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House of Commons Hansard #159 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was criminals.

Topics

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, there is no such thing as a self-regulating system in Canada. CFIA has a number of different jobs it performs in these plants every day. The particular plant in question has 46 professional CFIA staff, which is a 20% increase over just a few years ago.

We take this very seriously. We are working to ensure that CFIA has the regulations it requires and the monetary capacity to get the job done.

I am hopeful that the NDP will work with us in the future.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

October 4th, 2012 / 2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the timeline that the minister has referred to, and I would like him to think back.

Since he says he was meeting with the staff on a daily basis, I assume that means he was meeting with the staff on a daily basis after the initial findings of E. coli on September 4. On September 10 and 11, we are told in the timeline, the CFIA identified August 24, August 28 and September 5 as of interest for further investigation. Did that have to do with extraordinary or high levels of E. coli with respect to those particular dates, and can the minister tell us when he himself was informed with respect to those findings on those dates?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, my office was fully engaged on September 5 as CFIA had identified the initial batch of contaminated product both in a secondary facility in Calgary and, of course, at the border by the United States. That product was captured and brought back in. As we strove to work further, we worked with scientific evidence, and we work with information that we have available to us to make sure that Canadian consumers are not at risk.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, these are troubling facts that the minister and the CFIA itself is disclosing. September 16, according to the timeline—the minister himself said it—is the date upon which the CFIA removed XL Foods; but on September 13 the Americans removed XL Foods from the list of establishments eligible to export to the United States. Canada did not take the step of closing the plant until September 27. There were recalls on September 16 and recalls again on September—

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

As the member opposite rightly points out, Mr. Speaker, CFIA was acting on the information it had. It did issue a recall on September 16 on some potentially dangerous hamburger product, the higher-risk product. That is what it does. It works on scientific evidence and a growing body of evidence to make sure that Canadians are well served by their food safety system.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, even Mr. Arsenault, director of the Meat Programs Division, clearly said that he was not going to pretend that they got it all right.

“We're not going to pretend we got it right”. That is the statement of Mr. Arsenault from the meat programs division.

I would like to ask the minister this. Americans were protected on September 13 because no product was allowed to be exported to the United States. All Canadian consumers were not protected until September 27, two weeks later. Why were Americans better protected than Canadians?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Of course, I fundamentally disagree with that statement, Mr. Speaker. The member opposite also said the other day that the American E. coli statistics were far more robust than Canada's. The Americans' have gone down by some 40%. In that same timeframe, in Canada the E. coli incidence went down by 69%, and 2012 is going further in that good, positive way. We will take no lessons from the Liberals.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, while the minister bragged about what a great job everyone has been doing, yesterday Canadians learned the truth about how slow the process truly is. On September 6, CFIA requested critical distribution and testing information from XL Foods. In return, XL took five days to respond. This is an unacceptable delay in the chain of information.

The minister cannot keep running from the question. Why does the minister think that a five-day lag in the transfer of critical information is acceptable?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, we absolutely agree a five-day lag is unacceptable. That is why we tabled Bill S-11, the safe food for Canadians act, last spring. It gives us more robust powers, a more timely way to assess the paperwork, and we will continue to move forward in that vein. I know that bill will be here very soon. The Senate went through clause by clause this morning. That bill will be before them very soon. Let us get it passed.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I assume that is why he tabled it in the other place instead of here.

On September 13, CFIA stopped XL production to U.S. consumers, yet our agriculture minister did not shut down Canadian production until September 27, two weeks later. This massive delay has undermined the public's confidence in Canada's food safety. When consumer confidence fails, it is producers who pay the price.

Why did the minister stop XL beef going to U.S. consumers and yet allow the same plant to ship beef to Canadian families?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is sort of cherry-picking the timeline. What he will see if he reads it properly is a growing body of evidence that CFIA gathers on a scientific basis. These are not political decisions, these are decisions made by the professional staff members at CFIA. They build a body of evidence, they put out health hazard warnings, they started a recall of hamburger on September 16, and they stand by the work that they have done.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, on September 3, a shipment of meat from XL Foods was stopped at the U.S. border because of E. coli contamination.

However, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did not ask the company for the information it needed about meat processing before September 6. Consumers were unnecessarily exposed to contamination for an extra 72 hours.

Can the minister tell us why it took the agency three days to take action?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the United States notified Canada on September 4, the very same day we found product in another plant in Calgary. It turned out to be from the same batch. We contained that batch. That batch has been destroyed. Then we began to trace down where we needed to go from there.

In that next day time frame, CFIA staff members were in the plant looking for a cause of E. coli. They have to work on scientific evidence. They start to amass the information as it becomes available to them. They asked for documentation from the plant on the 6th to highlight certain issues that they thought might be a problem, and it took the plant some days to get it to them.

Bill S-11 will get us beyond that timeline and shorten it down. We need that bill—

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, too little, too late. Bill S-11 is not enough.

Refusing to take responsibility for this crisis is not reassuring for consumers and producers, who are worried about the industry's future. For three long days, Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors did not know what they were looking for. The Conservatives are to blame for keeping Canadians in the dark and endangering public safety, but no one on the other side is accepting responsibility for this fiasco.

Why did the minister not warn consumers as soon as this crisis began?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, food safety is job number one for the government and it is a priority for CFIA. That is its entire mandate.

We continue to build a robust food safety system. We add dollars, we add inspectors and we continue to do that to ensure they have the ability to do the job they want.

I am hopeful the NDP will finally start to work with us and start passing some of these initiatives that we are putting forward.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister is acting as though there were no crisis. Two days ago, he told people to follow his lead and eat beef. But in the meantime, producers and consumers are worried.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a corrective action request on September 5. People in the Magdalen Islands learned just yesterday that they were sold tainted meat. That is unacceptable. These delays were caused by the lack of front-line inspectors.

Why did the agency not react more quickly to the crisis?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of inspectors, the plant in question has 46 professional CFIA staff members on site on a daily basis. These people are doing a tremendous job working through difficult situations. They continue to assess what went wrong. They are building a body of evidence.

A recall is just that. It is a notice to the public that there is a possibility of a problem. People should please take that seriously. People who have product in their fridges and freezers should go on the website, check the bar codes and ensure they are not putting themselves in harm's way.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, Ontario farmers are concerned about the impact this massive recall will have on prices. Northern Ontario consumers are worried about the safety of their food. However, instead of protecting the safety of Canadians, the minister failed to act on glaring deficiencies in the safe food inspection system.

Why did the minister allow XL Foods to process beef on August 23, 24, 27, 28 and 29 with broken rinse nozzles and an incomplete E. coli tracking system?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite should go back to the timeline and see the assessment that was done by CFIA based on science, based on a growing body of evidence that there were some anomalies on the days that he mentioned. At that time, we continued to amass that information. We have since gone out with recall notices on those days in question because of the anomalies that were noticed.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are just discovering how widespread this meat recall is, yet Conservatives only now admit to gaping holes in the rules regulating XL Foods. Still they persist in saying that all is well with the food safety regime, deny responsibility for the E. coli breakout and, when all else fails, blame the CFIA.

The crux of this problem is that the compliance verification system is broken. When will the government come clean about the perils of self-regulation and commit to an enforceable compliance regime for the food industry?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the system we have is robust. It has been adjudicated by a number of bodies around the world, third parties, that say we have a good system in our country.

We continue to enhance that system. Bill S-11 will give us more powers, in a more proactive and quicker way, to bring the information that we need to bear as we face situations like this.

We continue to build the capacity of the CFIA to do its work. I am hopeful the NDP, with its new epiphany, will join us in that endeavour.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister is hiding behind the agency's president in order to avoid taking responsibility.

Over the past six years, the budget for food safety has been cut by $40 million, and cuts will continue to be made until 2015. The Report on Plans and Priorities makes no mention of an increase in food safety staff, contrary to the minister's claims.

Why are the Conservatives making up stories that are contradicted by their own documents?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, it is very easy to validate. Going back to the budgets up until this point we have increased the CFIA's budgetary capacity by some 20%. We have added 700 net new inspectors to its roll, 170 of them dedicated to meat lines.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' claims about their spending are simply not supported by the facts. They are denying their own financial documents, but the Conservatives like to hide the facts.

When the Parliamentary Budget Officer asked about the impact of the Conservative cuts on food safety, the CFIA said that it either did not know or could not say. Why are the Conservatives denying their own financial statements? Why are they hiding the facts from Canadians?