Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.
I thank my colleague from Welland, our current agriculture critic, for his hard work on this file. Just as he worked diligently on the listeriosis outbreak file, he has been on top of this file meeting with producers and asking the hard questions. His back-up staff, Katie and Rosa, have put a tremendous package together for us, information-wise, and I thank them for that.
This is a debate about a crisis. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and I, both in my former role as critic and now, have had a good working relationship. I feel that I can address concerns to him, which I have done, whether it is in regard to food growers, organic growers or others, and he is there to respond.
However, this is not about that. This is about a serious mistake that was made by him and his department, which is why we are here today. Let us look at some of the timelines that have been gone over and will continue to be discussed here.
On September 3, a shipment of beef from XL Foods tested positive for E. coli at the border. On September 4, the CFIA identified positive E. coli 0517:H7 at XL Foods.
On September 7, XL Foods was formally requested to produce detailed information related to products as soon as but no later than September 10. This was six days after the positive findings of E. coli.
On September 13, the CFIA finally removed XL Foods from the list of establishments eligible to export to the U.S. However, and this is important and interesting, there was still no recall in Canada.
On September 16, we had beef recall number one, the first one. That was 13 days after U.S. officials discovered E. coli.
On September 25, the minister is quoted as saying:
The work with the CFIA to adjudicate the paperwork at XL Foods is being done so that it can start getting back into that lucrative American market just as quickly as possible.
I reiterate that none of the product made it to store shelves....
That is what he said but we found out that the health department and the CFIA determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that steaks purchased at Costco Wholesale in Edmonton were actually the vehicle for four cases of human illness.
On October 4, XL Foods finally issued a press release and took full responsibility for the recalled meat. This was the first statement on its behalf.
As we go through this, we can look at the implications. The basic conclusion is that the system, as it applied to XL Foods, was not working. I would like to go a bit further to say that this is a symptom of a major disease that I see coming from that side of the House: the disease of de-regulation, industrial self-regulation.
In the last Trojan Horse omnibus bill, we saw all sorts of provisions to gut the whole environmental review process, to be able to streamline the northern gateway pipeline, taking fish habitat out of the Fisheries Act, and all of this in the name of industry self-regulation, guided by, which I would say seems to be driving the government, the whole Milton Friedman philosophy of de-regulation, privatization and less government.
Budget cuts to the CFIA must be cancelled. That agency must be given the resources it needs to fulfill its mandate for Canadians, that is, to ensure the safety of all food in the food industry.
The Conservatives advocated for increased self-regulation, but now, inspectors are examining paperwork rather than meat. The problems in our food safety system are a direct result of this government's incompetence, and now Canadians are paying the price.
The consumer can now and in the future choose not to eat beef. Obviously we can survive, there are other foods people can eat. However, a cattle producer cannot choose to turn around and start producing something else or go elsewhere. Once again, the farmer has taken the hit because of inadequate oversight by the government in collaboration with industry. That is what has happened here. It is a tough enough market for producers. They do not need this.
The idea that 700 net new food inspectors have been added to the ranks of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is wrong and misleading. This total includes hundreds whose work has nothing to do with protecting Canadians from unsafe food products. For example, the total includes 200 inspectors added to the invasive alien species program, which is designed to keep harmful organisms out of Canada, not safeguard Canadians from unsafe food products.
In fact, since 2006, not a single meat hygiene slaughter program inspector, except to fill vacancies, has been added to the CFIA ranks. There are actually so few inspectors at XL Foods and production is so high, over 4,000 cattle per day, that responsibility for ensuring sanitary conditions at the plant have been handed to the company. As a result of staff cuts in the spring, CFIA will lose 308 positions, many of whom are food inspectors.
Let us move on to a parallel industry, the horse slaughter industry. There are certain drugs that are banned from the food chain in animals. When an animal is given a drug once in its lifetime, that meat is no longer fit for human consumption. Phenylbutazone, which we call the horses' Aspirin, is taken by approximately 80% of the horses in North America at some point in their lifetimes. This only has to happen once and, according to our guidelines, that meat is no longer fit for human consumption.
Over 50,000 horses are imported from the U.S. annually for slaughter in one of our four slaughterhouses. Sporadic checks are made, but every horse is not inspected and the checks that are made are made on muscle tissue, whereas experts say that the kidneys are what should be analyzed.
Aunt Molly sends her race horses in the United States to go to auction, they are bought by killer buyers, shipped under horrendous conditions to Canada, often with falsified documents, and then put in the food chain and the meat is exported mainly to Europe. We know that Phenylbutazone, according to science, has been linked to aplastic anemia in children and other diseases. This is another example of what I consider sloppy oversight on the part of the CFIA. Make no mistake, we can pass the buck to the bureaucracy and I have heard this often at committee. However, the bureaucracy takes its direction from the political head, the minister. That is how it works in our system.
GMO is another example. A recent study called “GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”. One of the findings by scientists is that GMOs can be toxic, allergic and less nutritious than natural food, yet we never hear of our government taking a precautionary principle to study this.
I would like to close with a couple of statements, one by Bob Kingston of the union representing the inspectors. He said that the CFIA did not have the resources in place to fully understand what was going on in the plant at that time. After all, the minister had assured everyone that there were more inspectors working at the plant. He went on to say:
You will be interested to know that at the XL plant only a small portion of inspectors are fully trained in [compliance verification system].
I will conclude by saying, yes, this is a crisis and we need to get to the bottom of it. The minister has to take responsibility to ensure that Canadians continue to have safe food in their food supply and that farmers do not take another hit somewhere down the line because some other plant is closed due to the plant not listening to the union's safety concerns or to having safety oversight in the plant.