Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, whom I have known for many years as a very great member of Parliament in the House, for bringing forward this bill. I know that the member is very diligent in his work. He is a member who has a long history in the agricultural industry. He was the agriculture critic in the NDP for many years, and I know the riding he represents has a number of agricultural producers, so it is an issue he is very familiar with.
I also know he is a member who is very diligent in the research he does and the issues he brings to the House. I was very interested when he first brought forward Bill C-571, an act to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act concerning the slaughter of horses for human consumption. I know he brought forward this bill because of the research he has done, the people he has spoken to, and the concern he has that the status quo in Canada is very unsatisfactory. Indeed it is not safe and is something that needs to be debated in the House and looked at. It is very meritorious that this bill has been brought forward and we are having the debate in the House. We will vote on it, I believe, tomorrow.
I would like to agree with my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party who spoke before me that for many people it is an emotional issue. He articulated very well the fact that he himself is a horse owner, his family comes from a community where horsemeat is eaten, and yet there are issues that we have to sort out. For parliamentarians, the primary issue is to ensure that the safety of Canadians is paramount, that it is our first priority, and that the food chain is safe in this country.
Due to some of the quite shocking cases of contamination in various plants across the country, we know this is something the federal government must not only have oversight of; but strict laws, regulations, and inspections must be in place to guarantee safety. It is not a chance thing; there has to be a guarantee that our food supply system, the production system, food processing, from beginning to end, is something Canadians can rely on. Our faith in that system has been shaken on a number of occasions, which is all the more reason that, with this bill, we need to look at this issue in the cold light of day and examine whether the provisions we have in Canada that supposedly provide the required protections are actually working.
Having read the material that has been sent to us from many different perspectives, certainly by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior but also by others, I would say this bill is needed. It is a bill worthy of being sent to committee for further examination. We have to recognize that the system in Canada in terms of horses going to slaughterhouses is not foolproof. There are many loopholes. We have an industry where horses, particularly those used in racing but in other activities as well, contain all kinds of medications and drugs that are unfit for human consumption. For those medications to be in our food chain is very serious.
I agree with the underlying and fundamental premise of the bill that it is critical that we ensure there is a separation of streams. If horses are being raised primarily for the food chain, accompanied by a lifetime record such as we see in the European Union, in chronological order with all the medical treatments, that is fine. The issue is not about whether there is consumption of horsemeat and if it is good or bad. That is a matter of choice, and it is a consumer choice, as it is globally. The issue here is whether or not there is a separation and a prohibition to absolutely guarantee that horses being conveyed to slaughter that do not have that full medical record are not then being used for human consumption.
On this issue, we do have to err on the side of caution. We have to take the precautionary principle and ensure that the measures that are in place are foolproof and transparent, not just random sampling, and that there are proper inspections that take place. We have to ensure that these lifetime records, such as those we have seen in the European Union, are valid documents that can be counted on.
I am the health critic for the NDP, and I am very proud to do work as the health critic. I can tell the House that every day, when I speak with constituents, stakeholders, and organizations, the issues of food safety, labelling, transparency and ensuring that our food industry is working in a way that puts Canadians' safety first are things that I hear about very frequently. There is a lot of concern in the country about the fact that the federal government has retreated and we do not have the kinds of inspections, for example, under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
In fact, we know that there are no laws or restrictions in place that exclude racehorses from entering the slaughter system. There is no law that prevents that. Supposedly, we have something called an equine ID document that requires the medications that the horse has been on within the previous six months to be shown. However, that is something that has been so easy to get around.
I know that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has information from horse owners that shows that the documentation that they get is sometimes non-existent. It certainly does not contain the kind of information that is required to give someone a sense of the record of that particular animal's life. I know this because I just talked to the member a few minutes ago before the debate here tonight.
I am glad that we are debating this bill. There are different perspectives, but it comes down to the need to make sure that there is a clear separation when it comes to horses that are raised specifically for meat. There should be very clear rules around that. For other horses that have been used for other activities, we have to make absolutely sure that they do not end up being part of our food chain and our food system.
I would like to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for having the courage to bring forward this private member's bill to allow us to have this debate. I hope that members will consider the principle on the bill and, on that basis, agree that it should be supported to go to committee. I am sure that there will be all kinds of interesting witnesses who will want to come forward. There will be questions. There will be amendments. That is what our process is about here. That is why we have it.
At this point, we are here debating this bill in principle. On that basis, I support the bill, and I congratulate the member for the work he has done in bringing forward this important issue.