Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to be able to speak to this issue this evening. Portneuf being in a rural area, agriculture is one of its priorities.
When I came here, I chose to be a member of the standing committee on agriculture, as well as of the rural caucus. These two bodies provide us with the opportunity to hold many discussions on agricultural problems.
We have heard various points from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of National Defence on the problem being addressed this evening, foot and mouth disease.
I wish to assure everyone that the foot and mouth disease epidemic in the European Union and Argentina is one of this government's absolute priorities. Like the hon. member for Brandon—Souris and everyone here in this House, we want to stop this terrible disease from entering Canada.
I would like to remind the House of the steps we have taken to promote animal health in our country. Canada has, it must be said, carved out a world reputation on the basis of the quality of its food safety system. The respect we enjoy is in large part due to the attention we give to animal health issues.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is mandated to provide efficient and cost effective federal inspection services, as well as other services relating to animal health, food safety and plant protection.
The agency's expertise has gained it international recognition. The inspection standards it has established, based on science and on regulations, enjoy a worldwide reputation. These standards ensure that Canada imports safe and quality products and exports products that are of equal safety and quality.
As for animal health, the CFIA sets policies, performs inspections and monitors compliance with the law as well as industry performance as far as animal and plant health is concerned.
In recent years we have seen what a serious threat animal diseases represent for Canada's animal resources. There are a number of factors responsible for escalation of this threat. Among these is the increase in international trade and in population movements. Climate change also affects animal habitats and health. Recently, we have witnessed the emergence of new animal diseases and the return of old ones, such as foot and mouth disease.
Faced with all these challenges, the CFIA has kept Canada free of the communicable diseases considered the most serious in terms of public health and socio-economic consequences.
Canada is one of the leaders of the International Office of Epizootics, the OIE. This is an international organization whose standards on animal diseases are accepted worldwide. Signatory countries are required to report to the OIE all cases of disease within their borders, as prescribed by the international animal health code.
Diseases appearing in list A of this code are communicable diseases which may spread exceedingly rapidly and may have a profound effect on public health or on the economy. These diseases are of great significance to international trade in animals and animal products. Foot and mouth disease is a good example of a disease on list A.
We may be proud of the fact that Canada is one of the few countries that can claim to be free of diseases on the OIE's A list. This is a singular accomplishment. In addition, through its screening and eradication activities, Canada controls and limits the spread of other animal diseases in the country.
We have been quite successful to date, in part through the speed and hard work of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It is on the lookout for and identifies diseases and fights them. It manages the health of animals services, inspects imports, screens for pests and exotic diseases and ensures that animals are transported without cruelty.
The CFIA's health of animals activities play a vital role in protecting public and animal health in Canada. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease raging in the United Kingdom and in Europe will put our health of animals system to the test. Canada has been free of foot and mouth disease since 1952, and we intend to keep it that way.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is taking rigorous measures to keep the disease out of Canada. The agency has suspended all import permits from EU countries and Argentina for susceptible products. These products include not just live animals, meat and unpasteurized cheese but also embryos and animal semen.
Visitors must answer a series of questions and declare any plant, animal or other products on arriving in Canada. Inspectors are patrolling major airports with dogs specially trained to detect the odour of any concealed food, plant, animal and fish products.
The CFIA is enforcing special measures at airports where international flights could introduce the disease from Europe. It will also be launching an ad and media campaign to warn international travellers of the risks they run of inadvertently bringing the disease into Canada.
And here I wish to point out that despite all these measures it is very important that members of the public themselves take care when returning from a trip.
The CFIA recently sent Canadian veterinarians to the United Kingdom to help with the fight against the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and with efforts to eradicate it. This is a valuable opportunity for our veterinarians to acquire firsthand experience with a disease that does not yet exist in Canada. This experience will help us better prepare for the possible appearance of exotic animal diseases, particularly with respect to surveillance, diagnosis and management of sources of outbreaks.
I also wish to reassure the House that the returning veterinarians are subject to a full quarantine and disinfection before leaving the United Kingdom. They are highly aware of the importance of cleaning and disinfecting organic material such as soil, manure and hay.
We can congratulate ourselves on the fact that Canada has been spared a good number of the more serious afflictions that have hit the livestock industry of many of our trading partners. However our good fortune comes at the price of constant vigilance. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease now raging in Europe is forcing us to step up our vigilance. We are fortunate to now be able to count on a firstclass system of animal health. We must give it our unconditional support.