do know what they are talking about. Ensure everything possible is being done to look after those who are becoming unemployed.

In summation, our farmers are the best in the world. They are innovative. They are, in the truest sense of the word, real entrepreneurs. Rules and bureaucracy and partisan politics cannot step in the way of assisting these business people. Let us agree here tonight to immediately fund the cost of eradication, advance funds on other related costs, defer taxes on funds received, develop a national strategy for such cases, consider specialty farmers as unique, and assist employees who are laid off.

As for the government, accept this submission here in the house of the common people as non-partisan constructive criticism, so together we do what is the responsibility of a national government and that is, assist those who genuinely need it.

I want to compliment those farmers, processors, producers and like industries who provided us the information which I put forward to the government.

God bless our farmers and God bless Canada.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:15 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant Ontario


Bob Speller LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate. I appreciate the comments by the member for Langley--Abbotsford and I certainly take up his challenge to hold this debate in a non-partisan way. I think all parties would agree that these sorts of issues should not be treated in a partisan manner.

As the member knows, I recently visited the Fraser Valley to see first hand the work that is being done to stamp out this highly contagious disease. I was particularly impressed by the attitude of his constituents. The people there are going through a very difficult time. They are responding with the spirit of determination to do whatever is necessary to stamp out this disease and to restore health to the poultry industry in British Columbia.

The Prime Minister has also been active on this file. He has been advised by myself and the CFIA on the new developments. He has spoken with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, as well as myself, and assured us of the Government of Canada's commitment to eradicate the avian influenza, and as I said, to restore the B.C. poultry industry.

Let me take a moment to remind the House of what has happened so far. On February 19 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the presence of avian influenza in British Columbia. This is highly pathogenic. Avian influenza is a reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be reported to the CFIA and all reported suspected cases are immediately investigated by inspectors from that agency.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency responded to the outbreak immediately by placing infected premises under quarantine and by depopulating all of the birds on the infected farms. Because avian influenza is so contagious, a surveillance program was put in place. On March 11 I issued a ministerial order that defined the control area that imposed movement restrictions of birds and bird products. The order also defined a surveillance region and a high risk region where movement restrictions were beyond those in the remainder of the control area.

Despite these measures, avian influenza continued to spread throughout the high risk area and in fact the control area. That is why I announced on April 5 the depopulation of all commercial poultry flocks and other backyard birds in the control area. This includes approximately 19 million birds.

I want to tell hon. members that this decision was not taken lightly. It was based on the recommendations of the CFIA, in consultation with the province of British Columbia and the poultry industry. It was clear to us that the rapid spread of the virus required an aggressive response.

To date, the CFIA has confirmed avian influenza on some 31 farms. Depopulation of these farms has been completed.

The CFIA is now in the process of depopulating the entire control area. First targeted premises are where the infection is present or suspected. By eliminating the birds that are most at risk as quickly as possible, we will help minimize the risk of further spread. We should see fewer and fewer cases of infection as the depopulation progresses.

At the same time, tests are being conducted on the samples from all depopulated flocks. Poultry that are free of avian influenza will be eligible for human consumption and sent to commercial slaughter facilities.

I understand that this depopulation process is difficult for all affected bird owners, particularly those with smaller flocks and those who keep their birds as pets. Unfortunately, avian influenza is an indiscriminate and unrelenting virus. All birds in captivity are susceptible and all pose a risk to spreading the disease.

I have great sympathy for the poultry owners in the region, but I know that this depopulation is the best way to save the industry overall.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will assess on a case by case basis situations such as exotic birds, pets, or birds in zoos. Birds that are enclosed within residential premises will not likely be affected by the depopulation.

The Government of Canada is also aware there is concern that this outbreak of avian influenza may cause significant financial hardship for not only the producers in the industry but also the surrounding communities. I certainly understand the level of anxiety over potential financial losses. That is why I want to make it very clear what it is the government is doing.

Under the Health of Animals Act, our government compensates all farm owners who currently own birds that are being destroyed. Under the act, owners are paid market value for the flocks that are ordered destroyed. As for the broader compensation for economic loss, that is yet to be determined. We are currently working with the industry and the provincial government to understand the extent and the impact this is having on industry. Once this investigation is complete, we will be in a much better position to talk about further compensation.

As members of the House already know, Agriculture Canada also has income stabilization programs that are available to all farmers in times of disaster.

The province of British Columbia and the industry agree that our first priority is to eradicate the disease. Depopulation is not the only tool we have to stamp out this disease. We have enhanced our collaboration with B.C.'s ministry of agriculture and food and the fisheries lab. I have great appreciation and respect for the expertise of these provincial laboratories. The Abbotsford facilities have provided invaluable help to our efforts to eradicate the disease. As well, Premier Gordon Campbell has made available the full resources of the provincial emergency program to support this effort.

With a disease that spreads so quickly and so easily, the movement of people and equipment is likely the most significant factor behind the spread of this disease. Therefore it is essential that all of the proper biosecurity protocols are followed to further prevent the progression of this disease. That is why the CFIA has now taken legal steps that require poultry owners to control access to their premises by affixing a notice at the entrance of their properties prohibiting unauthorized entry to their farms. These signs are being distributed throughout all premises in the control area.

Before allowing anybody onto their farms, poultry producers must ensure that the proper biosecurity measures are being taken. These include ensuring that all vehicles such as feed trucks and other suppliers are thoroughly cleaned and approved by disinfectant; thoroughly washing and disinfecting all equipment entering and leaving the farm; making sure that all workers and visitors wear clean protective clothing and footwear, and if possible owners are asked to provide coveralls and boots; and placing a foot bath at the entrance to all poultry houses.

To ensure people are aware of these additional measures, we have increased our public awareness activities. Public notices have been distributed. Regular technical briefings are being held to keep the media informed. An information session was held on April 15 to allow poultry producers and residents to speak freely with agency officials.

I know that with the current influenza situation in Asia, people are concerned about the human health implications of this disease. I must stress that the virus that exists in the Fraser Valley is not the same strain that is causing human sickness and illness throughout Asia.

Two workers involved in the avian response were infected by the virus and contracted pink eye as a result. Both have since recovered. There has been no evidence of person to person transmission of this virus and the risk to human health remains very, very low.

As a precaution, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has taken extensive measures to protect the health of those involved in the Fraser Valley investigation and response.

In accordance with Health Canada regulations, all staff have been outfitted with biocontainment suits and must attend occupational health and safety hazard awareness sessions to educate them on the essential precautionary measures.

I would like to speak now about the importance of partnerships in eradicating this disease. The depopulation effort requires the assistance and cooperation of all partners, including the province and the poultry industry.

The CFIA is working closely with those partners to move as quickly as possible in the depopulation. We are also speaking regularly with our American counterparts to keep them informed of the situation.

There has been great cooperation among federal departments and agencies. The CFIA is working closely with colleagues in Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Department of External Affairs. We are also collaborating with the USDA. A U.S. epidemiologist is working with us in fact in British Columbia as part of an epidemiological investigation.

As I said earlier, Premier Campbell, the province of British Columbia and particularly the minister of agriculture there have been very helpful and instrumental in this effort.

The CFIA has worked closely with both the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the B.C. Ministry of Health Services and local health officials throughout the expanded depopulation efforts to ensure that all appropriate measures are taken to monitor and to protect the health of those involved in the avian influenza response.

Throughout this effort, the poultry industry has been very understanding and very supportive. It is understood that governments and industry share a common goal, and that is eradicating this outbreak as soon as possible so that the poultry industry can return to normal.

There has been a high level of cooperation from the residents of the Fraser Valley. In particular, I commend the people who live and work in the controlled area for taking immediate precautions to help us prevent the spread of this disease.

Canada has an excellent worldwide reputation for a comprehensive and responsive animal health system. We are well respected for our ability to address present and emerging challenges. Our animal health and safety system has been put to the test as a result of this recent outbreak of avian influenza. However, by working with our partners from the federal and provincial governments to local health authorities and from industry to consumers, we can stamp out this outbreak and uphold Canada's reputation for its responsive animal and food safety system.

I would be very pleased to answer the questions of my colleagues on this issue and I appreciate once again their commitment to treat this issue on a non-partisan basis. We all in the House work with our communities to represent our constituents and to ensure that we address these serious issues with not only speed but through cooperative effort.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

The Speaker

There are about seven minutes remaining in the time allotted for the minister. Is it agreed that it be used for questions?

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, we will not go past the seven minutes because there are many people who want to speak. If we do have further questions, it would be good if the minister did get back and talk to us about it.

One thing I was looking for when I originally made my speech was more of a commitment. I mentioned that the income stabilization programs did not really look after some of the costs such as the neutralizing of the material, the shipping of the material and particularly the down time and the interest on the loans that farmers have. All these things are very important.

I know the minister has said that, yes, the government will pay for the birds that are killed, and we understand that, but this other aspect is even as serious or more serious.

The other issue I would like the minister to address is the speciality birds. I did not have time in my speech to cover that, but the value and the compensation price listed in regulations is far too low for specialty birds. Many of them cost well in excess of $50 to $60 to replace, but farmers will only get a maximum of $30. That will definitely bankrupt those farmers.

Therefore, I would like those two questions answered.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:30 p.m.


Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, those are important questions. Let me start with specialty birds. I agree, there are birds that are much more valuable than that. What the hon. member said earlier about the genetics and the long line of some of these birds over a great deal of time is very worrisome.

In terms of my approach to it, and I have asked my officials to ensure that we look at these cases on a case by case basis, our overall goal is to move to depopulate that whole area. However, I want to start by depopulating those areas that are completely around the infected area where we believe there could be a spread of that disease.

The backyard flocks and some of these specialties I want to leave those until later on and work with these people to ensure we do not do something that is unnecessary. The belief by the best science that we know is that this is the approach we have to take. However, I want to ensure that maybe further on in the process if it is found that we have to take greater action with these specialty birds, that we do that, but I want to put them later on in the system. There is no question it is widely believed that this is the approach we need to take, but I understand that there is a problem.

We want to work with all groups. I noticed the hon. member mentioned earlier that he felt there was not enough consultation with some of these other groups. I think if he checks that, in fact there has been. I have asked my people to get out and talk to as many of these groups as quickly as possible so we have a better understanding of their situation.

However, he can well understand that it is just an enormous task and we have a lot of people. From across the country, we have brought in CFIA people and the provincial ministry has brought in people too. We are trying to get out and do as much of this consultation as possible. At the same time we are trying to hold open public consultations in case we miss people. We want to give them the chance to let us know their views and let us know more about their particular situation.

In terms of other compensation, it really is too early to get a good understanding of what impact this has. I think in terms of jobs, we will see as we begin to kill more birds, with the processing of those birds those jobs will be there. However, there are other areas and certainly the hon. member has brought them up.

In the areas we need to look at, our priority right now is to depopulate those areas. This is really where we are putting all of our efforts. These other issues will be talked about with the industry and provincial government, and those talks will continue to go on. However, with respect to our resources, they are now really in the area of trying to eradicate the disease.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:35 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister of Agriculture for taking some time to respond to questions. I too will be brief with mine.

We know that British Columbia is not the only place in North America that has had avian flu this spring. Certainly Delaware and Texas have had it. As I look at this, it strikes me that we are killing, depopulating, way more birds than are being depopulated there. It seem to me that it has been contained much faster in those two states. Is it because it is a different strain of avian flu? Is it because the USDA and the Texas agricultural officials have acted more quickly?

The final question is, when this is all over, will we have something like an international panel on BSE that will come and look at what we did right and wrong on this issue?

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:35 p.m.


Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the situation in those areas was low pathogen. We get avian influenza, low pathogen, periodically. We have had it in Canada before. It is easily controllable.

We believe that what happened on the B.C. premises was that it mutated from a low pathogen into a high pathogen on the same farm. Therefore, we had results back from that farm that said it was low pathogen and we were treating it as there might be a possibility of high pathogen. Unfortunately, it somehow mutated and got out of control. That is what we believe happened and that is why it spread a lot quicker here.

The only other high pathogen was in the Texas area. It was able to control it because it tested as high pathogen right away. That is why we feel it got out of control.

We are putting in, as you mentioned today in question period, important biosecurity. We have as much bio-security as we think is necessary now, although we need to look at these issues maybe after this is all over. As you say, maybe an international--

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:35 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will know he has to address his remarks to the Chair, but the time has expired as well for his speech. We have gone over, so we will have to move on.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Champlain.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:35 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to this evening's debate on the avian flu.

Over the past 12 months we have gone through various experiences in Canada with agriculture-related diseases that affect our livestock. We all know about mad cow disease, which is still causing major problems throughout Canada, including in Quebec, some 4,000 km from the source of the disease. Farmers are paying the price for a disease that, in my opinion, was not so serious and existed very far away from the major herds in Quebec.

Avian flu is a highly contagious disease and is transmitted to birds in general, including wild and domestic birds, and even those kept as pets. It should be noted that this disease is not easily transmitted to humans.

When such an epidemic strikes, it is essential to prevent the public from panicking, thinking that it poses a risk to humans. Avian influenza could be contracted by humans only through close contact with birds, for example by individuals working in poultry houses or with poultry, thereby increasing their risk of contracting the virus. There are only one or two cases where humans have contracted avian influenza. So, it is important that the public knows that there is no cause for panic here.

At the same time, it is important to take all the necessary measures to control this disease. People in Vancouver and British Colombia are not responsible for the outbreak of this disease, but I think that we must congratulate them for taking the necessary precautions to prevent the disease from spreading any further.

Thirty-one farms are said to be affected. Despite the precautions, we see just how easy it is for the disease to spread from farm to farm, particularly among poultry farms. I heard comments, for example, about the way poultry carcasses were buried or burned, and people mentioned the risk of crows and wild animals carrying and spreading the disease, causing more serious problems.

I personally had the opportunity to work in this field; I used to inspect such farms. I can tell you that one can never be too careful about contact between farms. The minister said that it is absolutely essential for visitors to take all the necessary precautions, and I fully agree. The cars and trucks driven by those needing to visit such farms must be inspected. It is absolutely essential that the necessary efforts be made so that, at that level, the disease is not spread within a riding or outside it.

Enormous damage has already been done. We can imagine what this means for poultry farmers who have to slaughter their entire stock and sterilize all their equipment.

This is a fairly considerable loss of revenue, a major financial loss. I hope that the minister will look to providing assistance for these people, who are not responsible for such an epidemic in their area.

Often people think that there is substantial assistance when there is reimbursement of the value of a slaughtered bird. I can tell you from experience that this is not true. When birds are slaughtered, it is often in a quarantine situation and so a great deal of expense is incurred to ensure that the entire farm and its surroundings are sterilized. This is a very expensive undertaking.

As I said, people ought not to panic in this case because this is a disease rarely transmitted to humans. The necessary precautions must be taken, however, to ensure farms are inspected.

I would like to congratulate the minister in this instance, because action was taken quickly enough that the disease is so far limited to only one region of British Columbia. In fact, all 31 affected farms are in the same area.

Had the same been done, or had there been perhaps a little less panic about mad cow, the burden on the taxpayer would have been far less.

As I have already said, Quebec producers have suffered, and are still suffering, financially because of one mad cow 4,000 km away. That time they did not deal with only the area in which there was an epidemic and so the whole country suffered.

Now, at least where avian flu is concerned, they do know how to monitor the situation, so the rest of the industry will not suffer if all necessary precautions are taken. Precautions must be taken, and we can never take too many if we want other countries to continue to trade with us. Let us keep in mind how heavy the cost was in the case of mad cow, because the border was closed down.

We know that the entire poultry production is quota-driven. This is what is called supply management. Because of the 19 million chickens to be slaughtered—and we hope that is as high as the number will go—there will be a shortage, and we will have to accept imports. Caution is in order, however, because the entire supply management system cannot be made to suffer from the presence of this disease in one part of the country. This is why the import licences for poultry must be temporary ones.

What the farmer fears is that the border will open to quota-free imports and that this will become a habit. We will be very tough about this. The Bloc Quebecois agrees with quota-free imports for replacing the losses, but not if this creates a poultry shortage here. Nonetheless, this needs to be limited to this case exclusively, in other words, temporary permits need to be granted.

In my opinion, with specialization in agriculture and the huge size of farms, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food should, in the future, be more cautious and increase the number of inspectors and surveillance of farms.

Farmers need to be encouraged to conduct their own surveillance in order to limit as much as possible epidemics that could be extremely serious for all large-scale cattle or poultry farmers. I am certain that inspecting farms and taking precautions to contain diseases such as this one will prevent epidemics that could be extremely serious for all farmers.

Sometimes when I would visit farms with 100,000 chickens, or 20,000, 25,000 or 30,000 turkeys, I would say to myself that it would be catastrophic if ever we had to cull all this poultry because of a disease that might spread across the country. We know this type of poultry breeding exists throughout the country.

We have to applaud the fact that the current threat was limited only to the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. All the stakeholders who have to work in agriculture must take extreme precautions to ensure that there is as little risk as possible of epidemic in the future.

I am pleased that we are having this debate tonight because this is a major problem. Naturally, I call upon the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to help those who are suffering the impact of the avian flu. We are ready to offer our assistance in replacing the destroyed birds by imports as far as possible. Nevertheless, as I was saying, the import permits must be temporary.

The minister replied earlier to some of the questions I had. I was wondering, for example, what would happen if someone had to destroy a flock of very expensive animals, such as emus. I do not know if there are any in the region affected by this disease, but here in Quebec there are several farms that raise these extremely expensive birds, which can cost many hundreds of dollars each.

In such a case, do we have the necessary provisions to compensate producers if, unfortunately, such farms were affected by this disease? The birds would have to be slaughtered if that happened.

Perhaps we will have an opportunity to ask a few more questions of the minister. Right now, however, people are living with insecurity. They wonder what will happen if a similar disease were to strike farms raising specialized fowl whose unit value is infinitely greater than that of a chicken or a turkey.

We were speaking about geese earlier. I know that in Quebec—and perhaps not only in Quebec—there are emus and ostriches that cost around $1,000 each. Can we guarantee that we will help these producers or the producers in the region where fowl are being destroyed, if they have that kind of farm?

I thank you for proposing this debate this evening. I think it is an extremely important one. We expect the minister to take precautions to pay the producers who are facing this disease, but we also want him to take the opportunity, perhaps, to add some inspectors and veterinarians. With the quality and the large scale of our farms, we must take the precaution of increasing safety so that no catastrophe occurs, which could be disastrous for all of Quebec and Canadian agriculture.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

7:50 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure as always to take part in a debate in this special chamber.

Tonight, of course, we are talking about the avian influenza issue. As I understand it, four main sectors are impacted: the chicken industry, the turkey industry, the egg industry, and the broiler hatching egg producers. In British Columbia we are told that of the poultry products in that province 80% comes from the Fraser Valley. The revenue generated exceeds $1 billion annually, so losing more than $3 million a week and the phased in depopulation of the 19 million birds will cost the B.C. industry hundreds of millions of dollars this year.

We know that the virus is concentrated in manure and in nasal and eye discharges of infected birds and that contact with wild birds is the highest risk for contamination since they carry the disease without necessarily showing the symptoms. Bird droppings, dust and soil all can serve as transmission corridors for the disease, together with vehicles, cages and clothing, which can carry the virus as well. Feed and water, where shared with the wild bird population, can also be a source. The minister, in answer to my question a few minutes ago, talked about the high pathogen-low pathogen issue.

The first line of defence, we all agree, is limiting what comes into contact with the birds. We know that biosecurity will break the cycle of contact, but in this case humans appear to be responsible for the rapid spread of the disease in British Columbia. I will now quote Dr. Brian Evans, the chief veterinarian of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, who suggests exactly this: that the investigation points to human transfer of the virus. Dr. Evans said:

Owners and managers of multiple barns, catching crews, feed suppliers, staff. Even the bio-security staff may be involved.

That is the issue on this particular contagious outbreak, an outbreak that is contagious among the chicken population. The avian flu in British Columbia is now in its third month. It has just started. It exploded from a small number of affected birds, a small number of affected farms, and a small geographic area within the Fraser Valley. It has now exploded outside the valley area and 19 million birds are going to be destroyed.

The biosecurity has been very seriously impacted and violated here and that is the question that must be answered. I do not know if this particular strain of avian flu is more serious or more virulent than the strains of the virus detected in Texas and Delaware earlier this year, but I do know that those two outbreaks in those two states were contained much more efficiently than how this has been contained in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

In Gonzales County in Texas, 7,000 broiler chickens were destroyed on February 21 after an Asian influenza strain, H5N2, was discovered in a flock in that country. According to the Texas Animal Health Commission, since mid-February of this year more than 250 non-commercial and commercial flocks were tested within a 10 mile radius and no additional avian influenza infections were detected in those tests.

In Texas, owners of the 30 flocks within the five mile affected zone were able to move poultry or eggs only after obtaining a permit. Flocks in the affected zones underwent a minimum of four re-tests to the birds most likely to have been exposed to the virus. Strict biosecurity measures were utilized from the outset to prevent the potential transmission of disease from one farm to the other.

Texas made it clear that their teams would disinfect equipment, boots, vehicles and vehicle tires and sanitize and bag all disposable gear. From the outset, they urged poultry producers to take similar precautions and prohibit unnecessary traffic onto farms.

Poultry in the buffer zone, outside the impacted area, were all tested on at least one occasion. Did we carry out similar tests and retests in Canada? I do not know. It is not clear from the information that has been received or is available.

The CFIA website, on March 1, said 16,000 birds in British Columbia and that, it was suggested, would complete the process. Ten days later, as the minister himself indicated, he declared a control in the Fraser Valley to prevent spread of the disease. Ten days. Should we have acted more quickly? It certainly seems like the Texans acted faster.

Information continued to worsen and by March 24, CFIA decided to depopulate all remaining flocks in the high risk region. The 16,000 birds had grown to 275,000. Two weeks after that, on April 5, depopulation of all commercial poultry flocks and other backyard birds in the control area, a total of 19 million birds. Quite a progression: 16,000, two weeks later it becomes 275,000, and two weeks after that it becomes 19 million.

Did CFIA and the minister, and the department do the right thing, at the right time? I do not know. But I, like a lot of other Canadians, have every right to wonder. Texas restricted its kill to 7,000.

Like the mover of this motion that we are debating tonight, I am not an expert and I am certainly not a scientist; however, I would agree strenuously for an independent panel similar to what happened in the aftermath of the BSE issue to conduct an investigation at the appropriate time when this virus is finally contained to ascertain what the government and the industry did right and where we went wrong, if we went wrong at all, and what we would do in the future.

I have another example from south of the border. When the State of Delaware, on February 7, learned that two birds in that state had tested positive, all 12,000 birds in the flock were immediately destroyed. Not fast enough however before the disease had spread to both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Three days later an additional 73,000 chickens were slaughtered on an adjacent Delaware farm following one bird that had tested positive.

I want to quote what the secretary of agriculture for the State of Delaware said, right at the outset:

This now is a very, very serious matter. We have a multibillion-dollar industry at stake.

He urged reporters not to visit farms because it might spread the disease further. “I am asking and pleading for your cooperation”, he told the media.

Were similar travel restrictions placed in the B.C. hot zone? Perhaps. But I have not heard about it. It seems to me that I can recall seeing a lot of footage in the early days after the outbreak was first diagnosed in British Columbia of television cameras and birds that were being destroyed.

When the executive vice-president of the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, appeared on March 30 before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, I do not recall him saying anything about restricting vehicles at that time in the affected areas for reporters or for other organizations. He did say the agency would reassess other biosecurity control measures at the appropriate time.

We certainly expect this agency to do that because when I look at the Delaware and Texas situations, it seems to me that the end result was a lot less severe than what was being impacted in British Columbia. Perhaps, because strict precautions were taken at the outset. It is all well and good for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to say that when the outbreak was first diagnosed in British Columbia it was assumed that it was a low pathogen, and then it mutated into a high pathogen, but perhaps we should have assumed that it was a high pathogen at the outset and taken the appropriate strict monitoring controls at that time. Perhaps that is what Texas and Delaware did and we did not.

Poultry officials in Delaware hoped the combined announcements in that state, together with Texas and Maryland, now that the disease has been eradicated, would help persuade the 50 countries that have banned American poultry imports from those states to lift them.

The question must be asked, how long will it take our officials once we have finished all of our work and we are satisfied that there is no more positive test results? When we have eliminated 19 million, surely the outside world is going to look at that and say that this is a much more serious problem because Canada has eliminated so many more birds than the under 100,000, as far as I can tell, that were eliminated in all of the United States that had avian influenza this spring.

Certainly, the result is the need in Canada for more biosecurity and a great deal more surveillance as a matter of routine. My colleague from the Bloc Quebecois put that very well in his remarks.

The question I guess now is, where do we go from here? Compensation has been promised, but certainly the compensation program will have shrunk on the per bird basis because when we had 16,000 birds impacted there was talk about the value that would be placed on each bird. However, when we are slaughtering 19 million, obviously the cost per bird is going to go down very considerably.

Chicken and egg farmers would argue for appropriate and timely compensation. They would also point out the important role of their industries in providing nutritious safe food from Canada and the need for full cooperation and consultation among all levels of government and the industry. I appreciate that in terms of the government and I believe in terms of the industry we can say that there has been, as far as we can tell, full cooperation and coordination on this important issue.

The critical situation is a long way from being over, but when it is, we need compensation for the industry, and we need to reopen and push to reopen borders as quickly as possible. Again, I stress we need a review of what we did right and the mistakes that were made so that we can learn from them.

Personally, I have a very difficult time understanding how a relatively small outbreak on February 19 turned into a 19 million chicken depopulation two months later. As I said before, I do not think that I am the only one who feels this way. I hope and think that the appropriate questions will be asked at the appropriate time.

The impact on human health appears to be low and chickens that do not carry the disease are safe to eat as are the eggs that come from disease free chickens.

There is no question that the depopulation of the commercial and the backyard flocks is the best means of ending the crisis. However, despite the best efforts of government and industry, the disease has spread and spread rapidly. It has created a significant threat to a very profitable chicken industry, poultry and eggs, and has negatively affected those producers in a very serious way.

We are not doing terribly well over the last year or so when it comes to public health issues. I appreciate that with avian flu and the mad cow issue the chances of human beings being impacted by that in any serious way are almost negligible; however, in addition to those, we have had SARS and the West Nile virus. Our commitment to public health in terms of the money that has been pushed in that envelope has diminished greatly in recent years. It is a good thing that we have revitalized a public health agency announced in the budget and it is important that the new agency be up and running just as quickly as possible.

Canadians should be concerned that when this AI H7N3 strain was discovered and recorded on February 19, we were told that only 16,000 chickens and turkeys would be destroyed. That, as I said before, has now jumped to the incredibly high number of 19 million.

I referred the House to what the chief veterinarian had said. He said that humans were probably the main culprit in spreading the disease. I am reminded of the old Pogo cartoon, “We have seen the enemy and it is us”. We need to do things differently.

I say that in reference to a reporter that has been following this issue, who was aware of what had happened in the United States, in Texas, Delaware and the other states. When he confronted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials about the low numbers of birds killed in those states compared with the 19 million in Canada, the answer that he received from that CFIA official was apparently, “We do things differently here”. Obviously, we do things differently, but I am not sure that killing 19 million birds as opposed to killing less than 100,000 in total in the United States suggests that we are doing things right.

It is important to reassure Canadian consumers that neither the BSE issue nor the avian flu will cause individuals harm. Right now there is no risk to the general public and there is a need to ensure the public that the virus does not cause any changes to any genetic re-assortment with human flu. The health of barn workers and those who come into any contact with the birds is a concern. The minister indicated that a couple of individuals have had flu and another two have come down with conjunctivitis. Certainly, it is in sharp contrast to the avian flu in Asia, which has killed 22 human beings so far this year.

There are far more questions at this point than there are answers, but we do need to do an analysis and prepare. I think we will find that we need to do things a lot differently the next time that we have an avian flu outbreak in this country.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

8:10 p.m.

Sydney—Victoria Nova Scotia


Mark Eyking LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Agri-Food)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to participate in this emergency debate on the avian influenza. At the outset let me express my support, and I am sure the support of all hon. members here this evening from both sides, for the member for Langley--Abbotsford and his constituents.

We are hearing good presentations here this evening and we are hearing very good questions. That is very good, not only for this House, but for farmers across the country and also the Canadian public at large.

This is a very trying time for the people of Langley--Abbotsford. Although the avian influenza does not pose a risk to human health or food safety, it is a very serious issue for the poultry industry. It is hard for poultry producers and for many people whose livelihoods depend upon this industry. It is difficult as well for everyone who must abide by the restrictions in this controlled area. I want to assure the people in the hon. member's riding that the sacrifices they are making are not in vain. We will make every effort to eradicate this disease.

Once the CFIA confirmed the presence of avian influenza in the Fraser Valley, the agency responded immediately by placing the infected premises under quarantine and depopulating all bird. Because the avian influenza is very contagious, as we heard this evening, the CFIA began a surveillance program and established movement restrictions for birds and bird products to stop the spread of this bad disease.

On March 11 the Minister of Agriculture responsible for CFIA, established a control area in the B.C. Fraser Valley to prevent the spread of this avian influenza. This action followed the findings of low pathogenic avian influenza on a farm in the valley in February, which was later found to be high pathogenic, as well as the presence of the avian influenza on a second farm in the area in early March.

On April 5 we announced the depopulation of all commercial poultry flocks and other backyard birds in a controlled area that was established on March 11 in the Fraser Valley. The decision was based on recommendations by the CFIA, and we also consulted with the province of British Columbia and the poultry industry.

It is very important that we take the strong measures required to eliminate this very bad disease as quickly as possible. Our first line of defence against the spread of this disease and our first line of attack in stamping it out is biosecurity, as was mentioned tonight. Following proper biosecurity practices will ensure that all the hard work the people in Langley--Abbotsford have done will pay off in containing the spread of avian influenza.

One of the most important biosecurity measures has been preventing unauthorized access to premises where the birds are being kept. The CFIA has taken legal steps that require poultry owners to control access to their premises by fixing a notice at the entrance of their property prohibiting unauthorized entry to their farm.

Before allowing anyone entry into their property, poultry owners must check to ensure that the vehicles have been thoroughly cleaned with an approved disinfectant. These vehicles must be cleaned both before and after they leave the premises. Any equipment entering and leaving the farm must also be thoroughly washed and disinfected, and all visitors must wear clean, protective clothing and footwear. There must also be a foot bath placed at the entrance of all poultry houses.

My family has a poultry farm and I know from experience the hardship this can cause, not only to the farm family and the employees but also to the customers. These farmers are used to producing a product and delivering it to the customer on a regular basis, so this is a very serious situation.

Precautions have to be taken and these precautions will make a difference. They are an important part of an action plan that the government has had in place since February, which continues to evolve in response to this disease.

I would like to remind the House that the quick and decisive action by the CFIA has been instrumental in ensuring that a bad situation has not been much worse. We have contained the disease to the control area first defined last February. We are taking decisive action to control the spread of the disease. We will eventually stamp it out.

Our stamping out policy includes humane destruction of all infected and exposed animals, as well as the surveillance and tracing of potentially infected and exposed animals. We have prohibited the movement of bird products, such as eggs and meat, between these premises.

There are some very specific situations where the CFIA permits may allow limited movement, but generally bird owners cannot directly sell or donate restricted items to consumers or retailers. This applies to the farm gate sales of eggs, which is a common practice in this area. Buyers and sellers should be aware that fines may be issued if eggs or other restricted products are moved illegally. That is how serious this situation is.

As well, CFIA checkpoints have been established at B.C. ferry terminals, highway weigh stations and toll booths to ensure the disease does not spread beyond the control area. No birds will be allowed to leave the control area. The stamping out policy also includes the thorough decontamination of infected premises and zoning to define infected and disease free areas.

We face the very big challenge of depopulating and disposing of 19 million birds within the control area. This is a pre-emptive strike to control the spread of the disease. The slaughter of healthy flocks in proximity to known infected premises is an internationally recognized strategy to effectively eradicate highly infectious diseases that are in these animals. Our plan, which actually exceeds those of international standards, is justified by the rapid movement of this disease.

This depopulation will take some time. This effort will also require the assistance and cooperation of all partners, whether it is farmers, the industry or whoever else is involved in this production. The CFIA will work closely with these partners to move as quickly as possible in this effort.

The CFIA will also oversee the depopulation of the infected flocks. These birds will undergo a process to render the virus inactive on the premises or be trucked to an incineration site or to be rendered. Depopulation is taking place as we speak here this evening.

We are depopulating the control area and we are starting with the premises where infection is present or suspected. Right now the slaughter of all infected birds has been completed. Any new cases of infected flocks will continue to be a priority as the depopulation proceeds. Eliminating these birds as quickly as possible will minimize the risk of the further spread of this disease. As we continue to follow this strategy step by step, we should see fewer, if any, new cases of infection.

Poultry from non-affected flocks can be processed under full inspection in registered establishments and made available for sale right across the country. Industry is responsible for the removal of the birds that have tested negative for the avian influenza, either through routine slaughter for human consumption or for rendering. Poultry products from non-infected flocks for which there is no market will be disposed of through landfill or incineration.

A lot of steps are being followed to eradicate this disease.

While our primary concern is the protection of food safety and animal health, we are also committed to implementing disease control measures that would be no more restrictive than necessary. The agency's approach continues to be directed by science. We must act by science and not by emotion. Science has demonstrated that fresh and frozen poultry meat can be moved safely under certain circumstances.

I want to emphasize that the CFIA will take the precautions needed to protect the environment and remove potential infected material in a way that will eradicate this disease.

The people of British Columbia have responded to the major challenge in helping us dispose of these birds. I know there has been some tension in communities that have been asked to do their part to stem the contagious disease in Langley--Abbotsford. We appreciate the support and understanding of these communities and we thank them for the work they have done so far. We look forward to the day when things can get back to normal throughout the whole province.

Another important aspect of preventing further spread of the disease lies with communicating with the public. The agency has public service announcements available to radio stations in the control area. We have printed ads also and they are being placed in daily and weekly newspapers throughout the whole control area. The agency has several technical briefings to update the media of this terrible situation in the Fraser Valley. Producers, media and the public can subscribe to an e-mail service to receive notifications and updates on this important issue.

Also, last week the agency held an avian influenza open house. The session for Fraser Valley residents was hosted by CFIA and the various municipalities in the surrounding area, and we appreciate their cooperation. Biosecurity was among the topics of discussion at the session which was well attended and well accepted by the local residents. More of these information sessions will be planned because education is very important. It is a very busy valley. A lot of people go through it, and everybody has to know the seriousness of the situation.

Finally, let me say a few words about the compensation for the affected producers because it was mentioned by the hon. members quite a bit here this evening. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides compensation to owners of animals ordered destroyed under the authority of the Health of Animals Act. This compensation program is part of the CFIA's effort to control or eradicate animal diseases that have threatened any Canadian livestock population.

The amount of compensation awarded to owners is determined by the assessment of the market value of the animal. It takes into consideration things such as the genetic background, the age and the production records and puts all these things in context. Therefore, the range of compensation could vary quite a bit.

I would like to talk about the issue of the broader producer compensation for a moment. At this time we do not know what the full impact of this avian flu will be, but we know it will be major. That is why our government is working with the province and with the industry to assess the full impact of this avian influenza. That there is concern about the potential financial losses for producers is very understandable. Once the investigation is complete we will be in a better position to determine what steps are necessary.

The members of the House should also be aware that under the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, producers of supply managed commodities are protected if their production margin drops by more than 30%.

The day will come, and we hope it will come very soon, when this challenge will be behind us and the control area restrictions will be removed.

After an affected flock has been depopulated, the infected farm has to be cleaned out, disinfected and left free from birds. After 21 days, the incubation stage, a sentinel flock will be placed to determine if any infectious disease remains. Once it is cleaned out and put in a dormant stage for 21 days, they will place more birds to see if the influenza is still active. That gives a good signal if the farmer has cleaned it up well enough. We will maintain strict surveillance on this restocked flock to see whether the virus is still present.

After the last infected farm has gone through this whole process and has been found to be free of disease, we will lift control restrictions. Even after the agency has lifted the restrictions, it may take longer to bring trading relations back to normal, because it takes a long while to get back into business.

The OIE, an international standard setting body for animal diseases, allows up to a six month disease free period for trading partners to consider Canada free of avian influenza and to open borders to our poultry. We are fortunate that most of our poultry products are consumed domestically, so we should be able to get back into business a lot sooner.

Opening the borders to poultry and poultry products from the Fraser Valley will be a challenge. However, we are confident that our proposed action plan to depopulate and stamp out this disease will maintain the confidence of consumers, both domestic and international.

The chicken industry of Canada is showing a remarkable determination to work together to supply the B.C. market. British Columbians eat a lot of chickens and eggs. First and foremost we see farmers helping farmers, supplying the product from the rest of Canada to the B.C. processing industry for further processing and distribution.

If after this has been fully utilized and there is still a market shortage in British Columbia, then and only then will we consider how to supplement imports so we can fill the gap. We are going to try to get all sources from Canada through different agencies like the Chicken Marketing Agency and CEMA to make sure we have enough products going into British Columbia. If we are still short, we might have to bring them in from other sources. One may be the United States.

The focus has been to support the B.C. industry in maintaining its long term viability and customers as we work to restore the flocks. Special supplementary imports would be allowed when alternate domestic supplies are not available during this recovery period, because we do not want the people in British Columbia going without poultry products.

All members of affected areas--the farmers, the processors and others--in British Columbia and nationally are working hard to meet the challenge facing B.C.'s poultry industry. The government will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to ensure that the B.C. poultry and egg industry gets the support it needs.

I had the opportunity last week to go to British Columbia. I talked to many people affected by this outbreak. There is a big concern out there, but I can reassure people from British Columbia who are in this industry that we are going to work diligently with them to get them through this situation and get them back on their feet.

This will take a lot of effort and it will require time, but we will get through this crisis and we will emerge with a poultry industry restored to its former strength. We will learn a lot from this and have a food health and safety system that is stronger than ever for having withstood the test.

I join with my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford in offering hope and encouragement to his constituents for better times ahead. I thank him for bringing this up for debate tonight.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

8:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, here we are again having another emergency debate so it must be about agriculture, another crisis in agriculture in Canada. It is just crisis after crisis. I guess that in the long term a crisis is an opportunity if we come out of it stronger than when we went in, but what have we learned from past crises in agriculture in this country? What have we gained? Have we come out stronger?

I should mention at this time that I will be splitting my time with the member for Fraser Valley.

The member opposite who just finished talking said the whole premise is to come out of this as good or better than we were before. That is a wonderful sentiment and I do not think anybody would ever argue with that, but how do we get there?

The debate tonight is not even about compensation. It is about the timeliness of that compensation. We are two months into this, two months almost to the day.

The member opposite was talking about how we eradicate this, the 21 days of cleanup, the 30 days of a sentinel flock and so on. That is after the last barn is cleaned out. But we already have guys who have been in this crisis for two months. That is one complete cycle in a broiler operation. That broiler operation has been taken out of business for one full cycle already and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

So when the government talks about how compensation is going to come some day, what about interim payments? Let us keep these guys alive. They have to get up tomorrow. Not only that, these guys are carrying on with expenses. Getting rid of the flock is the easy part. They are gassed, put on a truck and hauled away. That is the easy part.

Then that barn has to be cleaned out. Something has to be done with that manure. It has to be composted to a certain temperature to kill the virus and the cost of that is left with the farmer. All of these interim steps have to be taken for which there will be no compensation. Let us get that on the record right now. Those guys over there can promise that and hang it out there, but they have never given compensation back into other industries. They have never done that.

My area had the chronic wasting disease with elk. Three years later there is no more outbreak, the area is absolutely clean, and yet I have guys in my area who still have their corrals, their yards and their land quarantined. They are still being held off from putting animals back on their property, their own property.

They skinned off topsoil, a foot of it, mixed it with lime, rolled it and did all the things that the CFIA said, but they are still not able to put animals back into their facilities, not even if they want cattle or buffalo or something else that is not even conducive to CWD. They are not even allowed to do that. They cannot put animals back into their pasture areas to graze it off. Some of those areas are rocky and cannot be cut for hay, which farmers are allowed to do, but that is not feasible.

There is so much more to this compensation than meets the eye. We have to talk about the cashflow of the business. This is big business. This is a billion dollar industry in British Columbia alone. We have to talk about cashflow for these guys. We have to talk about interim programs that will keep them alive so they are able to restock their barns in six months or eight months or whatever. That is not being addressed at all by the government.

The minister and the parliamentary secretary both stood up and gave us some placating signals about how they are looking after this. Farmers already know all of that. They have been to the briefing sessions.

One thing we learned out of the CWD crisis and of course the BSE crisis, which we are still mired in, is that there is a lack of communication, a lack of good, solid, grounded evidence and solutions and so on that can be talked about. It is all pie in the sky. The government says it will compensate at market value and will figure x equals y but minus a and so on.

That is just fundamental stuff. The problem is, what do we do in the meantime? What keeps these farmers moving and growing and going in the Fraser Valley? God forbid the avian flu leaps out of there and goes somewhere else. There is an excellent chance of that happening.

The message has to get out to consumers across Canada. They are smart folks. They know value when they see it. Canadians' food supply is the safest, the most secure and the cheapest in the world, bar none. That whole safe, secure package is borne at the farm gate; it does not matter what commodity one buys. It is borne at the farm gate because that is who pays the bills to make sure we have a safe, secure food supply.

Nine days into the year consumers have paid Canadian producers for their product, only nine days, so it is just unconscionable that when there is a crisis like this the producer himself has to pick up the slack. We have to get past that whole concept. When the Prime Minister was in Montreal he was asked about this by Quebec producers concerned about what could happen. The Prime Minister actually said, and I quote, “it's a problem hidden behind the Rockies”. That is an insult to agriculture as a whole, let alone the chicken producers and poultry guys in British Columbia.

It is unconscionable for the Prime Minister to say that it is a little problem hidden behind the Rockies. It is a huge problem in Canada whether it is on that side of the Rockies or this side. It does not matter: we are a Confederation. We all look out for each other and we do that whether it is fires, floods, snowstorms or whatever. That is what we do, Mr. Speaker.

When it comes to our safe, secure food supply, we had better ramp it up. We had better be there. I do not see that signal coming from the government. We are not proactive in any of these situations. Again I go back to the elk farmers and the BSE, and now there is the avian flu. Pork of course is on the radar screen and has had and will continue to have problems.

We have a whole agricultural sector in peril in the country. It comes from 10 years of saying, “Well, the producer can carry that”. It comes from a lack of funding and lack of fundamental thought process: if we do not have a robust farm gate, we do not need all of the other stuff. We do not need the food safety programs and all the process, because there is nothing to process.

If we let the farm gate go, if we do not backstop it every step of the way, we might as well kiss it all goodbye and start importing our product from wherever. Then we will have no control over the safety and security, absolutely none, and there are all the processors and all the jobs that go with it. The third largest contributor to the GDP in the country is that little thing we call agriculture and it gets half of one per cent of government spending.

The member opposite talked about the CAIS program. If the supply managed sector sees a 30% drop in its reference margins, it will be there for them. The problem with the CAIS program is that there is a little fly in the ointment called the negative margin, which is not covered. When we have no production for the amount of time that we are talking about, we are into negative margins, not 30%. We are talking 100%. That is not covered.

Those little glitches in this APF they have been playing around with for over a year now have to be fixed. They have to be addressed and the government does not seem to have the gumption to do that. I think we have a huge wake-up call in crisis after crisis in every aspect of agriculture in the country. It is a call for this government on the other side to wake up and smell the roses.

We are losing everything here very quickly. We are down to having 2% of the population left on the land to produce product. The 100% of us who are the consumers owe it all to the 2% who do the job and still contribute 3% to the GDP. Those guys are working 24/7. The whole family is involved in most cases. A lot of them have to go off farm to support the farming habit because of tax laws and everything else.

The fellows involved in the avian crisis will be very much like those involved in the BSE and elk and so on if they do trigger a cash payout, which is never enough: it will all be taxed. There is no deferral mechanism in place that will stage it out long enough so that they can come back and be stronger than they were before.

We need a three year or five year deferral on this. We have written these letters to the finance minister, to the agriculture minister and so on, on behalf of my constituent, Mel McRae, who had the search out herd for BSE--they think. He said he did not. He had pedigreed cattle. We talk about market value, but they just took him as a beef herd.

They did not give him any extra money for his 43 years of genetic work, none. Plus he had to clean up his corrals and bring his neighbours in to help move the cattle and so on. There was no compensation for that. There is no compensation for the heart sickness one endures after that. Then he got a “dunner” from Revenue Canada saying, “Oh, by the way, you are going to get taxed on this money”. That is before he has a chance to get back on his feet.

Those are the types of things that the producers in B.C. had better come to grips with and had better be prepared for. As for all the placating from the members and the minister over there about how they are there for them, let me say grab your butts, guys, it is going to be a long tough ride.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

8:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this unfortunate outbreak of avian flu that sparked tonight's emergency debate started in my riding. The Minister of Agriculture got hold of me shortly after it was discovered on the first farm in Matsqui Prairie. He warned me that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had determined that there was at least one farm infected with some sort of avian flu, and at that time it was not clear whether it was high or low pathogenic strain, and that they were treating it as a potential crisis.

I thanked him for getting hold of me. I agreed with him that every precaution possible should be taken immediately. I did pass along to him a warning at that time. There is a heavy concentration of poultry farms in the valley. The valley is a narrow geographic area. There is not a lot of room for error. We are smack dab in the middle of a major flyway for wild ducks and geese. The combination of all of that could make for a very potent and very terrible problem for the industry.

Of course, as it turns out, the problem has necessitated the complete depopulation, or that is the plan, of the chicken, turkey, and feather industry in the valley. The industry players are asking the minister to address many issues, hopefully tonight during the course of this debate.

Just to be clear, there are 31 farms identified so far. There are 19 million birds affected. One million of them are infected with the flu and the rest will be depopulated in the regular course as they mature.

I want to thank people like Ken Falk, Fred Krohn, Marie and Mark Tupper, Ray Nichol, Rick Thiessen and others from organizations and from larger farms in my area who have helped me with this. They are very concerned this evening about what is going to happen in their industries in the weeks to come.

These are questions that we need answered. First of all, tell us when and how the compensation will happen.

I wrote a letter to the Minister of Agriculture last Friday spelling out many of the concerns of local producers. I urged the minister not to use an existing agricultural program to administer compensation if that program was not designed for the supply managed business and was not designed to address a crisis like this. The talk about using the GRIP or CAIS programs and so on has the local producers and farmers scared to death.

I also warned him that in some of those programs the trigger for the compensation is a drop in revenue of 30%. Yet, depending on their fiscal year end, some of our farmers may end up with a 50% drop in their income in a calendar year, cleaned right out for the next six months perhaps. What if it is split over two fiscal years? Then they will not make the 30% qualifying number and they will get nothing. That obviously is not acceptable.

Compensation needs to come quickly. If any of that compensation is held up, as has happened with the BSE for example, it will destroy the industry. It cannot afford that kind of lengthy delay.

While the CFIA has a formula to pay for the destroyed birds, it does not address the other issues like lost income and interruption to business costs.

I spoke with one farmer the other day who has a mortgage payment of $15,000 a month. That does not include any of his personal costs for him and his family. He also admits that it is not a big farm. Many farmers have mortgage costs of $20,000, $25,000 and $30,000 a month just to keep the banks from repossessing.

There needs to be some compensation for loss of income. Simply paying for the poultry, as important as that is, will not keep these farms viable.

I also urged Farm Credit Corporation and the banks to get into this now. They need to do their part to allow these farms to remain viable, to put off the interest owed on these loans, and so on. It is in no one's interest that these farms go under.

Tonight we heard from the minister that it is yet to be determined what kind of compensation they will be getting. There will be future compensation, sometime; they are looking at it. But any specific talk about deferred taxation, ways to look after the farmers going into this difficult summer ahead, there is just no talk of that. We need to get specifics and we need to get them soon.

It is critical that the government understand that this industry is so integrated, so finely tuned and interdependent that it is a just in time industry. Every component of the industry must be in place for any of this industry to work. That is why, for example, the sawdust delivering companies are as an integral part as are the chicken catchers, who sent me letters concerned about all the people they laid off. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union already have 400 people laid off. They expect thousands to be laid off in this industry.

The feed mills have contacted me. Many in my riding have told me they are closing the poultry divisions, laying off all their employees. It is the same for the truckers and so on. These people need to be around. The entire industry needs to be there when we come back on stream. If a part of it is missing, the industry cannot survive. It is a just in time industry. All parts of it have to be there when the flu has been treated and the industry comes back on stream.

That is why related industries are asking the government to consider waiving the two week waiting period for EI for example, not because people deserve something for nothing, but because people are being asked to sacrifice their jobs for the good of the industry and the country. If we ask them to sacrifice their jobs and give up their employment, even though they themselves have done nothing wrong, then it is only right that we address those particular concerns.

Finally, for the poultry industry which has some of the most sophisticated and prudent agriculture producers in the world, we need to work together to ensure this does not happen again. The industry folks are ready to do their part. Without pointing any fingers or demanding anything outrageous, we all want to get to the bottom of where this flu came from and how it spread so quickly. Then we need to develop protocols to prevent it from happening again. The farmers are ready to do that. They are ready to work with CFIA to do that. That certainly has to be in place as the industry gets back on its feet.

There are other people affected by this depopulation order. The specialty bird market could be especially hard hit since it is not covered under a supply managed system. Its birds are genetically unique and very expensive. While they are not sick birds, these birds are perfectly healthy and suffer no symptoms of any disease, they could be carriers. Therefore they are being sacrificed in this depopulation order.

In other words, an industry that has no sickness, no problem, no danger to human health, no danger to its own population may be ordered to be completely depopulated in order to protect an adjoining industry. The producers in that industry say if that is going to happen, there are some specific things they need for protection. They are very concerned and who can blame them?

On the duck and goose farms in my riding some of the birds in those areas have been under genetic development for up to 60 years. Some of them have a veterinarian living on site to look after the breeding programs and look after the health of the birds. They are as careful as they can be and now those birds may all be gone, after generations of developing a specific specialty bird that supplies fresh meat throughout the lower mainland in Canada.

Once lost, those birds, the quail, chickens, pigeons and commercial ducks which are superior in growth, uniformity and egg production to anything else and are not available anywhere else, will be lost probably forever. They cannot be replaced. They are not like a pullet. It is not like the chicken industry that can order up replacement chickens once this terrible thing is behind us. The chicken industry can phone up suppliers and that chicken is genetically the same from anywhere in North America. Those ducks, geese, quail and pigeons are not. They are a specialty and to depopulate them, to kill them all means they are irreplaceable.

If there is no way to preserve or isolate and protect these specialty birds, what happens to the people in the industry? These specialty breeders point out that the compensation suggested by CFIA will be totally inadequate. It will be $30 per duck. That is the same price as one could get for a chicken. However the chicken growers who are going through a crisis do not go through the same genetic development process that is necessary to produce the ducks. Those producers have to do that on their own. The chickens are developed. They are a genetically identical bird. They are ordered up by the millions, but these other birds are a speciality.

When we talk to a pigeon grower for example, pigeon or squab, it is a unique thing. Those pigeons mate for life. In other words, when growers start breeding pigeons for sale later, they have to mate them up. They mate for life and it is an ongoing process. It is not a matter of cleaning out the barns and hoping for the best. They are there all the time. It is an ongoing breeding program.

Simply put, if they are completely eradicated, the species for all intents and purposes, at least at the commercial level, will be gone forever.

I have appreciated the minister's willingness to talk with me and keep me in the loop, but we need in a hurry from the minister some specifics on the compensation. There are people like April Hanes who wrote to me about her backyard chickens. Other people raise them for 4-H clubs. They are like pets. Those people need to be informed and kept in the loop.

Right now there is just too much misinformation or rumours, or we just cannot get what we need in a timely fashion. Let us keep people in the loop and informed. Let us keep the locals, especially the young girls and boys who are raising chickens basically for pets, in the loop as well. Let us get adequate compensation, not just for the birds that are going to be depopulated, but for the businesses that we need to keep this billion dollar industry viable in the Fraser Valley. Let us do it soon.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

8:45 p.m.

Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-De-La-Madeleine—Pabok Québec


Georges Farrah LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure to speak tonight in response to the motion by my colleague from British Columbia on the outbreak of avian influenza.

This outbreak has devastating consequences on the poultry industry in British Columbia and the many people whose livelihood depends on this industry. So it is vital to halt the spread of this disease, eradicate it and get the industry back on track.

One of the primary ways to help this industry is to encourage the resumption of trade in Canadian poultry and poultry products. In 2003, Canadian poultry and poultry product exports represented approximately $275 million. British Columbia contributed approximately 10% of these exports.

To date, 45 trading partners have taken measures in response to the avian influenza outbreak. Twenty eight of these, including Japan and South Africa, have imposed trade restrictions on all of Canada. Seventeen others, including the United States, have imposed restrictions solely on live poultry and poultry products from British Columbia.

The Government of Canada has taken measures to normalize trade relations. The Canada Food Inspection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Canadian embassies abroad are working in collaboration. Canada is keeping its trading partners fully informed of new developments through direct contact from Ottawa and in Canadian missions abroad.

First, the head veterinarian at the Canada Food Inspection Agency, Dr. Evans, sent a letter to key foreign counterparts confirming the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in British Columbia. He indicated to them, among other things, that a surveillance zone had been set up in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia.

This measure is consistent with internationally approved animal disease standards. Given the establishment of a surveillance zone and the implementation of strict control measures, we are able to ask that any measures taken by our trading partners be on a regional basis.

The government took even more energetic measures when the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced the depopulation of all commercial poultry flocks and other barnyard birds in the control area in an effort to eradicate avian influenza. This decision is based on the recommendation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in consultation with the Province of British Columbia and the poultry industry and it was not easy to make.

We understand that destroying 19 million birds will have enormous repercussions on the poultry industry. We also realize that the situation will be very difficult for many people, particularly those who keep barnyard flocks as pets.

As we have seen, this highly contagious virus spreads rapidly. We must therefore take aggressive steps to eliminate it.

I know that some people fear that avian influenza may present risks for human health. As has been said in the House, I would like to point out that it is not the same virus as the one which is now spreading and causing serious human health problems in Asia. Nevertheless, Health Canada and its federal and provincial partners are taking the avian influenza in British Columbia very seriously and are implementing firm and coordinated public health measures.

I would also like to mention that there is no public health danger associated with consuming cooked eggs or poultry meat because of those cases. In addition, Health Canada points out that poultry and egg products from the regions where avian influenza has been detected present no danger to human health.

While the risk for the general public is low, it is very important that people who are in close contact with infected poultry follow protective measures such as wearing protective clothing and glasses, and frequent hand-washing. So far, there is nothing to suggest that the virus can be transmitted to humans.

Foreign authorities have been advised that the avian influenza in Canada poses no risk to public health. We shall continue to keep the foreign authorities informed of developments in the situation and we will supply them with additional information as needed.

I want to acknowledge the importance of the open communication we have with our trading partners. Openness, transparency and trust are vital in our exchanges. Canada is known internationally for the quality of its health and food safety systems and for its openness to its trading partners. We earned this reputation over time, even in the most difficult periods.

Our system has a scientific foundation. Our willingness to share our scientific evidence with our trading partners reassures them that we will not hide anything likely to present a risk to their health and food safety systems. They trust our system and in the long term, this translates into a trust in our Canadian products.

The openness and transparency of our initiative have had some positive results. In March, for instance, the European Union was one of the trading partners that decided to set restrictions on importing poultry and poultry products from across Canada. Now, thanks in large part to the information provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, these import restrictions apply only to products from the area under surveillance in British Columbia. In fact, Canada once again has access to the European Union market and to Mexico, for some products.

This is good news for the industry in other regions in Canada and I am certain that Europeans will trust the information we release when the time comes to lift the restrictions on the area under surveillance.

Furthermore, I want to remind the House that Canada imposed its own restrictions on live poultry imports and poultry products from regions where this disease exists. We imposed restrictions on Texas as a precautionary measure following the confirmation of high pathogenic avian influenza in that state in February. On April 6, we lifted the restrictions when the United States Department of Agriculture, the USDA, announced that the outbreak in Texas had been completely eradicated. Canadian animal health officials reviewed the information provided by the USDA and acknowledged that the measures taken by the United States to fight the disease had been effective and that this country was free from high pathogenic avian influenza.

I bring this situation to the attention of the House, because I feel that it is important to reassure Canadians, particularly the representatives of the industry in the Fraser Valley, and tell them that this crisis will pass. We will stop the disease from spreading; we will eradicate it. Our trade relations will resume, as they did for the United States following the outbreak in Texas.

How can we be certain that we can eradicate the disease? When will our partners know that it is again safe to import poultry and poultry products from the Fraser Valley? Certain standards were established in this regard by the international agency responsible for animal health, the World Organization for Animal Health or OIE. In countries such as Canada, where a program has been implemented to eradicate the disease, the OIE standards state that a country can be considered free of highly pathogenic avian influenza six months after the slaughter of the last animal infected.

However, the disease eradication program must be extremely rigorous to meet OIE standards. This includes the humane depopulation of all animals infected with or exposed to the disease; the surveillance and tracking of potentially infected or exposed animals; the strict quarantine and control of the transport of animals; the rigorous decontamination of infected areas; the establishment of infected regions and disease-free zones. These standards and criteria are extremely rigorous.

Everyone within the control zone can do their share to help prevent the disease from spreading. We depend on the collaboration of poultry producers and residents of the Fraser Valley to apply the appropriate bio-safety measures and help stop the disease from spreading. The movement of people and goods likely facilitates the spread of avian influenza. That is why the Canada Food Inspection Agency is distributing public notices and holding information sessions on measures that residents can adopt to help eradicate the disease.

Producers in the control zone are legally required to affix a notice at the entrance of their property prohibiting unauthorized entry to their farm. These notices are supplied by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Before allowing anyone to enter their farm area, producers need to ensure that appropriate bio-safety measures are in place. These include thorough cleaning and disinfection of all equipment and articles of clothing that might have been in contact with an affected operation.

I should emphasize that it is illegal to enter an operation without authorization. This is a serious disease and we are taking stringent measures to eradicate it.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has imposed strict movement restrictions in order to prevent avian influenza from spreading beyond the control zone. Inspectors check for the presence of birds or poultry products on board vehicles at ferry terminals, highway weigh stations and toll stations. People travelling in these areas must pay careful attention to these restrictions. Birds, including pet birds, and other affected products may enter the zone but may not exit.

These are stringent measures, but they are necessary if we are to eradicate this disease from Canada and resume trade relations.

In the meantime, while we are taking the necessary precautions to get the poultry and poultry product export market back to normal, we want to ensure that the Fraser Valley poultry producers are going to be looked after.

The control zone contains five federally registered poultry processing plants, handling most of the chicken processing capacity of British Columbia as well as the only turkey processing facility and the only egg processing facility. The restricted circulation of products outside that zone has resulted in a glut in the region and storage facilities have reached capacity.

On April 10, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reacted to this by announcing that it would allow fresh and frozen poultry products under federal permit in the control zone to be shipped to other regions of Canada under prescribed conditions. This will make it possible to move the excess production from that zone. As far as we know, no trading partner will be making changes to its import policies as a result of this decision to allow product outside the control zone.

The government is also helping individual producers. The Canadian agricultural income stabilization program is now in place and the government is committed to explaining to producers exactly how they can access this program. Producers of supply-managed products are protected under this program if their production margin goes down by 30% or more. In addition, all farmers whose poultry are subject to a destruction notice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will be compensated through the Health of Animals Act.

The spread of avian influenza in the Fraser Valley has had serious consequences for the poultry industry, whose exports are valued at some $275 million. We are taking the measures that must be taken in order to halt and eradicate this disease and ensure the return of commercial activities. Canada's food health and safety system is internationally recognized and this reputation is now being seriously put to the test. I am confident nonetheless that we will get through this crisis. Our trade relations will be restored and our reputation will be protected thanks to the professionalism and rigour with which we are meeting this challenge.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Canadian Alliance Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this emergency debate tonight regarding the avian influenza outbreak.

While the avian flu is strongly connected to British Columbia's Fraser Valley, the issue is one of national importance. We need only to look to the far reaching economic devastation and personal losses suffered as a result of the BSE crisis to see that. After nearly a year of inaction, the Liberal government has still not been able to succeed in having the American border reopened to our cattle industry, nor has it seen fit to ensure timely compensation to affected cattle producers.

Now we have heard an order to cull commercial poultry flocks but the agriculture minister has not been able to let British Columbia producers know when they can expect compensation. It is easy to speak about agriculture or the agriculture industry. Whether we call it an industry, a sector or a business, the truth is that we are dealing with real people trying not to lose their livelihoods because of situations far beyond their control.

As a member of Parliament who lives in an area that has been ravaged by the BSE crisis, I ask the members opposite to develop a workable avian flu compensation program before this situation becomes as bad as the one faced by the cattle industry. The potential for economic disaster within the poultry industry has already begun.

While economic disaster looms for the people within this industry, our Prime Minister has different messages depending on where in the country he is speaking. In British Columbia he says that it is a priority, yet in Quebec he tells his audience that the problem is on the other side of the Rockies. This is indicative of how the Liberal government defines crisis in Canada: by region.

Whether it is SARS, BSE or the avian flu, these crises affect the entire nation and our Prime Minister and his government have to begin governing, recognizing that this is one country regardless of how diverse the regions.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has ordered approximately 19 million birds from commercial poultry flocks destroyed in an effort to contain and eradicate the avian flu disease, a contagious viral infection caused by the influenza virus type A. What will the economic impact of this cull be, not merely in the destruction of the poultry but in the cleanup and sterilization process necessary to ensure a similar outbreak does not reoccur? Despite the absence of definitive numbers, we know the cost will be catastrophic to poultry producers.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands.

This disease is not a newcomer to North America. According to the inspection agency information, cases of low pathogenic avian influenza in turkeys were often reported in the autumn during the 1960s. Three other Canadian cases were discovered between 1975 and 2000 and avian flu has also been reported repeatedly in the United States.

What is particularly disturbing is that unlike the case with BSE, there is a vaccination that could have helped to contain the disease. Unfortunately, it was not used in British Columbia and will not be used as a preventive measure in the control area in the Fraser Valley. An April 13 document from CFIA stated:

Vaccination has not been an option for a number of reasons. Preventive vaccination is not economically feasible in this situation given the large number of birds affected. Should the birds be vaccinated, the presence of antibodies from vaccination could not be distinguished from antibodies from natural infection. And, given that the effectiveness of vaccination could take up to two to three weeks, the virus could persist and spread during this timeframe.

A proactive position could have protected birds before the outbreak became a problem. Now we are faced with reactive measures.

Again, if I may draw a parallel to the BSE situation in that case, Health Canada officials had previously warned that proposed measures to curb the disease were inadequate and that Canada was not prepared for a potential outbreak. Those warnings were ignored and I have to wonder if some earlier preventive measures could have made a difference there.

As Fraser Valley Duck & Goose Ltd. managing partner, Ken Falk, wrote about vaccination in a letter to the members for Langley—Abbotsford and Fraser Valley:

I understand that there are considerations with our international trading partners that don't allow us to use it.

If that is the case, then allow those that rely on the domestic market only to vaccinate, and those that rely on the international market can sort out the issue for their products, politically or otherwise.

Poultry producers, such as Mr. Falk, have an intimate understanding of the industry and how best to get it back on track.

I would hope the minister and his staff would be looking to producers for guidance in coming up with the best possible solution to this difficult situation.

As the people most affected by this crisis, the producers will be able to provide valuable input. Yet, when I look to the CFIA and its description of our emergency response strategy, I am not convinced that this is the case. I will quote:

Canada's emergency response strategy in the event of the outbreak of a foreign animal disease is to eradicate the disease and re-establish the country's disease free status as quickly as possible.

That is an admirable first step in addressing a situation such as the avian flu but the vagueness of the strategy ignores important issues, such as compensation for producers and assistance for workers affected by the cull. What can they expect to ease the financial strain?

There is a vagueness of this strategy in this important issue. They have no idea how to prevent similar outbreaks in the future. What measures are in place? How will the preservation of specialty breeds be ensured? How will we regain market losses and the erosion of our competitive edge?

The time and effort it will take to rebuild the industry; how will the government facilitate the process?

The Liberals do not have a stellar record when it comes to agricultural programs and delivering money to those in need when they need it.

I urge the members opposite to ensure that this will not be the case for the people in British Columbia and to deliver immediate attention to this crisis situation.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

9:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, agriculture is extremely important to me as I come from an agricultural area and I farmed for 25 years.

The frustration I have is similar to that of the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster who mentioned earlier that here we are again late at night with one more emergency debate and what is it on? Once again, it is on agriculture.

Therefore I want to talk a bit about some of things he started discussing tonight, and that is some of the compensation plans and how they have worked and what the producers can expect over the next while in terms of compensation from the government.

One of the things that concerned me a lot was the Prime Minister's attitude when he was in eastern Canada where he basically said that what we had was a small problem behind the Rockies, when those of us who understand what is going on with the avian flu realize that this is a huge problem for our entire country, and we need to recognize that.

One concern is the compensation plan and what producers will get in return for giving up their livelihood for a number of months, possibly up to a year. I want to talk a little about the history of some of the other plans over the last few years. I do not think this will comfort producers but perhaps it will galvanize the chicken producers and the other producers who are affected by this problem so that they will be well aware of what they need to do to protect their own interests.

One of the programs with which I was familiar was the AIDA program, which later became CFIP. It was meant to stabilize income for farmers. Unfortunately, it did not work and the government finally acknowledged that it was a failure over the years, but it had been disastrous in many ways for a lot of farmers. It was supposed to help stabilize income when their income dropped. What we had was a situation in many places where people's income would drop, the program would kick in and later the government bureaucrats would go over the figures one more time. Farmers had already been paid their money and the government would tell them they had to pay back a big portion of the money it had given them. I had people in my riding telling me they had received in the neighbourhood of $15,000, $20,000, $25,000 and that the government was demanding the money back from them. That was enough to finish off some people. I have had people call and cry over the phone, not knowing where they would get that money and how to deal with the situation.

That was one program that was poorly set up. One of the reasons it was set up was because of the formulas that were used to determined compensation. Therefore I would urge the producers who are affected by the avian flu to be very careful when they are dealing with the government and they are starting to look at the programs that are being set up for them and make sure they understand the formulas that are being used in that determination.

The end of CFIP turned out to be quite a disaster. The government had budgeted about $2.2 billion toward the program. When the final numbers came out it had only put $1.1 billion into that program. It had some money left over and rather than pay it out in CFIP money it decided to reannounce that money and run it out in what it called transition payments. In one sense the government stripped the program, reannounced the money and then tried to get the positive spin out of putting money out into the community. Unfortunately, the final money, even in that transition payment, has now been paid out.

I just had a constituent call me in the last couple of days who said that he understood the beginning payment for last year was to be paid out in December, that the other payments should have been in March and that the government said it would be in March. The farmers have not received their money and they are wondering what happened to it. The more we look into it the more we realize that some of that money has disappeared as well and will never be paid out to producers. There is a second program that producers need to be aware of that has not worked well for producers.

A further example would be the three beef programs over the last year to try to deal with the BSE problem. Early on the government knew that it needed to try to put some money into the industry so it came out with a program. When it came out with the first program, the prices had stabilized somewhat and people were starting to find a market. The market had found its equilibrium. The government was two to three months too late with the money when it brought it out. What it caused was a drop in market prices. Basically, the entire amount that the government had sent out into the ag community was eaten up in a drop in prices. I would suggest that the packers and processors ended up with the majority of that money.

Therefore the producers who are involved with this avian flu situation need to be very careful that when programs are designed that the money comes to them and that it does not end up being passed on to people further up, what I would call the food chain, to the processors and the people who are doing the handling of the meat products and those kinds of things.

The second part of the beef program over the last year, the cull cow program, which was how the government paid ranchers to keep animals over the winter, worked reasonably well to some extent except that I have been getting calls from folks in Saskatchewan who say that they still have not been paid five months after the program was announced.

A fairly typical pattern that seems to be taking place is that programs are announced, reannounced and money is reallocated but then it is not paid out. We have producers, five months down the road waiting for money to help see them through the winter, who have still not received it. Winter has come and gone and they are sitting without the money they thought was promised to them.

Third, this spring, when the Prime Minister was in Lethbridge for a photo op with the local candidate, as he has done so often over the last few weeks, he made an announcement of an amount that he would be putting into the industry. It was interesting because I was talking with some friends at home before that happened and I told them to just watch what happens with the market price of beef after that announcement is made. The first week the price went down about 5¢ at the marketplace and the next week it dropped an additional 13¢. On an 800 pound cow that 10¢ would have taken all the money out of that program and the ranchers would have been no further ahead.

That program benefited the people who could keep the animals and collect their cash and not have to sell them. However for those ranchers who were squeezed and had to get those cattle onto the market right away, they again lost the government money and ended up having to go somewhere else. In that case it would have gone further down the line again to the people who were buying the cattle and to the processors. Producers need to be very aware of some of the traps and pitfalls in these programs.

A final program I want to mention tonight is the new CAIS program. The government has been selling that now for quite a while. It has been building it out of the APF and it has been presenting it as if it has something that is very good. It has advertised it very well but it is already causing huge problems for some of the producers.

It is interesting that the government was trying to make an interim payment for last year to help out some of the guys who were in real trouble, so it came out with schedules and people were able to fill out their forms and send them in. I have had a couple of people call and say that they actually received their money but that when they came to fill out the actual declaration that they needed to make, they found that the government had changed the price schedules on them.

I know of some people who had received large amounts of money but three-quarters of that will probably have to be returned. Accountants have told me that this is a complete disaster. They told me that when people realize what is going on here there will be blood on the floor. The problem is that the people who are the most desperate, the ones who absolutely need the money, are the ones who have already sent those interim applications in and they are the ones who do not have the money to pay it back. Producers again need to be very careful about what they are doing.

The other compensation programs have been mentioned tonight. What probably puts more fear into me than any other failures is taking a look at the example of the wasting disease with elk and then the mad cow disease. We have heard tonight that the government is prepared to pay market value for the animals that are slaughtered. As far as I know, that has never happened before. For the cattle and the elk, a price was set on them. It certainly was not market value. The elk price was nowhere near market value. For any of the purebred cattle that were slaughtered, producers did not receive market value. It was nowhere close. It was just a set value.

Again, the producers of these birds need to be paying attention to what is going on when the program is being set because the values that are put on their birds will determine, to a large extent, what they will receive under the program. They need to pay attention because that is one area where the government has completely fallen down for producers.

I again want to make it clear that the cattle and the elk producers did not receive market value for their animals.

There will be a lot of costs associated with this problem and with this situation. The government needs to consider what it will do about things like down time. It will be months before these people will be up to speed again. Disposal costs need to be considered as well and it needs to go far beyond the animals. There are many other costs to producers and the planned restocking and rebuilding of operations needs to be done properly.

In conclusion, I want to remind producers that when they are looking at a program there are a few things they need to do. They need to be clear on what it is they want. The producers need to ensure they are all represented because in some places there are special interest groups that will try to take the money. They need to get a clear, clean method of payment and they need to set it up so that the ground level producers get the compensation.

It is very important that the government pay attention to what is going on in British Columbia and that it treats these producers properly.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.


Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in this important debate regarding avian influenza.

The past year has certainly been a challenging one for agriculture and the agri-food industry. What with BSE, drought in some areas of the country, flooding in others, trade issues and now avian flu, the industry has been burdened with many hardships.

The Government of Canada is working side by side with the provinces and the industry to help our farmers, our farm families and the entire valued chain to get through these tough times and to continue its world-class status as a producer of safe, high quality food.

I would like to point out that the Government of Canada acted quickly and decisively to deal with avian flu. Earlier this month we made the hard decision to depopulate all commercial poultry flocks and other backyard bird and smaller operations referred to in the control area in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. This serious measure was necessary, first, to prevent the spread of the disease and second, to help us quickly eradicate it.

As drastic as this measure seems, it is in fact the safest way to get the growers to restock their operations. However, in the meantime it is our priority to keep as much of the poultry business in British Columbia, particularly in the control areas, afloat and doing business. For growers who will have to wait for the green light to restock, there are a number of measures in place to support them until they are back in business.

We are also working to keep continued access to supply for the processing sector. The chicken industry of Canada is showing remarkable determination, working together to supply the B.C. market. This is one of the strengths of supply management.

First and foremost, we see farmers helping farmers, supplying the product from the rest of Canada to the B.C. processing industry for further processing and distribution. If after this has been fully utilized there is still a market shortage in B.C., then and only then will we consider how supplementary imports can fill that gap.

Our focus has been to support directly the B.C. industry in maintaining its long term viability and customers as we work to restore the B.C. flocks.

Within supply management we take care of our own. All members of the affected sectors, the farmers, the processors and others, both in B.C. and nationally, are working hard together to meet the challenge facing the B.C. industry.

Through Canada's supply management system, chicken producers in other provinces plan to increase their own production by 10% and supply the B.C. primary processors with those extra birds. This will maintain a minimum of processing operations and reduce the impact on employees. This initiative will ensure that B.C. processors and consumers have access to all the poultry products they need.

I would like to add at this point that the cooperative approach being taken by the federal government, the province of British Columbia, the poultry industry in that province and the industry throughout the rest of Canada is truly commendable. It is truly the Canadian way.

Recognizing the challenge our colleagues in the B.C. poultry sector are facing, the industry throughout Canada is chipping in to supply that province to keep processors processing and consumers consuming. There is an old saying: Through adversity comes strength and through strength comes perseverance, and everybody's efforts are truly commendable.

Of course this issue is not just one of business and commerce, it is a human issue affecting farmers and family farms. Under the Health of Animals Act, compensation cheques to the owners of animals ordered destroyed are being issued. Farmers are being paid market value for their stock. As of April 16, 23 compensation cheques have gone out for a total of $2.4 million.

The elimination of the disease will require special sanitizing of barns and farms before population can restart. If depopulation eliminates the disease, as hoped, restocking could start again in late summer or early fall this year.

In the meantime, these farmers and farm families who produce supply managed commodities are eligible underneath the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program. The CAIS program is available to provide assistance to these producers whose production margins drop by more than 30%.

Our federal officials are also working very closely with provincial officials and industry leaders to help producers better understand how the disaster component of CAIS could support their income during this difficult period. Information sessions on CAIS are being held for farmers on April 26 and 27 in Chilliwack and Abbotsford. In addition, a federal-provincial letter with a simplified application form has been sent to all producers to make it easier for them. A federal-provincial avian flu working group has also been struck to examine the economic impacts created by the flu outbreak.

There is also assistance to ensure that the industry understands how the employment insurance program can help affected employees. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada officials are on the ground in the affected areas to provide assistance through its work sharing and EI programs information services. Some 50 regular EI claims have been received to date, with hundreds more expected. If mass layoffs occur, HRSDC officials will offer group information sessions at either the employer's premises or a mutually agreed upon site. Mass EI claims-taking will also be available, as will the information on the work sharing program.

We recognize that all aspects of the poultry industry in British Columbia are under severe pressure. The situation is extremely complex, but great effort is being made to carefully analyze it on an ongoing basis to ensure that the right policies are in place to resolve the crisis and minimize the time needed for the industry to recover.

We are in constant contact with the province and the industry to ensure that their views and advice are taken into account in the decision-making process as this issue unfolds. I am confident that before long we will have this industry solidly on its feet.

I have been a poultry farmer for a very long time. I know the suffering that is going on right now out in B.C. and I take that very much to heart. I have been in conversation with different people from the Fraser Valley and Abbotsford area. I know what they are going through and I know what it is to have one's flock depopulated. It sounds very quick and sanitized, but it is really a heart-rending experience if anyone has ever gone through something similar to that.

I will make my commitment as a member of Parliament, as a chicken farmer and as a very strong supporter of supply management to see the Fraser Valley poultry industry up and running as quickly as possible.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

9:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, we appreciate the fact that at least the Speaker of the House of Commons has recognized the need for this debate, and that has certainly been well reflected. We want to take advantage of that and address some items of concern.

Always at times like this, when we are addressing moments of emergency and crisis, there is a tendency for remarks to be interpreted as partisan. I want to say at the outset that the remarks we are making here tonight, especially those reflecting on government performance or the lack thereof, are in fact based on sad experiences.

We have talked about the need for compensation and the need for quick action, but we see some of the same patterns that we saw in other situations and other crises. At those times the government said that it was moving quickly and that it had the situation well in hand. Then we reflect back sadly on other crises such as the hep-C crisis, the cull of the elk herd, the BSE crisis, the SARS flu victims and the reaction or the lack of reaction in British Columbia, especially in the interior, related to the softwood lumber crisis.

Forgive us if we sound somewhat dubious and if our faith seems faltering when we look to the federal government, but we are seeing the same patterns being repeated. The reason we are getting into this is because we do not want to see that pattern repeated. We want to see real action. We want to see things take place that will have an effect and will make a difference.

Many people are being affected by this crisis. Large producers are being affected in a major way. We appreciate the fact that the federal government has picked some of the bigger targets, the larger producers, but we also want to address the area of some of the smaller producers.

We start to have our doubts about the focus of the federal government when it is a crisis that is taking place in western Canada. We do not want to continually bring up this area but it is real. It is a factor. When a crisis hits western Canada, people get the sense that if it cannot be seen from the top of the CN Tower, maybe it does not exist. Well it does exist.

People may say that it is unkind to make a reflection like that. When the Prime Minister was asked about the avian flu crisis, why did he say that it was something hidden on the other side of the Rockies? We do not think people in western Canada are hidden there. They are an important part of the country. We are proud of the Rockies, and that is not a factor that hides. We look with pride at what goes on in western Canada.

We do not want this being overlooked. We do not want the same pattern repeated. When questions were asked of the agriculture minister in terms of what was happening and what was going on, his reflection was almost what was the opposition waiting for. We are waiting for some responsible action.

Right from the outset again we heard words that were meant to encourage. The government said that it had everything in hand and that it was not a problem. It is acting, reacting and everything is fine. After five weeks, what do we hear? We hear the government say that if it has feathers, kill it.

Some people have been consulted, but many people who have a lot to offer in this situation have not. When it comes to the area of hard compensation on the ground for people who need it, we see loopholes.

I am reminded, Mr. Speaker, that I am sharing my time with the member for South Surrey--White Rock--Langley.

There are a number of cost factors involved in a situation like this. Obviously the cost of depopulation itself is huge. Then there is the cost that has to be factored in related to the loss of production time and down time. There are costs related to repopulating. This problem will not be solved when depopulation of the so-called infected population happens. There are costs involved with repopulating.

Sanitizing the manure is a very serious item in the production areas. This might sound like a strong topic in the House of Commons, but a lot of sanitizing is needed here. There are costs associated with shipping the manure as well.

What about the costs involved in terms of the PR that will be needed to reach out to consumers now and in the future to let them know that everything is fine, that the industry is safe, that the product is safe? There will to be costs associated with that.

For further prevention, there will be costs relating to the biotechnological security measures that have to be put in place to hopefully prevent something like this from happening in the future. There are interest costs also on all the equipment and capital that sits idle.

We wonder if the minister has taken these things into consideration. Some legitimate questions are being asked. They need answers now so that these things can be prevented or at least mitigated in the future.

How exactly did it start? Is the government pursuing these areas? These are questions that are being asked.

Here is something that has to be tracked down. I do not know if this is true; I am not an expert in the industry and that is why I am asking the questions. We hear that some of the measures that CFIA put into place may actually be causing some of the spread of the virus. Rather than get defensive on that question, let us look at it. Maybe things are being done with goodwill and good intentions but in fact they could be having a negative effect. Let us not back off from looking at that particular question.

What about the local people who know a lot about the industry and probably know a lot more than people in other parts of the country who now profess to be the experts? Are they being consulted in this area? Is there a national strategy that will be put in place to deal with issues like this if they happen again? We hope they do not, but the probabilities are there. Rather than guessing at a lot of these things, we should be looking at the longer term and the development of a national strategy further down the road.

We should ask the questions, much as with the recent forest fire devastation that happened in a lot of the B.C. interior last summer. What mistakes were made? Questions were asked honestly and legitimately without blame. What mistakes were made and what have we learned from the mistakes for future possibilities that might happen?

What mistakes were learned through the BSE crisis? That crisis still continues regardless of the fact that there has been some alleviation on certain product now. What mistakes were made that we can learn from? Are these questions being asked?

There is the question of the small producer. We understand that we cannot contact every single person in the industry, but what about the small producer who has some legitimate questions? Is it necessary and was it necessary to kill anything that had feathers? That is a legitimate question. They need an answer to it.

The virus seems to move around without acknowledging geographical areas. Many of the smaller operators feel that their operations are being sacrificed when actually they should have been exempt unless it could have been shown that their birds were actually affected. It is like the biological case of innocent until proven guilty. Why did a lot of that happen?

This needs to be looked at, but we have heard that some of the officials have said, off the record of course and we understand that, that they agree with what some of the local operators are saying on the ground. However they are taking their marching orders from on high, from Ottawa.

When there is a crisis and when we have an army of potential volunteers on the ground to give information about it, that is where we should go. It is that group of people that we need to be drawing our guidelines from and picking up the clues from.

There is the whole question of people with specialty birds. It can be proven that many of these specialty birds are very expensive to the particular breeders. I will not say they are immune but there can be no proof that the virus is into any of their production areas, yet they are targeted also.

Let us remember that these are people who do not have the advantage of supply management. The time it took for them to develop some of what are being called irreplaceable breeds is very significant. They have now lost the niche markets which they may not be able to regain, at least not in the near future. Others who are not affected will move into that market. We know that the avian influenza does not affect ducks and geese. They should be exempt from the kill.

These are clear questions that people are raising. We ask the government to focus on the issues. Do not leave people in the lurch, people who have gone bankrupt or are at the stage of going bankrupt. Listen to all the people who have been involved. Develop a three D approach: define what caused the virus; declare what spread it; and develop a national strategy to prepare for the future so that should this happen again, the devastation on the people in the industry will not be as massive as it is now. We ask the government to move quickly on the compensation and on the three D approach to this problem.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

9:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight in the emergency debate on the avian influenza that is affecting so many in our farm community in the Fraser Valley.

We heard a good number of speakers this evening, a lot of them from the Fraser Valley and elsewhere in British Columbia. This is just one more crisis that our province has had to face. We have had our economic challenges with softwood lumber, with the forest fires in the interior, with BSE on some of our more rural larger farms, and now this. It is the last thing we needed in our province.

Like many others, I just want to put a human face on this. For all of these farmers, there are families involved. They are small entrepreneurs, small business people. They depend on supply management to make sure that they are competitive, that they can stay in business. They depend on government support in times of crisis.

As many of my colleagues have mentioned, some of the programs that are set up for other areas of the agricultural community do not really make sense when transposed into this latest crisis. There has to be a different approach to the influenza crisis in the poultry industry.

It is not good enough to use a program intended for the potato crops in P.E.I. or the cattle in the BSE issue. We need to look at this as an individual case and how it is going to affect Canadian chicken production. It is not just chickens. I do not want to call it an overreaction because I think it is a natural attempt by the people who have been given the responsibility to contain this to get rid of anything that has feathers on it, but that overreaction has made the challenge of compensation even more difficult.

Part of the problem is in treating this like one would treat everything else, by getting rid of all of the stock and everything else with feathers on it. This is going to have a real impact not only in the Fraser Valley and not only in British Columbia but certainly in the whole country. The production that has just been lost in British Columbia will have to be replaced by the production in other provinces. We will have to deal with somehow increasing the production in the other provinces without taking away the production in the Fraser Valley, or in British Columbia. At some point, and hopefully sooner than later, British Columbia will need to retain its position and its percentage of production in the supply management of poultry and of egg producing.

It is a matter of making sure that our farmers and our small business people who are related to the poultry industry are compensated but also that the future production level will be replaced and will be kept. A colleague across the way is making commitments and assuring me that will happen, but we have learned from past experience that sometimes it does not happen. Once something is taken away we never quite get it back. I would want to make sure that the government has made assurances that the percentage of production that is guaranteed or given to the British Columbia producers is secure, that when this crisis is over they can depend on the fact that they have not lost some of their market.

I also want to share with Canadian consumers that it is still okay to eat chicken. For heaven's sake, do not stop using the product simply because of this issue. The Canadian government and the people who are hired to protect our food supply are doing a very good job of making sure that any of the product that reaches our store shelves, restaurants and kitchens is good healthy stock. The last thing we want is Canadians to stop using the product.

I want to personalize this. My area is at the far west end of the Fraser Valley. My area is probably the last one where we would find large production houses in poultry. We thought that this had been isolated to the eastern part of the Fraser Valley. It was with great surprise last week that one of the producers in my area, the Friesen family, found that it had travelled. It had travelled approximately 45 kilometres away, which enlarges the whole issue of how this is being transported.

My colleague who spoke before me raised a good point. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. It is not good enough to react to a situation. We have to be asking ourselves how did it happen? How did this thing get out of control, when they thought they had it in a controlled hot zone? How do we make sure that what we are doing is effective?

Perhaps those questions are being asked. Maybe there are people who are dealing with it. However, that communication is not getting out to the people who need to know.

The people in the communities need to be part of the dialogue. Right now we are getting repeated stories in the newspapers highlighting the spread of the disease. There has to be better communication from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as to what is happening and what is being done. There needs to be greater discussion on the cooperation that we hope is there between the federal government and the provincial government in dealing with this.

A good communication plan would help the communities better understand what is being done for them. The communities would better understand that the threat to the health of people is being addressed. This would ease the concern of the consumer. This would ease the concern of not only the domestic market, but also the international market, that we do have it under control, that we are looking after it. There needs to be a better communication plan, so that there is a feeling that someone is in control, that it is being dealt with and the health of our food supply is being secured.

The compensation issue certainly has to be addressed. As a small business person myself, often the bottom line is very thin. The margins of profit and loss are very fine. The producers cannot afford to wait. Producers cannot afford to be given a small pittance of money to destroy a few chickens. What about replacing the stock when their barns are clean? What about buying feed? What about paying their suppliers? What about the suppliers? What about all the people who depend on the industry now? How are they going to survive potentially for six months, maybe eight months?

There are many questions about compensation that have to be answered. The questions have to be answered quickly so that people can make plans. If small business people are to be asked to be without income for six or eight months, they have to start making plans now on how they are going to get through that period without a cash flow.

I do not know if people are getting these answers. I do not know that there is even communication in place to explain to people what is available. I do not know if the government has come up with a plan for them. I do know that the producers cannot wait for an indefinite period of time to get some of these answers, so that they can start doing their planning to see that they get through this crisis.

I hope the government is putting its mind to this compensation issue and to a communication plan. I hope the government will make sure that all of the producers are well aware of what their options are and that they are given options. I hope the producers are able to see their way through this crisis and continue the level of production that is guaranteed to them.

In closing, I would like to see the government put in writing that there is protection of the B.C. market in the poultry industry.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

9:45 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the avian flu. As the member for Vancouver Kingsway in B.C., I know that this problem has deeply affected the farmers in the Fraser Valley. I have deep concerns for their suffering and loss.

We all are worried about the avian flu, which is contagious and infectious to all species of birds. However, it is important to remember it can spread to humans only in rare occasions.

We would also like to ask one very important question. What strain of bird flu is in B.C.? I understand that low and high pathogenic strains of H7N3 have been discovered in B.C. This is not the same virus that is causing the human illness in Asia. It is also different from the strain of bird flu found in the United States.

When we refer to the bird flu, its pathogenicity varies in different degrees of the surface proteins on the influenza virus by H and N type. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, CFIA, in consultation with Health Canada and the local medical officer of health, has taken extensive precautions to protect the health of workers in B.C.

Currently, personal protective equipment, such as masks, goggles and clothing, antiviral drugs and vaccinations with the current season's flu vaccine are required for workers when they are in contact with high risk flocks.

In our communities we always wonder if it is safe to eat poultry from areas affected by the bird flu. Health Canada advises that poultry products and eggs from outbreak areas do not pose a risk to human health for bird flu. We also know that there is no public health risk associated in the eating of cooked poultry meat or eggs.

The CFIA has now detected avian flu on 31 commercial farms and 10 smaller premises. The CFIA has depopulated all of those premises to stop the spread of infection. The CFIA will also assess on a case by case basis. Efforts will be made to eliminate the highest risk birds as quickly as possible so we will see less and less cases of infection in the targeted areas. Tests will be conducted on birds from all flocks being depopulated. We can fully understand that depopulation is very difficult for all affected bird owners, especially those with small flocks and some kept as pets.

The decision to depopulate was made after consultation with agriculture minister John van Dongen of B.C. and the poultry industry, and it also was recommended by the CFIA. This action can ensure it will stop further spread of infection. It is very encouraging to see that federal and provincial government officials are in close and ongoing contact with the industry. They will continue to monitor the situation and assess its impact.

Under the Health of Animals Act, poultry farmers will be eligible for compensation at market value for birds destroyed. The federal government understands that the suffering and losses of B.C. farmers must be met with appropriate compensation.

I have confidence that the federal government will make the best effort to work with the affected farmers in the Fraser Valley area. We have to provide intervention to stop the infection. Meanwhile, farmers can continue to safely supply the poultry meat and eggs for public consumption.

The CFIA will continue to work closely with Health Canada, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the B.C. Ministry of Health Services and local health officials throughout the depopulation efforts, and work to protect the health of farmers and local inhabitants.

I want to express my concern and support for the affected poultry farmers in the Fraser Valley. I share with them their suffering and losses. In Ottawa, we will seek ways to help and support them

Avian FluEmergency Debate

9:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to be here tonight to take part in this debate.

Unfortunately, there have been too many similar debates over the past few years. I recall that just a few months ago we had a debate in the House about BSE and the damage that it did to our cattlemen and agricultural sector, including small communities. I recall that about a year and a bit ago we were here talking about a drought which had just devastated not only livestock producers, cattlemen, elk and bison producers, but also grain crop farmers in western Canada.

Here we are tonight, once again, all too soon, with another group of farmers having their operations just destroyed by this terrible disease. We are here tonight to take part in an emergency debate on avian influenza.

Many speakers tonight have talked about the damage that it has done to these particular producers, to the industry, and to consumers who cannot or will not be able to get the product they want. It is not just a matter of these operations being damaged or shut down for now. There will be a long term impact from this as well.

Madam Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be splitting my time. I do not know if I have to say that, but I will, just so the House is aware of that.

So here we are again. None of us like this. We all are here to offer our support to the people whose livelihoods are being so damaged by this terrible disease. We are here to offer that support, and I hope that members of all parties will seriously provide what is needed to help these chicken producers through this terrible situation, to allow them to rebuild, and to carry on as best they can after they go through a rebuilding process. It is not just a matter of quickly filling the barns again and getting on with business. It is much more than that.

Our farmers have gone through difficult situations and are still going through them now. BSE is nowhere near over. People are still losing their cattle operations. They are losing their businesses and farms over that. The impacts of the droughts, particularly the drought of two years ago, are still being felt. People are still losing their farms from that. Through all of these situations, we have heard the government say that it is going to be there and that it is going to help them through this.

Tonight is certainly not the time to become partisan and start beating up on the government. It is simply not an appropriate time to do that, but it is important and it is a responsibility to judge what is likely to happen with this situation by what has happened with those past similar situations, situations which have been devastating to the farmers, and to the livestock and grain producers involved.

The unfortunate reality is that when we look at it that way, sadly, chicken farmers have to be aware that they are probably not going to get what they need from the government to help them through this situation in a way that is reasonable. Why would we think it would be different in this situation than what it has been over the past 11 years? It is only responsible that I, as a member of the official opposition, would point out that, sadly, that is the case. That is what we can expect.

We have seen the government in the past promise that it is going to compensate farmers for losses which are beyond their control, as is certainly the case with avian flu. From everything I have heard, it is not the fault of chicken farmers at all.

As well, the BSE situation is no fault of the cattle producers at all. In fact, it is a political situation. BSE really has nothing to do with a food safety issue or a health issue, yet it has devastated the industry.

However, now that it has happened, what kind of help will these people get from government to get them through this very difficult time? That is the real question. History has shown that they should not expect to get what the government makes it sound like they will get. I say this so that the chicken producers involved can prepare themselves for that reality. I think that is important.

For example, with the new farm program the government refers to, we have seen situations where farmers have actually received a pretty substantial amount of money from the government only to find out that they have been overpaid under the rules that are there. Some were overpaid by tens of thousands of dollars. So farmers received the money and paid some of their bills. The money is gone. Now they are getting the message that they were overpaid and overpaid substantially and the government wants the money back. Where are they going to get the money? They have used it to pay off some of their bills. The money will not be there. As a result, we have really in many ways put these farmers into a situation that is worse than what they were facing before.

There is a history of the government promising $500 million, delivering maybe $200 million and never paying out the rest. This is the kind of thing we have seen over the last four or five years. Based on the government record on these issues, I caution chicken producers to be aware of this and to really hold the government to account right now. They should have really in-depth, detailed discussions with the government over what they expect.

When they get a promise from the government they should take notes carefully and really have an in-depth conversation about what the promise is and what will be delivered so that they do not find out down the road they were expecting a lot more than they would ever receive in terms of assistance from the government. Again, based on the reality of what we have seen in the past, I really encourage chicken producers to be very careful about this.

It is my hope that the government will behave quite differently on this one. It is my sincere hope that as a starting point it will compensate chicken producers for the birds they have lost. I hope it will go beyond that and help pay the costs, maybe not all the costs--I do not think anybody expects that--but I hope it helps in a substantial way to cover the costs for cleaning up after the disease, closing down the barns, doing the cleanup and starting up the operations again. These chicken producers will need help with this. I sincerely hope that this time they will receive that help from government.

Again, the details of what has happened have been talked about already. I am here tonight to just encourage chicken producers not to make decisions based on some vague government promise, when we know from what has happened over the past several years that it is quite likely what they actually receive will be very dissimilar from what was promised.

I think the worst thing that could happen is that chicken producers hear what the government has to say and from that make a judgment that leads them to believe they are going to receive a certain amount of compensation, only to find that the compensation falls far, far short and the plans they have made were based on something that never will materialize. In many ways--and I have seen this in the past--that actually makes things worse.

I sincerely hope that this time it will be different. I encourage the government to make it different and to ensure that it will help the chicken producers through this very difficult situation so they can carry on and continue to add to the economy as they have in such a major and substantial way, especially in B.C., through the good work they do.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

10:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to address this very important issue this evening. As we all know, this virus, as we are told, is probably spread by wild birds and has struck chicken and turkey operations in British Columbia's Fraser Valley. I think the Fraser Valley alone represents 84% of B.C.'s $1 billion poultry industry. That is a huge industry. The impact on our communities in the Fraser Valley at large will be significant.

We should emphasize that this virus is not the same strain as the influenza that jumped the species barrier in Southeast Asia and infected 34 people, killing 23. There is some comfort to be taken from that particular fact.

We are told that on Monday, April 5, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ordered a cull of the 19 million birds to determine the bird-to-bird vector of the disease. Visitors, workers and vehicles from farm sites are being disinfected as a result. Warning notices are being posted throughout the region. Farms that have been depopulated and disinfected will then have sentry birds posted in them for 21 days. Those birds will then be tested. If they are found to be clean, the farmer may begin to rebuild his operation. Poultry industry officials are in agreement with these actions.

To date, we are told, 13 commercial barns have been infected. It is suggested that there are 10 backyard flocks infected as well. We are not too sure of the definition of “backyard flocks”. We are told, for example, that in Cloverdale a barn was shut down but there were some 10,000 birds in there. This farmer apparently did not have a commercial quota. He dealt with a specialty product so he was not considered a commercial operation.

The concern for the commercial operations in British Columbia cannot be overemphasized, as I mentioned just a moment ago. We are talking about a $1 billion industry here. But there are other concerns as well, which I think are equally important, and they have to do with many of the small operators and collectors, for example, who have birds in backyard operations, some exotic species and so on.

Just as an example to show how significant this problem is, I would like to bring to members' attention the issue of Clayton Botkin. Clayton is a young man who lives in my riding on his dad's acreage. Back in 2002, he was a recipient of one of the millennium scholarships. He was a local excellence award winner. This is a young man who is a good scholar and, as members will see, he is a very enterprising young man as well.

Clayton is an avid aviculturist. He has a collection of over 200 birds, including many endangered and threatened species. Since 1999 he has been the junior director of the Fraser Valley Poultry Fanciers Association, and from 1999 to 2000 he was junior director of the Vancouver Poultry and Fancy Pigeon Association. Under his leadership, the number of active members in the Fraser Valley Poultry Fanciers Association has tripled.

I have visited this young man's facility and I have seen the birds he has. They are absolutely amazing to see. Obviously I am not an expert in these matters, but it is quite intriguing to take a look at the variety of birds that he has. He has birds from around the world there. Essentially, these birds are irreplaceable. They are expensive.

He has managed to gather this collection there, yet he is concerned because since this outbreak of avian flu nobody has contacted him. Nobody has given him any specific instructions on what he should do to protect these unusual birds he has. He attended an information night about a week ago at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Abbotsford, but that was of his own volition. He has searched the net for any information he can find that would protect him and his flock, yet that information is not being made readily available to him.

I think there is a real concern here. This is tragic. In many respects, these birds are pets. They certainly are exotic species. Whether or not this flu is transferable to them no one knows, but the sad story is that Clayton has received no instruction from the government, no directions on what he can do to ensure the survival of his birds. Certainly there is no indication from the government that if his birds are to be culled he is going to receive compensation. I have heard estimates that the 200 birds he has in his backyard may be worth in the neighbourhood of $50,000, so this is not a trifling matter.

This is a young man in his early twenties. He is a very enterprising young man and, I might add, a good scientist as well, because he is very knowledgeable in these matters. His only asset is at risk and he has received no help and no instructions at all from the government.

There is another organization in my riding that again is not a commercial operation but is an operation that is at risk. For all intents and purposes it has received no instructions from the government on what to do. I am speaking of a woman by the name of Bev Day who runs the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta, or OWL as it is commonly known.

OWL is a non-profit organization that operates in Delta. It is a rescue organization. At any one time OWL will have any number of eagles and owls and other birds that have been injured and brought to the centre for rehabilitation and a return to health. It is an amazing operation and a great concern because it has great support not only in my community of Delta but throughout the lower mainland. Many school groups visit to be educated about the birds and the importance of maintaining a habitat for the birds. It is a remarkable operation.

Bev has a couple of birds that I think are rather interesting. There is a barn owl, two bald eagles with some disabilities, two snowy owls, and other birds that are actually permanent fixtures at the OWL rehabilitation centre, because due to their injuries they are not able to survive in the wild any longer. They are maintained at OWL and are there for the public to view and to help us learn more about our feathered friends.

The problem is that Day has contacted one veterinary official who was unable to provide her with any answers as to what she can do to protect the birds. It is a tragedy, because there are wild species, some of which are at risk in some parts of the world, such as the bald eagles, and this is the refuge for these birds. Because of this outbreak there is uncertainty. It has also interfered tragically with the fundraising. For example, Bev had to cancel the open house fundraiser this year, which is OWL's largest fundraiser. Ordinarily they would collect about $10,000. They had to cancel school tours and so on because of the fear of what may happen to the rest of the flock.

It is really upsetting to people that the government has not been a little more forthcoming in giving direction and in assisting these people. Not only are we concerned for the commercial producers who have a significant effect on our community, but we are also concerned about the smaller flocks, the specialty flocks like Clayton Botkin's or the OWL rehabilitation birds at Bev Day's facility and other backyard and small time hobby farmers who have flocks they would like to protect. I think the onus is on the government to give these people some clear direction on what they can do to protect their flocks and protect the public.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

10:15 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I appreciated the remarks by my friend from Delta—South Richmond who I had the opportunity to work with on the fisheries committee. I heard him speak passionately about the plight of fishermen many times. I really appreciate the fact that he is on his feet talking about the plight of farmers in his riding and surrounding areas and also the other people who are affected by the measures that have had to be taken as a result of the avian flu crisis.

It will to take very strong measures to get through this crisis and to get it behind us. There will indeed be a number of birds destroyed, be they pets or be they commercial or whatever. We know that causes stress and strain on the individuals affected. It also has financial consequences.

I want to thank colleagues for bringing this serious issue forward and for the opportunity to discuss this important matter.

There is no other job like farming. If it is not the vagaries of the weather, it is a worldwide downturn in prices. If it is not high subsidies from other countries, it is the closing of borders. What other industry has to contend with any of these issues, if not at all, as does the agriculture sector?

Being a farmer myself and having faced economic hardship that can be caused by a crisis beyond my control, and I have faced those, I extend my concern to all those farmers affected, to their families and to their communities which are affected greatly as well. I extend to them my personal willingness as well as the willingness of the government to work to get through this crisis, put it behind us and establish a firmer foundation under the industry so that we can move forward into the future in a positive way.

I am pleased to see, to the greatest extent possible tonight, members speaking on the issue and trying to deal with it. They have tried to avoid some of the partisanship that can so often happen in this place.

The past year has been a challenging one for Canada's farmers and farm families. We all know them, from the BSE, to drought, to trade issues and now the avian influenza.

My constituency of Malpeque has faced a difficult winter in the farm sector as well, starting with BSE and the shutting of the border. The beef industry has seen a tremendous price downturn as a result. We have been unable to move live cattle across the border. In my particular riding and in my province dairy heifers are a fairly large export to the United States. As a result of being unable to move live cattle across the border, the heifer market is virtually lost.

We have a strange situation. In the New England states, where dairy prices have risen substantially, the dairy producers are crying for additional breeding stock. They need those heifers and we cannot move them across the border. The Americans are continuing to play politics with the BSE issue. They are not allowing the good science to prevail which would mean our cattle could move across that border. We have the beef industry affected as well as the dairy industry.

I started out in the farm movement in the early seventies. I have never seen a time when all three commodities, beef, potatoes and pork, have been down in price at the same time as they have been this past winter. Therefore, we are seeing some troubling circumstances in my province as well.

That seems to be the nature of the industry. As a government, we have to be there for the farmers in their time of need, whether it is in the province of Prince Edward Island or in British Columbia as a result of the avian flu.

Farmers are also faced with challenges related to increasing demands by consumers. Consumers are seeking greater assurances about the safety and the quality of their food and how it is produced. There is no place in the world where people will find the security in the food safety system that we have Canada. We can be proud that we have such a safe, secure food supply system, and consumers need to recognize that.

The sector is also concerned about new advances in science and increasing international competition. Again, to a great extent it is the nature of the industry. We are dealing with a global market. There are vagaries in the international marketplace such as politics and subsidy trade wars. These can certainly have an impact on producers down in the local hometown.

There are new advances in science. We see the dispute over GMOs. GMOs have their advantages, yet there are some who are fearful of them. We have to take every advantage of the new science and technologies that are out there. As a government, we need to continue to increase our funding toward research for new technologies for the agriculture sector.

The federal government intends to ensure that Canadian farmers have every opportunity to keep their businesses viable and to build a strong sector that can meet those challenges it faces. I have talked about what many of those challenges are.

While the federal government takes measures to help the poultry sector, we are also working with the provinces and with industry for long term success of the entire agriculture and agrifood industry through the agricultural policy framework. This future oriented approach to managing risks looks at the farm's potential. It has been a long time coming and we have had a difficult and twisting road to get the APF included. The future oriented approach also takes into consideration all activities of the farm business and actively encourages innovation, diversification and value added production.

I have long said that the Government of Canada must be there for farmers in their time of need. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to be a member and work on the task force for the future of farming in Canada. Some other members who are in the House this evening also served on the task force. The task force met with producers in many communities across the country. As a result of the recommendations of the task force, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made a great announcement on additional funding for the industry about two years ago.

New funding of $5.2 billion over five years has been dedicated to the APF to help our farmers and farm families strive for greater profitability in their industry.

The APF is designed to make Canada's agriculture and agrifood industry proactive instead of reactive. It is designed to make us known throughout the world as innovative both in our production methods and in the products that we produce.

Canada is the best producer of safe, high quality food and in that, Canadian farmers can be proud of what they produce and Canadian consumers can feel secure in going to the marketplace, purchasing that product and being assured that it is a safe, quality product.

As well, producers want to be environmentally sustainable. We have seen some great environmental farm plans worked out in various provinces across the country. I really believe the province of Ontario and its farm community are leading the way. In cooperation and co-ordination with its industry, it has developed environmental plans that farmers have to work under to be considered environmentally sustainable producers.

The agricultural policy framework provides an organized framework, one that looks ahead into the 21st century with a broader agenda, beyond crisis management so to speak. Although the APF tries to move us beyond crisis management, as we know in the industry, we do run into a situation from time to time, as with the avian flu and other crises in the past, where something strange comes out of the blue and causes other havoc in the industry. In those kind of instances the governments have to be there for the farm community. Sometimes they have to step in with additional funding, but in a way that does not affect the trade.

The Government of Canada, in cooperation with provincial governments, has to be there to assist producers in their time of need. We have a responsibility and an obligation to be there for the farm community. It is such an important economic generator in the country, and important for the food security of the nation. It is an important exporter and generator of foreign dollars into our economy.

The APF though creates a more cooperative relationship between governments and with industry.

For our farmers to excel over the long term in this highly competitive business, it requires the right tools for their business, such as a risk management tool, skills and capital. It takes huge amounts of capital in the farming business today. They require a bankable reputation for quality, delivery, innovation and market responsiveness.

The APF integrates a set of elements for success, food safety and quality innovation, innovation itself and environmental stewardship. It will be our mark or our brand in our industry of excellence. We will develop markets using this brand, helping the industry to do the same thing. Value chain round tables allow the industry to chart that course.

We are providing the industry with the tools to get the job done. That is why there is a renewable component to the APF, to help family farms develop the skills and enterprise required. Of course there is certainly the need to manage risk, and we have seen lots of risk in this industry.

Programs has been designed, through consultation with the industry, to be more flexible, to take a whole farm approach that leaves more choice with the producer, that integrates disaster relief and stabilization and is more insurance-like.

A broad framework, such as APF, commits governments to develop and fund national programs, establish goals and measurable performance indicators for these programs and assigns accountability. The accountability is to report to Canadians on their progress. I think Canadians want to see progress. They want to see the farm industry have a return on its investment and labour, to be economically viable, to receive just rewards for the work and effort that farmers put into producing farm products.

Under the APF, the new Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, or CAIS as it is often called, is now available. The CAIS program provides permanent stabilization and disaster coverage and is available to producers across the country.

I want to point out that the CAIS program provides disaster coverage to a degree. As I have said earlier, there are times when other events occur and the government may have to step in in other ways. I want to underline the fact that sometimes the coverage under these programs is not enough and the government must be there with other funding should disaster happen that is beyond what these programs were designed to do. The government must be there for the farm community.

The CAIS program helps protect farm businesses against large, to a certain extent, and small fluctuations in farm income margins. It can also provide assistance to producers who have experienced a loss of income because of extreme circumstances, such as BSE, avian flu or other factors.

Federal officials are working very closely with provincial officials and industry leaders to help producers better understand how the disaster component of CAISP could support their income during this difficult period. Information sessions on CAISP are being held for farmers on April 26 and April 27 in Chilliwack and Abbotsford. That is important for producers in that area.

In addition, a federal-provincial letter with a simplified application form has been sent to all producers to make it easier for them. It is a fact that often the central bureaucracy designs things that are much too complicated. We must keep it simple and this form was designed to keep it simple and hopefully user friendly.

A federal-provincial avian flu working group has also been struck to examine the economic impacts created by the flu outbreak. No doubt those economic impacts are high. There is the farmer himself, the farm, the farm family, the community and the workers who work on the farm; the spinoff industries, the equipment companies, the feed companies, the trucking companies and the processing industry. It goes well down the food chain. All those players have to be looked at.

As part of the $5.2 billion in new federal investments to implement the APF, the Government of Canada provided $1.2 billion over two years to help farmers make the transition to the new business risk management program.

In December, cheques for the second instalment of that $1.2 billion started going out to producers. Over $450 million of that has already been paid.

In all, the measures under the APF will help producers strengthen their business, increase prosperity, build on their diversification and value-added activities, and meet the demands of consumers at home and around the world.

There are certainly many challenges out there. Some might say that it comes with the territory but there are a great many opportunities out there as well. The Government of Canada must help the industry capture those opportunities.

To a great extent, my remarks have been general on the economic situation that farmers face in the B.C. area as a result of the avian flu and the many crises that the industry has faced generally across the country.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency must be congratulated for its work. The producers in the area must be congratulated for their co-operation. I want to recognize and say to the government as a whole that farmers are a great generator of wealth to our economy and to the country. As I indicated, the many players affected by the avian flu, be it the workers, the equipment industry, the feed industry, right down the grocery chain, we can see that wealth spread through the economy.

We have an obligation and a responsibility to stand by those farmers in their time of need. We must ensure that we help them out financially and with programs so they can continue to create the kind of prosperity that they have created in the past for this country and hopefully have a return in that prosperity for themselves, their families, and their communities. We do indeed have to stand with them.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

10:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in today's emergency debate on avian flu.

I would like to thank my colleague from Langley--Abbotsford for taking the initiative to bring this very important issue to the floor of the House. This issue is non-partisan, like any other national crisis or emergency.

I have visited numerous farms, particularly in my constituency of Surrey. The city of Surrey or the municipality often organize farm and agricultural trips in the riding. These visits have been very informative and have given me firsthand information in getting to know the farmers as well as the farming practices in my constituency.

My first degree is an agriculture honours degree with a specialization in animal sciences. I have firsthand experience in raising poultry as a practicum in my graduation degree.

Last month I attended a reception at the Chateau Laurier hosted by the poultry farmers of Canada. I met and discussed the upcoming outbreak of avian flu with many poultry farmers from the Fraser Valley. At that time the crisis had not developed to the extent that we see today. It has been almost a month, and from my experience I knew that the effects of this crisis would mount and would be a bigger crisis than what we saw in those days. That was probably the time to take preventive measures.

When I was speaking to the farmers about it, we were somewhat concerned about what the weak Liberal government would do about it. In our experience dealing with the government, whether it was SARS, softwood lumber or agricultural crises in the past, we have seen that the government's action has not been adequate. We all know what happened with BSE. We were a little concerned at that time when we were having this discussion at the reception.

I have also spoken to many local veterinarians, particularly a friend of mine in my constituency, Dr. Ravi Mann. I was just talking to him about what the government should do and how we could deal with the situation.

From time to time I have been talking to farmers and I am very concerned about the magnitude of this crisis that has developed. Farmers and other local concerned people have told me that the virus in the valley is very serious. The Fraser Valley, for those who do not know about it, is surrounded by hills and mountains, and the effects of a virus in a valley become significant. In fact, most of the infectious diseases, like the flu, even during the normal flu season, we see that it originates from that part and then it moves toward the other areas. I do not mean to demean the situation, but what I mean is that when there is a viral outbreak in a valley it has to be taken seriously.

Virology is changing rapidly and a virus has the ability to alter, even with vaccination. With mutation and the changing of a virus strain from one to another, vaccination does not become an effective tool in preventing this serious disease. After five weeks now, the virus continues to spread. We do not see an immediate end and the situation is still not contained as we speak.

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a contagious disease. It is caused by type A strains of influenza virus that normally infect only birds but sometimes pigs as well. Avian influenza has two forms: one that causes mild illness in birds, and the other one, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, which is extremely contagious and rapidly fatal for infected birds.

The highly pathogenic form of bird flu first appeared in Italy more than 100 years ago. It was first recognized in the United States in 1924-25 and occurred again in the United States in 1929. It was eradicated both times.

Recent outbreaks have occurred in Australia, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Italy, Chile, Mexico and the United States.

A serious outbreak of avian influenza in the Netherlands in 2003, spreading to Belgium and Germany, affected some 250 farms and necessitated the slaughter of more than 28 million poultry.

Since mid-December 2003, an increasing number of Asian countries, including Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam, have reported outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in chickens and ducks.

The World Health Organization reports that the rapid spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza is unprecedented and is a great concern for human health as well as agriculture.

Bird flu has been in Canada in the past and was successfully eliminated. We have a history. Highly pathogenic avian influenza was isolated in poultry in Ontario in 1966, the only occurrence ever for Canada. Low pathogenic avian influenza has been isolated in poultry in Canada three times since 1975.

What we have now, however, is the worst outbreak of avian flu in Canadian history.

Since February, a highly infectious strain of avian flu has struck 29 commercial poultry farms in the Fraser Valley as well as 10 backyard flocks. The disease, which can kill a flock within days, has jumped from farm to farm despite efforts to hold it to its original five-kilometre-wide zone. Outbreaks have been confirmed as far west as Surrey and as far east as Chilliwack.

The latest outbreak was found on a South Surrey bird farm at 176th Street. Those people who are watching in Surrey and the surrounding area will know that where the five kilometre zone ends and where 176th Street in South Surrey, probably around the 1500 block, is. This farmer's entire flock, 30,000 chickens, was ordered to be killed on Friday. This outbreak has officials worried because the newest infection site is about 45 kilometres west of the original hot zone in the eastern Fraser Valley.

We do not know how the virus got into British Columbia's modern chicken farms and how it spread despite a biosecurity crackdown. I believe the provincial government is trying to do its best but I do not see much action or commitment from the federal government. As a result, the government does not tell how it can be stopped. We probably do not know how it can be stopped at this juncture.

An estimated 1 million sick birds will be slaughtered and another 18 million poultry will be rushed to commercial slaughter to remove them from the infected area. Sampling will be done in each flock four days before slaughter and a visual inspection 24 hours before slaughter. The cull is expected to take at least six to eight weeks.

I would also like to mention that the Fraser Valley is responsible for over 80% or 85% of B.C.'s billion dollar poultry industry. A significant chunk of B.C.'s poultry industry is in the Fraser Valley.

About 600 chicken and turkey farmers will be affected by the cull and the direct cost of the cull to the farmers could be as high as $45 million, according to industry spokesmen.

However we also know there are many other types of costs associated with this crisis: the capital cost for the equipment that is idle; the cost to dispose of the manure; and the cost to disinfect the farm, the buildings and the equipment.

Even in the processing industries, they will be operating under capacity or they will probably shut down for some time. There are different types of costs. There are associated opportunity costs. There could be long lead times before the farmers can repopulate their poultry farms. This is going to cost a huge amount to the farmers as well as the associated people in the industry.

There will be real economic and non-economic impacts. There will be various types of direct and indirect costs and losses. Killing all types of birds means killing the livelihood of many farmers, whether small or large operations. Thousands in the industry will lose jobs, and producers and processors will be seriously affected. Some may even go broke financially. We are talking about a serious crisis.

There are about 3,000 people employed on the processing side of the poultry industry and about 2,000 workers on farms. Many people, almost every farming family, will be affected.

Many workers in the poultry industry will have to be laid off. Earlier this month Sunrise Poultry, in my constituency of Surrey Central, gave layoff notices to 30 workers in the plant and issued a warning to the remaining 420 employees that further layoffs may be imminent.

It will take six to eight weeks to destroy the birds. Following that, it could take several months to cleanse the affected farms and areas, and re-establish new flocks, the vast majority of which are grown in enclosed barns. After the farms are cleared of chicken carcasses, it takes days for the manure to be cleared out. Farmers must then wait 21 days before beginning to rebuild their flocks if the farms and surrounding farms receive a clean bill of health. Industry officials said it could take months before producers could begin operations again.

It does not mean that since the crisis happened west of the Rockies, it is not a serious national issue. The workers in the forest industry have still not seen any compensation from this weak and arrogant Liberal government. We know what happened in the forest industry. Because of the inaction of this weak government, the forestry workers in British Columbia are suffering. Forestry used to be the number one industry in British Columbia. I have seen mills devastated, closing one after the other and workers being laid off.

We have other issues and the avian flu is just one more. Who says that western alienation is not real and that it is a myth? It is real. This will be a litmus test for the government to prove that it can follow through and make a commitment on this issue. We will be looking forward to any meaningful action and commitment from the government in a timely fashion.

Last year the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began meeting with the poultry producers across the country advising them of the dangers of this disease. The CFIA suggested a bank of avian flu vaccine, but the idea went nowhere.

After the initial outbreak, the CFIA moved quickly to quarantine barns and exterminate flocks. However, these measures failed to stop the spread. Soon there was a cluster of five infected farms. The CFIA set up roadblocks to control traffic and established decontamination stations where vehicles had their tires sprayed with disinfectant, but the virus continued to spread.

A lot of human movement was not caught by the biosecurity measures because the security measures were probably not efficient and effective.

Since the outbreak was discovered, the U.S. has placed restrictions on basic poultry and eggs, and the European Union has banned Canadian poultry products. In total, nearly 40 countries have restricted imports of Canadian poultry due to the outbreak. We know that our border with the U.S. has not been properly opened for beef and now 40 countries have restricted imports of Canadian poultry due to the outbreak. We need serious action on that.

The federal government has declared the Fraser Valley, from Hope to Vancouver, an avian influenza control zone, restricting all movement of any live birds in captivity, including chickens, turkeys, pet birds and eggs to prevent the spread of the deadly bird flu. We do not know what to tell our farmers because we did not hear a proper commitment from the government.

The Conservative Party of Canada supports the compensation of affected producers on the same principle as any other disaster beyond their control. There exists a protocol of compensation according to the animal involved, but the agriculture minister was unable to provide any information on how or when producers in British Columbia might be compensated.

In Canada, we need a national strategy to deal with this kind of crisis on this type of issue. We should have learned some lessons from the SARS crisis. The government must consult local specialists, farmers and other stakeholders. That should be part of the process. There must be special consideration for rare or genetic treasures and specialty birds. The compensation package should reflect that.

What about pigeons? They are very difficult to breed. The government is looking at $33 or $35 per bird according to the Health Act, but what about pigeons? They probably cost at least $65.

Therefore, we need to see what we should do about the rare or genetic birds. It may be so devastating that a whole species of a particular bird may be eradicated. It is going to cost on the environmental front as well. We need to look into this very seriously.

The other thing is the long term implication of the avian flu, which is the worst in Canadian history. The long term implication must be part of the compensation decision making process because once we depopulate a particular farm the farmers need time to re-establish, refurbish and repopulate their farms.

In fact, considering the failure of previous Liberal agriculture programs to actually deliver amounts promised to those most in need, we in the Conservative Party suggest B.C. farmers begin now to document their inventories and to encourage their industry representatives to pressure the Liberals into developing a workable program of compensation that will flow quickly and effectively to producers.

In conclusion, I would like to urge the Liberal government not to sit on its hands. It must do whatever is necessary to conserve and preserve this devastated industry at this moment. Farmers need the help of the government, whether it is in the form of tax deferrals or compensation package. Whatever it is, the government must act efficiently and effectively as soon as possible.