Mr. Speaker, I want to assure members that our government takes animal welfare concerns very seriously. Horses, or equines, have played an important role in Canada's history, and I think we all agree that horses and indeed all animals need to be treated humanely.
Where Conservatives disagree is whether the subject before us today is one of food safety. While this bill is being presented as such, in fact it is not. To remind members, this bill proposes to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act. It would prohibit the import or export of equines for slaughter along with equine meat products for human consumption, unless the equine was raised primarily for human consumption and unless a complete lifetime medical record was provided.
I want to point that it is not just about restricting the movement of horses across the border. This bill includes preventing horses from moving from one province to another within Canada. This is not a food safety issue, and it is certainly not an import-export issue, so I appreciate the opportunity to present clear facts to the House.
Here are the facts of the matter. Horse slaughter is a legitimate business activity in Canada. There are indeed Canadians who eat equine meat. Our government is committed to the humane treatment of animals.
With regard to my first point, equine meat production is a major and legitimate industry in Canada. I would like to provide some additional facts. Over a billion people throughout the world eat approximately one million tonnes of equine meat per year. China alone consumes some 400,000 tonnes. In 2012, the estimated value of the Canadian horse slaughter industry was $122 million. This industry produced approximately 24 million kilograms of equine meat. That same year, 17.7 million kilograms of equine products were exported, which contributed approximately $90 million to the Canadian processing industry.
This industry is important to the economy. It is also a matter of individual choice. Right now, each horse owner in Canada has the right to choose the best end-of-life option for their animals. Canadians care about their horses, and while I appreciate that some people have difficulty with the idea of horse slaughter, the fact is that this is a humane end-of-life option. Let me be clear. Our government does not support taking away rights from horse owners, and this is a matter of principle.
Canada's equine herd grows by approximately 34,000 foals each year. Canadians use end-of-life slaughter for 85% of the annual increase in the domestic horse population. As we can see, this is an important population management tool. The decision to choose slaughter as an end-of-life option should therefore remain a decision for each horse owner to make. As well, the equine slaughter industry employs well over 600 people directly in rural Canada, jobs that will be in danger with the passage of this bill. I would encourage the NDP to stand up for hard-working Canadians instead of trying to ban this industry through the back door.
With regard to my second point, there are in fact Canadians who eat equine meat. They eat approximately 2,000 tonnes per year. The consumption of equine meat is commonplace in Quebec and in the other provinces of Canada. In Quebec, equine meat can be found in supermarkets right next to the beef, chicken and pork.
It is not up to the government to tell Canadians what they can or cannot eat. However, we are responsible for making sure that the food they choose to eat is safe. That is why there are already strict food safety regulations in place.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency performs daily inspections in all federally registered meat establishments to verify that all products are manufactured in accordance with food safety regulations.
Let me further clarify the facts about veterinary drugs such as phenylbutazone, also known as bute.
Bute is an anti-inflammatory commonly used to treat lameness in horses. It is approved by Health Canada for this use as an anti-inflammatory, but it is not approved for use in food-producing animals, and that includes equines destined for human consumption.
For this reason, the CFIA regularly tests equine meat for veterinary drugs, including phenylbutazone. The overwhelming majority of tests reveal freedom from drug residues. In fact, compliance rates are very high, at over 98%.
In addition to testing, other precautions are taken. Since July 2011, the CFIA has required that equines presented for slaughter be accompanied by a complete treatment history for the six months prior to slaughter. The European Union, our largest export market for equine products, accepts this requirement as an appropriate assurance that non-permitted residues are not present.
Under Canada's Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures, all equines presented for slaughter must be accompanied by an equine information document, or EID. The EID links the identity of the animal to a six-month medical history. The six-month period exceeds the recommended withdrawal period for a number of veterinary drugs, including bute. EIDs are just one part of a larger integrated system designed to prevent trace residues in all meat products.
It is important to note that no case of human illness has been attributed to the consumption of horsemeat or veterinary residues therein in North America or in countries of any of our trading partners, so as members can see, Canada already has firm protocols in place to verify that meat products are safe to eat.
To my third point, our government is committed to verifying that all animals destined for slaughter are treated humanely. Here are facts about what we are doing.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's slaughter improvement program has made up to $60 million available to improve federally regulated slaughter facilities. This includes specific investments aimed at improving animal welfare practices. We have committed up to $3.4 million for the development and updating of codes of practices for farm animal care.
Animal welfare assurance systems continue to be eligible for funding under Growing Forward 2. For example, up to $100,000 has been committed to the National Cattle Feeders' Association to help develop and implement a national feedlot animal care assessment program.
As I said earlier, we all agree that animals must be treated humanely. That is why CFIA inspectors are present on site in all federally registered slaughter facilities each day to verify that animal welfare requirements are met. However, if something unfortunate should occur, the CFIA has the authority to investigate animal welfare concerns in instances of non-compliance. The CFIA also has the authority to respond to findings with a full suite of enforcement tools, including criminal prosecution. This is the reality right now, but I cannot speak to the consequences if the current end-of-life option was no longer available.
According to Equine Canada, Bill C-571 would not enhance or add value to existing food safety legislation in Canada, it would not improve the humane welfare of horses in Canada, and it would cause serious implications for Canadian horse owners moving horses interprovincially within Canada.
For all these reasons, our government opposes Bill C-571.