Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise and speak in the House. On the topic today, it is important to know that whenever there is a food recall of unsafe products it does cause concern for Canadians about our food safety system. But what Canadians need to know is that we have one of the best food safety systems in the world. Our recall system is proof positive that our food safety system is functional. It catches problems, it alerts us to problems and it alerts Canadians to things they need to know about their food supply.
I mentioned this earlier in my question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, but a recent OECD report recognized Canada's superior food safety system. So there is international recognition that Canada does have stringency in food safety rules, in inspection and in making sure that Canadian consumers have that right, have that access to safe food.
However, no system is foolproof and there are clear safeguards in place to detect problems and clear procedures and policies to address these problems as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Canadians expect safe and healthy food, and this is why our government has heavily invested in strengthening Canada's food safety system and has introduced Bill S-11, Safe Food for Canadians Act. It would strengthen our ability to trace and recall foods, including the authority to allow the creation of tracing systems and stronger record maintenance requirements; enhance food safety oversight, including new prohibitions targeting unsafe practices such as tampering, hoaxes and deceptive practices; reduce regulatory duplication; increase co-operation among food safety authorities; provide standardization and uniformity in the way CFIA carries out its inspection and enforcement duties; provide stronger import controls on food coming into Canada; further align our food safety systems to those of our key trading partners; and provide the authority to provide export certification for all food. I am very glad to highlight these things in the House today.
These are great things. These are timely to issues that are going on in our country right now, and I find it very unfortunate that my colleagues opposite are not willing to expedite the bill's passage through the House of Commons. I really do not understand their rationale for doing this, and I hope that one of them can accurately speak to this today because I have not heard any good rationale whatsoever in the debate today.
Bill S-11 builds on our government's already strong track record of investment and policy-making in Canada's food safety system, including delivering the biggest budgets ever for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency—budget 2011 in fact committed an additional $100 million over five years to the CFIA to improve food safety capacity—establishing guidelines for product of Canada/made in Canada labelling; funding the Canadian integrated food safety initiative to the tune of $47.16 million under Growing Forward to support the development of food safety and traceability systems by national organizations.
Highlights of this initiative include up to $7 million for the Canadian Pork Council to strengthen the national swine traceability system; up to $2 million in funding for the Canadian Animal Health Coalition for the West Hawk Lake zoning initiative, which will help to monitor the movement of animals and agricultural products between eastern and western Canada; and up to $4.45 million to help the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency to strengthen livestock traceability.
There are so many things that our government has invested in for food safety, and with this new legislation that is about to come to this place, I feel our government is getting it done with regard to food safety. However that said, we also understand that there are three pillars of food safety in this country. There are three different groups that play active roles in this. Consumers have a role, industry has a role and so does government. When we look at industry's roles, we see that all federal government inspected meat and fish processing facilities must follow strict guidelines and rules for food safety. This involves identifying what can go wrong, planning to prevent a problem and taking action where a problem is identified.
Industry must not only ensure a culture of food safety and consumer protection from the top leadership through to employees, but it must adopt a science-based risk management practice to minimize food safety risks.
To that end, industry works to identify potential sources of food contamination, update production practices to reduce risk, comply with inspection and testing protocols and pull unsafe products from the market.
Again, going back to the government's role on this, it begins with effective laws and then CFIA delivers all federally mandated programs for food inspection, plant and animal health products and production systems.
As Canada's largest science-based regulator, the CFIA holds industry to account for the safety of its products, responds to food safety emergencies, carries out food recalls and prevents the spread of animal disease to humans.
Given the complexity of this mandate, as we were saying earlier, the CFIA works with a variety of partners including Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
One of CFIA's key jobs is to inspect both domestic and imported food. It also inspects audits and tests products to verify that industry is complying with food safety regulations, and it enforces those regulations in federally regulated food processing facilities.
Once the food safety system has identified a contaminated food product in the marketplace, an investigation takes place that can lead to a food recall. More often than not, under the CFIA's direction, industry itself takes charge and carries out the recall of its food product.
In fact, it is extremely rare for a firm to be found unwilling to remove an affected product. In these cases, the CFIA can issue a mandatory recall letter. The agency can also seize affected products and prosecute any firms that do not comply with recall orders. Again, this is an example of Canada's very safe, very effective food safety regulations.
When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA's investigations are driven by three imperatives in ensuring the safety of the food supply: accuracy, thoroughness and timeliness. As one can imagine, the gathering of facts is critical to a science-based thorough investigation.
Thus, the CFIA must achieve two objectives in such a situation. It must undertake a robust review process that produces accurate and reliable information, because there is an impact on the outcome of this investigation both to consumers and industry, while ensuring that the public is informed as soon as possible about potential risks.
To achieve this balance, the CFIA issues regular alerts for recalled products even while an investigation is ongoing. As a result, it may issue several public alerts for the same recall. Once a product is known to pose a health risk, it is recalled immediately.
This is an important point: the series of expanded alerts issued over the past few weeks related to the XL Foods recall reflect the new information obtained during the course of a continuing science-based investigation. The timing of these notices is a normal part of the recall process.
It is important to note that the XL Foods plant will not be allowed to reopen until the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has certified it is safe. At the moment, XL Foods continues to work with the CFIA to identify and trace contaminated food products that might be in the market.
At the plant right now, the CFIA's immediate focus is to verify that XL Foods has put measures in place and follows those measures to effectively control E. coli contamination at all stages of production.
As an Albertan and someone who is also concerned about food safety, I know this is a delicate balance. We want to make sure the plant is producing food that meets our stringent food safety guidelines but is also cognizant of the workers and cattle ranchers in this country who depend on that plant to get their product to market.
I want to emphasize that, first and foremost, we need to make sure the food is safe. Our agents and inspectors who are there right now are working with the company to make sure that the stringent food safety standards that we all expect are in place before the plant reopens. I want to make sure, for my constituents and those across the country, that everyone realizes that this is something that everyone in this House, including our government, is committed to. We certainly hope it takes place as soon as possible.
To conclude, this is why the passage in this House of Bill S-11, the bill we were talking about earlier, is so important. The amalgamation and streamlining of food safety regulations, which are currently set up under separate umbrellas, is accounted for in the bill. It is something that needs to happen quickly. I certainly hope my colleagues opposite will take the opportunity to expedite the passage of this bill.
As my colleague before me did, I would like to ask for unanimous consent in the House for the following motion:
That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill S-11, an Act respecting food commodities, including their inspection, their safety, their labelling and advertising, their import, export and interprovincial trade, the establishment of standards for them, the registration or licensing of persons who perform certain activities related to them, the establishment of standards governing establishments where those activities are performed and the registration of establishments where those activities are performed, be deemed read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.