Mr. Chair, today is my second intervention but I would like to take this opportunity to thank the population of the beautiful riding of Pontiac, which includes Buckingham, Masson-Angers, MRC des Collines-de-l'Outaouais, la Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and MRC de Pontiac, for the confidence they placed in me on June 28 by electing me to represent them in the House. I consider this a great honour and I thank them.
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment. I know that you will fulfill this task remarkably and with dignity.
That being said, the subject that we are discussing tonight is very important to me, because this debate deals with an issue that I care a great deal about. I was raised on a farm, not far from here, in Maniwaki. Thus, I am very concerned with the situation of cattle and the beef industry as a whole. This beef and cattle industry is part of our history. It has played a role in the settlement of the first colonies.
Several years ago, people celebrated this industry by gathering during events such as the Shawville fair, which attracts over 50,000 visitors every year, while the population is close to 35,000.
The beef and cattle industry is part of the present and the future. This industry also represents one the main components of Canada's foreign trade. Indeed, Canadian beef is internationally renowned for its high quality. Canada exported over $4 billion in beef and cattle products in 2002, which allowed it to reach third place among world beef exporters and to enjoy a trade surplus of over $3.2 billion in beef products, or almost 6% of our total trade surplus.
Clearly, we are talking here about a key industry for all Canadians. This is an industry that has built an excellent reputation for itself at the international level. Considering the reaction of foreign countries following the discovery of a BSE case in May 2003, the industry has paid a very high price for developments over which it had no control.
This is why the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, in close cooperation with the provinces, the territories and the industry, announced last month a series of measures to the tune of $448 million to reposition the Canadian cattle industry. Repositioning Canada as a world leader for exports of high quality beef is a key feature of the new strategy aimed at helping the industry.
Under this repositioning strategy, the current government is committing in excess of $37.1 million in new money to intensify our efforts to settle the issues relating to access to international markets in the context of BSE. The reopening of the U.S. border to Canadian cattle and to Canadian beef products from animals that are over 30 months old remains the top priority.
We are also increasing our efforts in other regions of the world, particularly in Asia. Incidentally, this weekend the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will leave for Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong. Our approach is to focus on presenting arguments that are based on science at the technical and regulatory levels. The government is making abundant use of such arguments to support its cause.
The Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as deputy ministers and ambassadors have made standardizing access to foreign markets for Canadian beef products a priority.
Sustained efforts were made to foster the review, revision and implementation of the guidelines set out by the World Organization for Animal Health concerning BSE. The goal is to take into account the most recent data and the low level of risk linked to many of the products produced in Canada and other countries.
There is no scientific reason for other countries to continue to close their borders to Canadian cattle or Canadian beef products derived from cattle over 30 months old.
Unfortunately, as we know, international decisions are not based solely on science. We have to deal with political and economic pressure as well as the concerns of consumers. We are working very hard at it. Cattlemen's associations are also looking into this. They are working with their counterparts to try to put pressure on foreign countries from the inside.
The people of Canada are well aware that our beef is healthy. Because of all the measures in place to ensure the integrity of the production and inspection systems, beef consumption in Canada rose 5% when BSE was detected last year. The Canadian food inspection system in place in 2003 was sufficiently rigorous to detect the infected animal and remove it before it reached the human food chain.
Moreover, the government has taken many important steps in order to improve food safety, by strengthening its ability to detect BSE and by reducing the risk of a recurrence of the disease.
We have removed the specific risk factors from all food intended for human consumption. We have increased our surveillance and reinforced our animal identification methods. We have also undertaken to strengthen our prohibition on animal feed by removing the specific risk factors from all animal feed.
That will complete Canada's response to the recommendations made in June 2003 by a team of international experts who studied and praised Canada's skill and efforts in this matter.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food appointed a BSE consultant in Asia, who has already gone to Asia three times to direct technical discussions on the changes Canada has made to its BSE policy following the development of World Animal Organization for Health guidelines.
Canada and its cattle and beef industry would benefit from international measures established by the World Organization for Animal Health being broadened and more uniform in order to base market access decisions on science and not a series of other factors.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is currently creating new positions for geographical technical consultants who will focus their efforts on major foreign markets. These consultants will strengthen ties with their counterparts responsible for regulations in the target countries, who could provide a considerable value for beef, cattle and genetics.
Implementation of the new strategy marks the beginning of a Canadian solution.