Madam Speaker, in terms of the concurrence motion, I am a member of the standing committee and as a member said earlier, I was not able to attend the meetings in Abbotsford. In fact, I was in Abbotsford the day before on farm income hearings. This issue barely came up at the farm income hearings because the producers knew the standing committee was coming in the next day to hear from them. As the report clearly indicates, those producers have been heard.
This is but one of three studies. One was done by the agency. The second one was the lessons learned report which was a very extensive review of what happened and made recommendations to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on how it could do a better job another time around.
To the greatest extent possible, this is a very good report by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food with one exception. The opposition parties in the committee, with this minority Parliament, want to continue to play politics with this issue.
Yes, there were mistakes made by CFIA. The CFIA, fully admitted to that when it was before the committee. This was a new crisis disease and lessons had to be learned while it was dealing with that particular issue.
In the face of this crisis, let us remember that Canada proved to be very successful in responding to the outbreak. Through prompt and effective action, we were able to bring the situation under control. We contained a highly contagious virus to a relatively small area in a short period of time. Ultimately we were able to eradicate the virus from commercial and domestic birds in the Fraser Valley area.
I also remind the House that throughout the crisis we were able to maintain consumer and market confidence in Canadian poultry and poultry products. Our major international customers had sufficient confidence in our ability to contain the disease to a specific region that they did not place a ban on poultry and poultry products from all of Canada which they otherwise might have done.
If we recall the avian influenza, that was a major positive step forward. As a result of the actions of the Government of Canada and CFIA, we were able to maintain that confidence in poultry and poultry products within Canada and able to maintain our international markets.
The scope of Canada's success in controlling avian influenza becomes obvious when we compare our experience to what happened in other countries. There was potential for a public health crisis for example. When two individuals suffered minor symptoms, we tightened up our biosecurity measures as a result and the disease was not transmitted to more people.
In the Netherlands more than 250 farms were infected during its avian influenza outbreak. Comparing that to Canada there were only 42 commercial farms that were implicated in the outbreak. This is in spite of the high density of poultry farms in that area of B.C. In fact, there were approximately 600 poultry farms in the control area and the disease was contained to just 42 commercial farms.
Around the world animal health and public health officials acknowledged Canada as an example of effective response to a deadly and highly contagious disease. In fact, a panel of four internationally recognized experts acknowledged that Canada took the appropriate actions.
This is a tribute to the teamwork that was in place. It is a tribute to an emergency response system that was able to react very quickly to changing circumstances. It is clear that Canada has earned international respect for the way we handled the crisis.
The report recommends another inquiry. The opposition has asked that we concur in it. Where does that leave us? I would pose the question this way. First, keep in mind three studies already have been done. One was done by the agency itself. The second was the lessons learned study with all kinds of experts and hearings on the ground. The third was done by the committee itself. The party opposite wants to hold another inquiry.
One of the difficulties of a minority Parliament is sometimes opposition parties think they do not have to take responsibility for the decisions made. It is very easy to be a critic and say outrageous things.
What would be the cost of this public inquiry? It is not only the cost in terms of dollars. What would be the cost in terms of delays and getting the appropriate action done, action that already has started to take place?
Responsible government requires us to accept some responsibility. We have and the CFIA certainly has. The CFIA has looked internally at itself and it has looked at the committee report. It is moving on some of those recommendations.
What I am clearly saying on the record is the opposition parties, with recommendation one, are not being responsible. They are being irresponsible and they will force delays and added costs on the system that can only at the end of the day complicate things further for farmers. I suggest the opposition parties drop recommendation one and go with recommendations two, three, four, five, six and seven which makes a lot of sense in terms of moving ahead.
I should put on the record some of the things that are being done. If members are responsible on the other side, they will admit improvements have been made. They should also admit, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that we continue to have confidence in our poultry and poultry products in the country. Also, our international trading partners continue to have confidence in this country and its inspection services as well.
Let me update the House on some of the proactive actions taken by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to respond to AI and to other potential emergency situations.
First, the CFIA, as is well known on the other side, although they do not want to admit it, consulted extensively with national feather organizations. I know of no feather organizations that are calling for an inquiry. Those organizations want to see action done on the reports already out there.
The CFIA has established an operation protocol that will be applied should another outbreak AI occur in the future. This was developed in consultation with industry. It provides a good balance between the requirements for prompt, decisive action on the one hand and science based decision making on the other.
A policy has been developed for CFIA employees to follow for the first 24 to 48 hours of an AI outbreak. That is different than what the member said earlier about waiting around for 30 days. The procedure now would be that the farm would be frozen immediately and decisions would be made within 48 hours.
I know members opposite want to go back in history. What we are talking about on this side is the future. We are progressive in making decisions toward the future.
Second, the agency is working with stakeholders to develop plans for foreign animal disease eradication support, or FADES agreements. The CFIA is currently negotiating new FADES agreements with all provinces and territories, including an exercise requirement.
We also are consulting with industry associations to solicit their views on the FADES and to identify opportunities for incorporating industry's responsibilities in emergency response to foreign animal disease. We expect this process to be completed by this fall. If we had an inquiry, would the agency have the personnel to continue this? What the opposition is trying is nothing but delay and political tactics for partisan political reasons.
Third, the agency is working on a program to give accreditation to laboratory services so it can use data from non-CFIA laboratories. Four laboratories have already been accredited, including the provincial lab in Abbotsford.
Fourth, the agency undertook to examine the feasibility of establishing a pre-emptive cull program. It added this to the agenda of its meetings with the poultry industry, and an interim pre-emptive cull protocol is in effect now. It will be reviewed before a permanent protocol is finalized.
Fifth, the agency is working to increase federal capacity to respond to zoonotic disease outbreaks through the development of collaborative arrangements with Health Canada and the new Public Health Agency of Canada. Officials have met and will be developing a framework to detail roles and responsibilities of the three parties by this fall.
Sixth, the agency will conduct a review of the compensation maximum amounts under the Health of Animals Act. That was a legitimate concern raised by the member opposite. There are concerns that some of the more valuable animals may not have been compensated enough, but the CFIA in terms of its responsibilities is not at fault there. It compensated the maximum allowed under the act and that is all that it could be expected to do.
We understand the financial difficulties that those producers face in these kinds of times. However, keep in mind that in Canada we have a safety net system that allows the government and its regulatory authorities to act quickly, to get rid of a disease and compensate producers for those losses. That does not happen in all countries around the world. Nor does it happen in all industries, for example, even in this country in the aquaculture industry. We are very fortunate that we have that compensation under the Health of Animals Act and, yes, it does need to be reviewed. This review began in February of this year and is slated for completion by the end of this year.
Seventh, the agency is reviewing the protocols on which to activate local area and national emergency response teams. At a workshop last January, the various stakeholders began to develop the protocols. They will be in place by November.
Eighth, the CFIA has committed to revising the structure of its emergency response teams so that the roles, responsibilities and delegated decision making are more clearly defined. This is scheduled to be completed by November. That deals with the question that members had earlier about how CFIA dealt with an emergency response. It is now being outlined and structures are being put in place so that the roles, responsibilities and delegation of decision making are in place, clearly defined and everyone knows in advance what they ought to be doing.
Ninth, the CFIA is implementing a national AI, avian influenza, survey for domestic poultry. The development and implementation of a small scale AI surveillance plan is well underway. The expectation is that samples will be collected in the spring of 2005. Development of a longer term plan for active and ongoing surveillance of the commercial poultry industry is also underway.
Last, with respect to what the CFIA has on its agenda at the moment, the agency will set up an animal health surveillance communication network to link federal, provincial and university animal health laboratories across Canada. That is a long term project.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been progressively moving forward with an action plan on how to deal with the kind of disease outbreak we had last year and the potential for other diseases in the future.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been listening to the reviews that have taken place: first, within the agency itself; second, with the “Lessons Learned” document; and third, with this report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. On some of these points, the CFIA has been ahead of the game and has moved on some of the recommendations before they were even made. That is pretty good work.
I come back to my point on responsible government. The agency is moving ahead. It recognizes the fact that lessons had to be learned. Members opposite have to recognize that this was a crisis situation, one that had not happened elsewhere before. Lessons had to be learned on the go.
As a result of all the evaluations that have been made, the agency has now come up with the list of actions, which I have laid before the House today. These actions show that the agency is acting in quite a number of ways to prevent problems, as a result of the emergency of the avian influenza, from occurring again. The agency has learned lessons by the “Lessons Learned” report and the other reports that have been made.
There is much in the report just tabled and much in the CFIA action plan. I have a outlined number of points on which I think we can all agree. The government has difficulty with a couple of the recommendations which would unnecessarily divert its attention and the agency's attention away from the important work already at hand.
For the reasons I have already outlined in terms of concern with recommendations one, two and three in particular, and considering the committee could benefit from examining more thoroughly the implications of its recommendations and the progress that has been made to date in responding to the recommendations, I seriously oppose recommendation number one. I think it ends up being a delaying tactic, an unnecessary diversion from what we are doing as a government and as an agency. It would be confusing to the public on the kind of strong measures that we have already taken.
One point that is extremely important in the food world is confidence in the food supply. There also has to be confidence in the fact that we treat animals humanely. The first opposition member who spoke went into some of that old history, some of the things that are not being done now. The member has left the impression with the public that those things are happening today. The measures that have taken place by the agency and the Government of Canada show that is not the way things are done now.
With the rhetoric that is coming from the other side, what those members are doing is leaving the misrepresentation in the public arena that food is not as safe as it really is in this country. The government and the agency are doing everything possible to learn from the lessons of avian influenza, to do a better job, and to assure the public nationally and internationally that we have the safest food supply in the world. We are doing our best for farmers at the same time.