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Pandemic ‘poses particular challenges’ for food processing plants: Freeland

Pandemic ‘poses particular challenges’ for food processing plants: Freeland

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau warns labour shortages could affect the food supply

The federal government says it’s looking at proposals to support food processors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the government is working on ways to support Canada’s food processing plants during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to concerns about labour shortages.

“I am so grateful to all of our farmers and ranchers and food processors, but you’re right that the coronavirus poses particular challenges to food processing facilities because of the dangers of contagion there,” Freeland said during her briefing with reporters today.

“That is something that our government has been working on, that I’ve been personally focused on over the past few days.”

Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at three Alberta meat packing plants, according to the union that represents plant workers.

United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union local 401 president Thomas Hesse said three cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the JBS plant in Brooks, Alta.

At the Cargill plant in High River, there are 38 COVID-19 cases, and in March one worker at Harmony Beef in Balzac tested positive, he said.

Hesse said the union has reached out to those plants, and to the Olymel pork plant in Red Deer, to ask them to proactively shut down to keep their workers safe.

“They’ve all said no. But Cargill has in some ways done what we’ve asked because of pressure,” Hesse said, noting that the plant has reduced its operations.

Meanwhile, the Olymel hog slaughter and cutting plant in Yamachiche, Que., reopened Tuesday after shutting down for two weeks following an outbreak among employees there.

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