Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-571, An Act to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act.
I will begin by stating that the Liberal Party supports this bill. I would also like to recognize and thank all those who have written letters and shared their thoughts and concerns with me about this piece of legislation. I have heard from many of our American neighbours who also want to see this bill enacted.
Bill C-571 amends the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act to ensure that any horse slaughtered for human consumption has a medical record containing all treatments over the course of its lifetime.
There are serious health concerns regarding horsemeat that may contain harmful substances if that horse was not raised primarily for human consumption. Horses sent for slaughter come from various backgrounds, and because they are not raised as food animals, they often receive medications that are banned from the food chain.
Currently, record keeping for horses bred and raised in Canada or the United States is not mandatory. The transfer of information regarding the substances a horse has received is not required when that animal is sold. This bill seeks to provide a reliable system for recording medications given to horses throughout their entire lifespans to prevent forbidden substances often found in horsemeat from entering our food chain.
Before we came here to vote tonight, I spoke to the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, who introduced a similar piece of legislation last year, Bill C-322, which did not have the parliamentary support needed to withstand a vote at second reading. Bill C-322 would have prohibited the transportation, import, or export of horses or horsemeat for human consumption altogether.
This new draft, Bill C-571, is an extension of the previous bill, which now provides for an exemption to that prohibition. Only horses raised primarily for human consumption that are accompanied by a complete medical history will be transported for slaughter for meat. This expansion of Bill C-322 better confirms the trade regulations and would fulfill Canada's food safety requirements.
Most Canadians do not realize how much horsemeat we sell all over the world. In 2013, more than 72,000 horses were slaughtered in Canada. That is nearly 1,400 killed each week. It is important to reiterate that Canada has a horsemeat industry worth $19 million, 85% of which is for export, and employs 500 Canadians. We do not want to take any livelihoods away from the people who make a living from it.
The U.S. eradication of its horsemeat industry in 2007 now leaves only two countries in North America that use horses for slaughter, Mexico and us. There are only five processing plants across Canada. Two are in Quebec, two are in Alberta, and one is in British Columbia.
While the consumption of horsemeat is not very popular with Canadians, there is a growing interest in Quebec, where it is often sold in supermarkets. Horsemeat is also eaten in many other countries around the world, over 15 that we export to, including France, Russia, all the “stans” in the Russian orbit, China, and Italy.
I believe that this bill achieves the necessary boundaries to sustain the horsemeat processing sector while respecting those who choose to incorporate this type of meat into their diets.
Bill C-571 proposes that we continue with this industry and that we breed horses the way we breed other livestock, such as cows and pigs, to ensure that these animals are not injected with chemicals that might hurt the food chain, because the rest of the animals in our livestock industry are not. These animals would not be injected or fed anything that would render the meat unsafe. All the bill is saying is that there needs to be some sort of assurance so that we do not endanger human health.
Some argue that this is an overly emotional debate. It is not, actually. There is a lot of evidence showing that horses not bred for slaughter carry medications that could harm people. A couple of years ago, Belgium authorities notified the European Commission about the reported presence of two forbidden substances in horsemeat imported from Canada.
The whole issue of the humane treatment of horses sent to slaughterhouses is another issue, but it is important to address it here.
I am a horse owner. My parents were from the Netherlands in Europe, and horsemeat was a staple of their diet. Sometimes it can be emotional for me also, but it is an industry, and it is very important.
We also have to address how we treat these animals before they are slaughtered. There have been many documented cases of cruelty and neglect in Canadian slaughterhouses. The larger issue is that when these great creatures are with us, they should be treated in an humane manner, which is not currently the case in many instances. The reality is that our current transportation regulations for horses are poor, allowing for horses to be transported for up to 36 hours, without food, water, or rest, in confined trailers.
Bill C-571 would impose certain limits on the horse slaughter industry that did not exist before. The main objective is to have safer horsemeat to export around the world. The legislation will help modernize regulations in the horsemeat processing sector in terms of food safety. It may also pave the way to adjusting the transportation of these animals when they are sent to slaughter for human consumption.
In conclusion, as the agriculture critic, I believe that Bill C-571 is a step in the right direction. The question today is not whether we should we be using horsemeat or disposing of horses in this way. The question today is whether horsemeat is safe. We have to make sure that it is safe and that there are no chemicals or medications in the meat when we sell it or consume it ourselves in this country.
The bill is a step in the right direction for maintaining and improving the horsemeat processing sector in Canada, which is still a big industry. We support the bill.