A man walks into a Cargill meat processing factory in Chambly, Que., south of Montreal, Sunday, May 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Funds to fight COVID-19 in meat plants might not move for months, feds say

The union also raised concerns the CFIA has assigned inspectors to more than one processing facility

Tens of millions of federal dollars aimed at helping food processors deal with a rash of COVID-19 outbreaks might not move until the end of September, and there are no details about what the requirements will be to qualify.

The $77.5-million Emergency Processing Fund Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week is intended to help food processors adapt to COVID-19 protocols, including gaining access to more protective equipment for workers.

It is also supposed to help upgrade and reopen shuttered meat facilities that have had to close after becoming infected by COVID-19.

On Sunday another Cargill meat-processing plant south of Montreal announced it will temporarily close its doors after at least 64 workers tested positive.

That is the second temporary closure of a Cargill plant in recent weeks. One in High River, Alta., closed after about 350 cases of the novel coronavirus were linked to it. The number eventually rose to 1,500, including nearly half the plant’s 2,000 workers. The plant has since re-opened.

READ MORE: ‘Heavy handed’ approach would force inspectors into infected meat plants: Union

Workers in meat-packing plants often work shoulder to shoulder slaughtering and butchering animals for food. Many of them also share living quarters and transportation to and from work.

Cargill Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of an American-based multinational, has said it has installed transparent shields between workers’ stations where possible, supplied protective gear, and put on shuttle buses modified for safety so workers don’t have to carpool. A company representative didn’t immediately return a call from The Canadian Press Monday.

Details about who will have access to the federal funds to improve conditions at food plants, and what the requirements will be, are still being worked out, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“The Emergency Processing Fund is being finalized and we will continue our consultations with provinces, territories and stakeholders as the parameters of the program are developed,” the federal department said in a statement in response to questions Monday.

As for when the money is expected to doled out, the department said that will happen “no later” than Sept. 30.

In the meantime the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will order non-meat inspectors into meat plants under threat of discipline, according to the union representing agriculture workers.

The agency has instructed some of its non-meat-inspection staff to train up to be deployed to meat slaughter plants that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19, the Agriculture Union said in a statement Monday, asserting that the federal food-safety agency will treat refusals as acts of insubordination.

The union, which represents more than 6,500 employees of federal agricultural agencies, called the approach ”heavy-handed” and ”unacceptable.”

“CFIA is ordering its staff to work in facilities that obviously are not safe, and without the proper personal protective gear,” president Fabian Murphy said in the release.

The union says 18 of 37 inspectors working at the Cargill plant in High River have tested positive for the virus, and so have three of six inspectors at another plant.

In a statement, the CFIA said the agency follows national and local public health advice and obeys protocols put in place at the plants to mitigate risk of exposure to the virus.

“When cases of COVID-19 occur in a food processing establishment, the CFIA works with local public health authorities to determine the level of risk of exposure for CFIA employees, and their need for self-isolation and/or referral to health services for testing,” the agency said.

The statement also noted that inspectors complete a self-assessment before and after each shift related to their health, and masks and face shields are available.

In a separate statement about ongoing plant closures due to COVID-19, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Sunday it is important essential workers feel safe.

“We fully recognize the health concerns of workers in certain meat plants. As with all essential workers — proper measures must be in place, if workers can continue to provide essential services to Canadians during these critical times,” the minister said.

Working conditions for employees in the plants are a provincial responsibility but the federal inspectors are there to make sure the food they produce is safe for consumers.

“We need the prime minister or a senior elected person to intervene to ensure their own staff, federal inspectors are safe,” Murphy said.

The Agriculture Union says it’s reached out to ministers on the matter but has not had a response.

The union also raised concerns the CFIA has assigned inspectors to more than one processing facility, which could encourage the spread of the virus from plant to plant.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Drive-in theatre proposed for Grand Forks

City councillors will vote next month on whether to permit the use of the private property

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

Six homes ordered to evacuate early Tuesday morning in Grand Forks due to flooding

Two of the six were put on evacuation alert Monday evening

Former Grand Forks fire chief suing city for wrongful dismissal

Dale Heriot was fired in July 2019 after his department was investigated for safety, bullying issues

B.C. man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some out-of-province people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

B.C. drive-in theatre appeals COVID-19 concession rules, 50-car limit

With 50 cars and the removal of concession sales, drive-in owner says theatre might have to close

COVID-19: B.C. grants aim to stabilize sexual assault recovery programs

$10 million fund not yet ready to take applications

B.C. mom’s drug-pricing petition on behalf of son garners thousands of signatures

Petition geared to gaining access to new medicines drew support of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl

‘Paralyzed by fear’: B.C. woman details anxiety, grief at Italian relief hospital

Sheila Vicic spent two months in Italy as the country grappled with COVID-19

Dr. Bonnie Henry given new name in B.C. First Nation ceremony: ‘one who is calm among us’

The provincial health officer was honoured in a May 22 ceremony at elementary school in Hazelton

CAMH survey looks at binge-drinking, financial anxiety during COVID

Alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism for those whose careers may have been sidelined due to the pandemic

Half of Canadians say governments are hiding something about COVID-19: poll

More than a third of people believe the virus was created in a lab

Most Read