Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure to speak tonight in response to the motion by my colleague from British Columbia on the outbreak of avian influenza.
This outbreak has devastating consequences on the poultry industry in British Columbia and the many people whose livelihood depends on this industry. So it is vital to halt the spread of this disease, eradicate it and get the industry back on track.
One of the primary ways to help this industry is to encourage the resumption of trade in Canadian poultry and poultry products. In 2003, Canadian poultry and poultry product exports represented approximately $275 million. British Columbia contributed approximately 10% of these exports.
To date, 45 trading partners have taken measures in response to the avian influenza outbreak. Twenty eight of these, including Japan and South Africa, have imposed trade restrictions on all of Canada. Seventeen others, including the United States, have imposed restrictions solely on live poultry and poultry products from British Columbia.
The Government of Canada has taken measures to normalize trade relations. The Canada Food Inspection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Canadian embassies abroad are working in collaboration. Canada is keeping its trading partners fully informed of new developments through direct contact from Ottawa and in Canadian missions abroad.
First, the head veterinarian at the Canada Food Inspection Agency, Dr. Evans, sent a letter to key foreign counterparts confirming the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in British Columbia. He indicated to them, among other things, that a surveillance zone had been set up in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia.
This measure is consistent with internationally approved animal disease standards. Given the establishment of a surveillance zone and the implementation of strict control measures, we are able to ask that any measures taken by our trading partners be on a regional basis.
The government took even more energetic measures when the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced the depopulation of all commercial poultry flocks and other barnyard birds in the control area in an effort to eradicate avian influenza. This decision is based on the recommendation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in consultation with the Province of British Columbia and the poultry industry and it was not easy to make.
We understand that destroying 19 million birds will have enormous repercussions on the poultry industry. We also realize that the situation will be very difficult for many people, particularly those who keep barnyard flocks as pets.
As we have seen, this highly contagious virus spreads rapidly. We must therefore take aggressive steps to eliminate it.
I know that some people fear that avian influenza may present risks for human health. As has been said in the House, I would like to point out that it is not the same virus as the one which is now spreading and causing serious human health problems in Asia. Nevertheless, Health Canada and its federal and provincial partners are taking the avian influenza in British Columbia very seriously and are implementing firm and coordinated public health measures.
I would also like to mention that there is no public health danger associated with consuming cooked eggs or poultry meat because of those cases. In addition, Health Canada points out that poultry and egg products from the regions where avian influenza has been detected present no danger to human health.
While the risk for the general public is low, it is very important that people who are in close contact with infected poultry follow protective measures such as wearing protective clothing and glasses, and frequent hand-washing. So far, there is nothing to suggest that the virus can be transmitted to humans.
Foreign authorities have been advised that the avian influenza in Canada poses no risk to public health. We shall continue to keep the foreign authorities informed of developments in the situation and we will supply them with additional information as needed.
I want to acknowledge the importance of the open communication we have with our trading partners. Openness, transparency and trust are vital in our exchanges. Canada is known internationally for the quality of its health and food safety systems and for its openness to its trading partners. We earned this reputation over time, even in the most difficult periods.
Our system has a scientific foundation. Our willingness to share our scientific evidence with our trading partners reassures them that we will not hide anything likely to present a risk to their health and food safety systems. They trust our system and in the long term, this translates into a trust in our Canadian products.
The openness and transparency of our initiative have had some positive results. In March, for instance, the European Union was one of the trading partners that decided to set restrictions on importing poultry and poultry products from across Canada. Now, thanks in large part to the information provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, these import restrictions apply only to products from the area under surveillance in British Columbia. In fact, Canada once again has access to the European Union market and to Mexico, for some products.
This is good news for the industry in other regions in Canada and I am certain that Europeans will trust the information we release when the time comes to lift the restrictions on the area under surveillance.
Furthermore, I want to remind the House that Canada imposed its own restrictions on live poultry imports and poultry products from regions where this disease exists. We imposed restrictions on Texas as a precautionary measure following the confirmation of high pathogenic avian influenza in that state in February. On April 6, we lifted the restrictions when the United States Department of Agriculture, the USDA, announced that the outbreak in Texas had been completely eradicated. Canadian animal health officials reviewed the information provided by the USDA and acknowledged that the measures taken by the United States to fight the disease had been effective and that this country was free from high pathogenic avian influenza.
I bring this situation to the attention of the House, because I feel that it is important to reassure Canadians, particularly the representatives of the industry in the Fraser Valley, and tell them that this crisis will pass. We will stop the disease from spreading; we will eradicate it. Our trade relations will resume, as they did for the United States following the outbreak in Texas.
How can we be certain that we can eradicate the disease? When will our partners know that it is again safe to import poultry and poultry products from the Fraser Valley? Certain standards were established in this regard by the international agency responsible for animal health, the World Organization for Animal Health or OIE. In countries such as Canada, where a program has been implemented to eradicate the disease, the OIE standards state that a country can be considered free of highly pathogenic avian influenza six months after the slaughter of the last animal infected.
However, the disease eradication program must be extremely rigorous to meet OIE standards. This includes the humane depopulation of all animals infected with or exposed to the disease; the surveillance and tracking of potentially infected or exposed animals; the strict quarantine and control of the transport of animals; the rigorous decontamination of infected areas; the establishment of infected regions and disease-free zones. These standards and criteria are extremely rigorous.
Everyone within the control zone can do their share to help prevent the disease from spreading. We depend on the collaboration of poultry producers and residents of the Fraser Valley to apply the appropriate bio-safety measures and help stop the disease from spreading. The movement of people and goods likely facilitates the spread of avian influenza. That is why the Canada Food Inspection Agency is distributing public notices and holding information sessions on measures that residents can adopt to help eradicate the disease.
Producers in the control zone are legally required to affix a notice at the entrance of their property prohibiting unauthorized entry to their farm. These notices are supplied by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Before allowing anyone to enter their farm area, producers need to ensure that appropriate bio-safety measures are in place. These include thorough cleaning and disinfection of all equipment and articles of clothing that might have been in contact with an affected operation.
I should emphasize that it is illegal to enter an operation without authorization. This is a serious disease and we are taking stringent measures to eradicate it.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has imposed strict movement restrictions in order to prevent avian influenza from spreading beyond the control zone. Inspectors check for the presence of birds or poultry products on board vehicles at ferry terminals, highway weigh stations and toll stations. People travelling in these areas must pay careful attention to these restrictions. Birds, including pet birds, and other affected products may enter the zone but may not exit.
These are stringent measures, but they are necessary if we are to eradicate this disease from Canada and resume trade relations.
In the meantime, while we are taking the necessary precautions to get the poultry and poultry product export market back to normal, we want to ensure that the Fraser Valley poultry producers are going to be looked after.
The control zone contains five federally registered poultry processing plants, handling most of the chicken processing capacity of British Columbia as well as the only turkey processing facility and the only egg processing facility. The restricted circulation of products outside that zone has resulted in a glut in the region and storage facilities have reached capacity.
On April 10, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reacted to this by announcing that it would allow fresh and frozen poultry products under federal permit in the control zone to be shipped to other regions of Canada under prescribed conditions. This will make it possible to move the excess production from that zone. As far as we know, no trading partner will be making changes to its import policies as a result of this decision to allow product outside the control zone.
The government is also helping individual producers. The Canadian agricultural income stabilization program is now in place and the government is committed to explaining to producers exactly how they can access this program. Producers of supply-managed products are protected under this program if their production margin goes down by 30% or more. In addition, all farmers whose poultry are subject to a destruction notice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will be compensated through the Health of Animals Act.
The spread of avian influenza in the Fraser Valley has had serious consequences for the poultry industry, whose exports are valued at some $275 million. We are taking the measures that must be taken in order to halt and eradicate this disease and ensure the return of commercial activities. Canada's food health and safety system is internationally recognized and this reputation is now being seriously put to the test. I am confident nonetheless that we will get through this crisis. Our trade relations will be restored and our reputation will be protected thanks to the professionalism and rigour with which we are meeting this challenge.