Mr. Gordon O'Connor (Carleton—Mississippi Mills, CPC)
Mr. Chair, on my first opportunity to speak in the House of Commons, I would like to sincerely thank the voters of Carleton—Mississippi Mills for electing me as their member of Parliament.
My riding faces two large crises, unemployed technology workers and BSE. I find it appropriate that I have the chance to speak tonight on one of these crises.
BSE is a national issue. I point out that Ontario is home to 8.3% of the national herd and makes up 21.2% of all fed cattle production in the country. The beef industry is significant to the Ontario economy. Prior to BSE, beef was Ontario's second largest commodity in terms of annual farm gate receipts, with an annual value of $1.2 billion.
Beef exports from Ontario to the U.S.A. in 2002 were valued at $354 million in live cattle and an additional $292 million in beef product. As of June 2004, losses to Ontario's 21,000 beef farmers has reached more than $200 million. Ontario's 4,200 sheep producers have lost about $4.3 million in export sales, while Ontario's 5,400 dairy farmers estimate their loss at a minimum of $50 million.
I mentioned earlier that Ontario beef makes up 8.3% of the national herd, which translates to roughly 415,000 head of cattle. In a normal year of trade, my riding of Carleton—Mississippi Mills contributes approximately 35,000.
Rough calculations estimate that the BSE crisis has cost agribusiness in my riding somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10 million since the crisis began. If this were not bad enough, farmers in Ontario, particularly beef farmers, will soon face a double whammy. Adding to their troubles is the cost of complying with the Ontario nutrient management act, effective July 1, 2005.
The rural communities in Carleton—Mississippi Mills have grown tired of phantom money, bad policy and waiting for the U.S. border to be opened. They have started taking matters into their own hands with what they call the rural revolution.
The Lanark Landowners Association is a grassroots group that sees government policy, both federal and provincial, as intrusive, corrupt and discriminating against the multigenerational family farm.
To raise awareness of the high cost of beef in the supermarket, and subsequent profit is not making its way to producers, the LLA is staging “Here's our Beef” food strikes, where it sells beef directly to the consumers for a price reflective of the true cost of beef, $1.99 a pound.
I applaud the efforts of the LLA for raising awareness about the inflated price of beef, but the elected officials in the House, namely the Liberal government, need to do more if they do not want to see the ruination of the beef industry in this country.
Based on conversations with producers in my riding over the past several months, I have a few recommendations on what could be done to help the industry right now.
I understand the new Liberal program calls for increased slaughter capacity. I encourage the government to include in its plan a strategy for dealing with the need for increased slaughter capacity in Ontario beyond the current limited monopoly.
While the government deals with the problem of increasing slaughter capacity by building new facilities, it should be concerned about the ownership of current facilities. For example, American owned Cargill recently purchased Caravelle Foods, the provider of beef for the McDonald's chain in Canada. There are also suspicions that Levinoff Meat Products will also be on the block to an American buyer.
As it stands, the overall Canadian beef industry is threatened by the possibility of large monopolies dominating our market.
To quote the Dairy Farmers of Canada, "Tthousands of farm families saw the price that they normally received for older animals destined for the meat market plummet by 70%". While the government's efforts to assist producers are encouraged, the latest package does not address the economic situation confronting dairy producers.
Not only are cull cows fetching a mere fraction of their worth, they are now depressing the beef market in general. To compound the problem, rather than accepting pennies for these animals, farmers are holding back cull cows that would normally sell, creating a glut in the market. These animals must be removed from the system.
Why does the government not offer a plan to purchase excess animals for use at federal institutions such as penitentiaries, government cafeterias and the Canadian Forces instead of allowing them to import beef from Uruguay, the United States and Brazil?
Many in the beef industry believe that the U.S. border will not open to Canadian beef until the Japanese lift their ban on U.S. beef. As one might suspect, President Bush is working hard to get the Japanese border opened before November.
What is Canada doing to facilitate a market for Canadian beef with Japan? We know that Japan and South Korea have already indicated that they will accept Canadian beef exports, provided all animals are screened for BSE. Why then is the government not considering this option seriously? There are a number of financially feasible options for private BSE testing and as science advances, these costs should be expected to lessen. In fact, with funding from the B.C. cancer agency and Genome Canada, the U.S. department of agriculture is mapping bovine DNA and is bringing us that much closer to understanding mad cow disease as well as accurate and inexpensive screening.
By testing all animals we would be proving to the world what we already know, that Canadian beef is the safest in the world, and at the same time building ourselves an alternative market for our beef. Then should the U.S. border finally open, we would be able to sell our beef at a premium.
Should this beef crisis continue in the same vein, we are at a risk of losing family run beef operations across the country. I encourage the government to take note of the importance of this industry to the Canadian economy and take all the necessary actions that will assist producers to overcome this crisis.
Topic: Government Orders