FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
21 April 2020
Ottawa – Sixty-seven people associated with the operations of one of Canada’s largest beef slaughter facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. In spite of this development, JBS Canada continues partial operations thanks in part to inadequate oversight by federal and provincial authorities, according to the Agriculture Union which represents federal food inspectors.
“We have learned in these situations that you need to shut down the plants for 14 days to ensure only non-infected staff return to work. Failure to do so is a guarantee that the virus will spread quickly, threatening the operations of the plant in the long term, and undermining public health,” says Fabian Murphy, President of the Agriculture Union.
Both federal and provincial authorities have left it up to plants themselves to decide what action is appropriate to safeguard food production and public health. This has led to a patchwork approach to public health and food safety during the pandemic.
For example, an outbreak at the Olymel pork slaughter facility in Quebec led to a 14-day shutdown. The Olymel plant has since re-opened and continues to operate. Meanwhile, the Cargill plant south of Calgary continued to produce until almost 500 people connected with its operation became infected. The plant announced last night that it will close with no plan to re-open after becoming Alberta’s largest single source of the outbreak and following the death of one of its employees.
JBS Canada is reportedly offering its employees a $4 per hour bonus as an inducement to continue working in these hazardous conditions, even though it is on track to an outbreak that could infect as many as 700 people.
“If this is true, JBS is risking the health of it’s staff and the CFIA and public health authorities in Alberta are aiding the spread the virus and threatening the food security of Canadians by allowing this unconscionable behaviour” Murphy said.
Staff in meat processing plants work in very close quarters, often shoulder to shoulder. Social distancing is impossible. In this reality, only some inspectors have access to some personal protective equipment such as face masks and shields. Neither inspectors nor plant staff have access to routine testing for the virus.
“The consequence of inaction is that more people will fall victim to the virus while another plant we need to feed Canadians is sidelined with no viable plan to re-open,” Murphy said.
For information: Jim Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org 613-447-9592