FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
17 April 2020
Food processing staff need protection
Ottawa – Federal and provincial authorities have been slow to safeguard inspection, veterinarian, and production staff who work in the food industry in Canada in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, in spite of the strategic importance of this industry according to the Agriculture Union which represents inspectors who work for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
“There is a patchwork of standards that leave people who work in these plants exposed to infections that could result undermine food security for Canadians,” says Fabian Murphy, President of the Agriculture Union.
Murphy pointed to the limited “guidance” CFIA has provided to meat processing plants in Canada that arrived late and abdicated leadership to set standards to provincial health authorities. As a result, an outbreak at the Olymel pork slaughter facility in Quebec led to a 14-day shutdown to ensure only non-infected staff returned to work. Meanwhile, owners of the Cargill plants south of Calgary have opted to reduce production at the plant for a few days in the face of a much large outbreak.
“The Olymel pork slaughter facility in Montreal, for example, was closed for two weeks when 9 employees tested positive for COVID-19. That number ballooned to 100 while the plant was shut down.
“The Cargill plant south of Calgary has announced it will cut one shift after 43 of its employees tested positive. That number could grow to approximately 500 if the Olymel example is any measure. Why is the CFIA allowing plants to make their own decisions about operating when these facilities are becoming hot spots for the virus? Surely, there should be some national leadership on this, not to mention ensuring the people who work in them are protected,” Murphy said.
Only recently have some but not all CFIA inspectors and veterinarians been fitted with some personal protective equipment. There are no national standards for routine testing. And, many production staff working at these plants are not protected or tested either.
“We appreciate Minister Freeland’s words of gratitude for the work done by people in these faciltties. But we also need the federal government to step up with more leadership and protection for those who work to put food on our tables. It is in the national interest to ensure the plants continue to operate as safely as possible. Right now, that is now happening,” Murphy said.
For information: Jim Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org 613-567-9592