Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to address avian influenza. This is a contagious and deadly virus that has resulted in the deaths of millions of birds in British Columbia. This is an important issue to poultry producers in the Fraser Valley and, indeed, to all Canadians.
I am pleased that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food has tabled its report on avian flu, which focuses on the management of the crisis. I know that the committee has worked hard to evaluate the CFIA's response to this disaster. I would like to thank my hon. colleagues on all sides of the House who have worked hard on this evaluation.
I would also like to recognize the hard work of my colleague, the hon. member for Abbotsford. He has spent countless hours on the ground addressing the concerns and needs of his constituents and, in effect, all Canadian poultry producers.
Most importantly, let us recognize the hard-working people of the Fraser Valley who have participated in the many forums surrounding the evaluation. Their resilience is representative of all Canadian agricultural producers in times of crisis and their patience is greatly appreciated by the members of this House.
We have seen the devastation that the avian flu virus has caused in Asia where it is not under control. It is important to recognize that the virus that was discovered in British Columbia was not the same strain as the one that jumped the species barrier in southeast Asia infecting and killing many people.
However this House has to recognize that it is the same disease and that it can jump the species barrier. It is deadly.
If history has taught us anything, we cannot ignore the threat that the World Health Organization has been warning us of. I encourage officials at Health Canada and at the CFIA to share information on developing safeguards and action plans for Canadians in the event that we are faced with the human strain.
It is evident that the avian flu crisis was mismanaged in the worst way from the top down. As we know, the CFIA operates under a hodgepodge of legislation and that has prevented it from doing the job it needs to do when responding to emergency situations affecting Canada's food supply.
What is worse is that it has taken the Liberal government seven years to develop legislation to correct this legislation. Bill C-27, which is currently before the House of Commons, seeks to amalgamate the inspection and enforcement powers of the CFIA. It is my opinion that the delay and inaction from the Liberal government in regard to the operations and function of the CFIA is partly to blame for the mismanagement of this particular crisis.
The CFIA's inability to deal effectively in a crisis recently came to light in a troubling internal review of the CFIA's handling of the BSE crisis. The review entitled “CFIA BSE Emergency Response Assessment Report” was made public by the Vancouver Sun through access to information. It underscored some worrisome findings, stating that the Liberal government's response to the BSE crisis was “plagued by poor planning, staffing problems and repeated failures to share information”.
Furthermore, it highlighted several gaping holes in the CFIA's ability to deal with, at that time, future emergencies such as a possible outbreak of avian flu or hoof-and-mouth disease.
The review was completed for the CFIA on December 10, 2003 by an outside consultant and it warned that if the CFIA did not take steps to fix some of the problems identified they “could undermine CFIA's ability to respond to more complex or time-critical emergencies”.
This raises several questions. A mere two months after this warning was made, the CFIA was faced with the outbreak of avian influenza. I have to wonder if there was any attempt during that time to initiate corrective action, actions that could have prevented the gross mismanagement that occurred in the Fraser Valley.
In the report that has been tabled in this House, the standing committee has developed seven concrete recommendations to better manage the outbreak of contagious disease in Canadian agriculture. These recommendations cannot be ignored. If they are left ignored, the Liberal government will once again fail to ensure necessary protection for our Canadian livestock producers facing potential new and emerging threats.
While we can all agree that consumer protection is essential, we must not forget the threats that face the farm.
The avian flu crisis confirmed that the Liberal government has no concrete action plan in place for threats that require the massive destruction of Canadian livestock. For example, if foot and mouth disease ever entered Canada, this disease would have the potential to devastate our livestock industry.
Canada is in grave need of an organized, pre-planned livestock destruction system. We must prepare for the airborne disease of foot and mouth before it happens. We cannot afford to be scrambling to contain the disease without a plan, much like what happened in the Fraser Valley. It would be an agricultural nightmare. The seventh recommendation of the committee recognizes this fact. The time to act on it is now, not to send it back to the committee from which it came. It has already done what it wanted to with it. We need to take the action now.
I would like to address one of the other recommendations, which relates to compensation.
The CFIA ordered a cull of 19 million birds in the Fraser Valley. There was a protocol for compensation according to the type of birds involved, but the then agriculture minister was unable to provide any information at the time as to how or when producers in British Columbia might be compensated.
Producers later found out that they would be compensated based on outdated bird values laid out in the compensation for destroyed animals regulations under the Health of Animals Act. The compensation available to producers was an insult to the hard-working men and women of Canada's poultry industry.
Furthermore, the standing committee's report points out that the Health of Animals Act has the following deficiencies: It does not have the capacity to distinguish between the species of different industries. It lacks recognition of the value of genetic material and rare breeding stocks. It completely disregards compensation for forgone income.
Compensation amounts for broiler breeders and layers were determined using a specific formula. The widespread nature of the outbreak limited the replacement market for these birds, making it difficult for owners to restock their flocks with adult birds. It is clear that the formula failed.
Specialty bird owners incurred a large amount of damage. These producers are not supported by supply management and suffered the loss of irreplaceable breeds, the loss of niche markets and the loss of capital investment required to start all over again.
To emphasize the necessity of addressing the issue of compensation, I would like to read in its entirety the recommendation of the committee:
That, in its review of the existing compensation program under the Health of Animals Act, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency must ensure fairness and consistency among all types of production. In recognizing the intrinsic value of genetic material so important to some industries, flexibility must be allowed in compensation. The Agency, in consultation with the affected industries, should also consider how equitable compensation might be offered for forgone income, and for one-time losses.
The Conservative Party of Canada supports the compensation of affected producers based on the same principles as any other disaster beyond their control. A Conservative government would ensure that compensation flowed quickly and effectively to producers.
Clearly, the compensation for destroyed animals regulation failed farmers. The Conservative Party demands that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food make sure that these regulations are thoroughly and properly adjusted.
As recommended by the committee, we trust that the government will consult with agricultural and agrifood stakeholders in a responsible, open and transparent manner.
In closing, I would like to once again recognize the producers in British Columbia who were so seriously impacted by this situation. The Liberal government failed producers in the Fraser Valley and for that, it should be ashamed.
The Conservative Party recognizes the importance of producers' hard work, the benefits it offers to our safe food supply, and the contribution it provides to the Canadian economy. I would like to assure Canadian producers that their next government, a Conservative government, has an inherent appreciation for agriculture. Conservatives recognize the importance of respecting producers and the welfare of animals in times of crisis.
There are several problems that have been addressed through this report. A lot of them obviously have to do with the avian influenza outbreak in British Columbia. This is not the first time we have encountered difficulties with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In fact, there were problems with the BSE situation. Too many producers across our country encountered difficulties of an unnecessary nature on a daily basis.
One particular producer in my riding has been having problems. She has been trying to import chemicals that would work on her sweet potato crop. These are chemicals that are used and approved in the United States for sweet potatoes. In fact, the same chemicals are approved in Canada for use on apples.
This producer is trying to build a brand new industry in this country, sweet potatoes. When she applied to bring in that chemical from the U.S. to put on her sweet potato crop, she was denied permission. Why? Believe it or not, she was told that somebody might eat the sweet potato skin to which the chemical had been applied. Most people I know eat the skins of apples, but not many eat the skin of a sweet potato. That is the kind of nonsense I am talking about.
There was another situation just last week where one of my constituents had a problem bringing in frozen fish from the Far East. All of the paperwork had been approved by the CFIA in advance. Yet when the ship docked in Vancouver with that very time sensitive load on board that had survival characteristics, because let's face it frozen fish is a time sensitive commodity, the constituent was told, “Too bad, it is Friday morning and we are not going to inspect your product until Monday”.
As a result, my constituent was in breach of the contract. The person was also to receive a bill for $1,300 for off loading, inspecting and reloading those goods that are no longer of use and for which business was lost.
We have to have accountability from this agency. That is why in Bill C-27 the Conservative Party is working so hard to add amendments that once and for all would cause the CFIA to be held accountable.
There is one thing I found frightening during the briefing regarding Bill C-27. When I asked what methods and means of accountability would be included in Bill C-27, I was told that the CFIA would be training its inspectors on the new rules and regulations. That is it, it would be training them.
That is not accountability. Canadians know that is not accountability. That is the first step in preparing for accountability, letting people know what their jobs are and what are the constraints and parameters of performance. Accountability is when people are expected to operate within those constraints and parameters and consequences are imposed if they do not do so.
We are talking about accountability for all of CFIA's actions, not just in the handling of the avian influenza outbreak, not just in the handling of the BSE crisis, not just in its day to day operations, but in everything it does. We need a safe and secure food supply system, granted. However, we also need to know there are no abuses of the system, that the processors who have to work within the system can do so in a fair and reliable way knowing that the government agencies that are there to help consumers are also there to help them succeed. If the producers cannot succeed, then none of us will have anything to eat, and who will be held accountable for that?