Coronavirus Affects Canada’s Supply Chain: Closing Meat Plants, Cutting Production

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TORONTO –
COVID-19 infections are now disrupting parts of the Canadian food sector, including the meat processing industry.

Alberta’s meat packing plants, which are responsible for a significant portion of Canadian beef, are closed or operate reduced chains as they face staff outbreaks.

The closure of these factories and others across the country is having a ripple effect across Canada’s food supply chain, affecting grocery stores and fast food chains.

CTVNews.ca examines which processing plants are experiencing outbreaks and what companies are doing to ensure that Canada maintains a secure supply of meat.

CARGILL INC.

Cargill Inc. – one of Alberta’s largest meat processing plants – closed its High River plant on April 20 after the death of a 68-year-old woman who worked at the plant due to the COVID-19.

By Tuesday, 759 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among workers at the Cargill plant. This is the largest single site outbreak in Canada.

The temporary closure of the facility is not expected to result in a shortage of beef, but the reduction in capacity will mean farmers will be affected. As the prices of their products fall, farmers will have to choose between an increase in transportation costs to send their cattle further for processing, or an increase in overhead costs because they keep the animals longer.

The Cargill plant processes approximately 4,500 head of cattle per day, more than a third of the beef processing capacity in Canada.

JBS CANADA

The JBS meat packing plant in Brooks, Alta. recorded 124 cases of COVID-19 and one death on Monday. The plant has reduced operations but remains open.

A petition has been launched calling for a two-week temporary shutdown of the facility to limit the spread of the virus and an inspection to ensure that public health measures are being followed.

JBS and Cargill account for 70% of beef processing in Canada, according to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

CONESTOGA MEAT

Conestoga Meats Pork Processing Plant in Waterloo, Ont. The region ceased operations on April 24 after seven of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. The plant will not process pigs for at least 7 days, which will result in limited staffing and operations. The company typically processes between 35,000 and 40,000 hogs per week.

The company said in a statement that it was working closely with health authorities to ensure compliance with prevention, testing and cleaning protocols. The Ontario Ministry of Labor is investigating two complaints made on April 22 concerning the lack of physical distance procedures at the factory.

LILYDALE

The union representing employees at the Lilydale plant in Calgary is calling for the plant to be shut down after an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

The employee last worked at the factory on April 15 and isolates himself at home. Sofina Foods, the factory owner, says it remains fully operational and has taken a number of steps to protect its workers. However, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of Canada says physical distance to the plant is not being followed and requests that it be closed until the appropriate health protocols are in place in place.

UNITED POULTRY CO.

The factory of United Poultry Co. Ltd. in Vancouver temporarily closed on April 20 after 28 factory workers tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak triggered a statement from British Columbia. Prime Minister John Horgan said sick workers must stay home after learning that workers have stayed at work for fear of losing their wages.

Vancouver Coastal Health and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are investigating the outbreak. The health authority said in a statement that the CFIA had determined that a recall of the chicken products from the plant was not necessary.

On April 23, two cases of COVID-19 were also confirmed at United Poultry Co.’s sister plant, Superior Poultry. An investigation is underway at the factory.

OLYMEL

The Olymel abattoir in Quebec City closed on March 29 after nine cases of COVID-19 were detected among its personnel. More than 100 workers at the facility were subsequently infected.

The plant has since reopened following an increase in disinfection measures and screening activities issued by health officials in the region. The entire factory workforce was isolated during the shutdown and only those who did not show any symptoms returned to work.

MAPLE LEAF FOODS

Main Maple Leaf Foods poultry plant located in Brampton, Ontario. suspended operations on April 8 after three people working at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.

The plant has since reopened after a thorough cleaning of the plant, including common areas and offices.

Another case of COVID-19 was also confirmed earlier this month at the Maple Leaf Foods Heritage plant in Hamilton, Ontario. However, the company says the factory remained open because the worker had not been at the factory for two weeks before the diagnosis.

IMPACT FELT ELSEWHERE

As meat factories change production, the impact begins to be felt in grocery stores across the country, with slower operations struggling to keep up with demand.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a videoconference in mid-April that she was confident that Canada had enough food in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said that higher prices and less variety on store shelves was a possibility.

Restaurants and fast food chains are also beginning to experience the effects of the closure or downsizing of Canadian meat plants.

McDonald’s Canada says it will start importing beef as Canada’s food supply chain struggles to keep up with demand despite changes in meat plant operations amid COVID-19. The restaurant chain, which prides itself on using only Canadian beef, said in a statement on April 28 that it had to change its policy due to limited processing capacity at Canadian suppliers, including Cargill Inc .

Several factories in the United States, including major producer JBS USA, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods, among others, have also temporarily closed or reduced their production due to epidemics.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said beef producers and associations prioritize Canadian supplies before exports to ensure there is no shortage.

According to the national association, Canada exports about 45% of its beef and livestock production each year and ships to 56 countries, with the United States receiving 74% of beef exports.

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