Alberta Cargill beef plant slows to one shift, cancels cattle orders due to COVID-19 risks

The week has started off with more livestock processing issues, as the industry attempts to deal with COVID-19.

Cargill’s High River, Alta., beef plant is the latest in a growing list of plants to either slow its slaughter line down or shut it down entirely due to COVID-19 risks. According to several sources, the High River plant will slow down to one shift instead of two. This will reduce the number of cattle slaughter to roughly 1,500 per day. The plant regularly slaughters 4,000 to 4,500 per day with two shifts.

Several feedyard owners scheduled to deliver cattle this week to the Alberta facility were notified that the packer would not be taking their loads this week. One large-scale feeder was scaled back considerably to 50% of average weekly deliveries, starting this week.

CBC is reporting that the union at the Cargill plant is demanding a two-week closure due to health risks to the workers after dozens of positive cases at the plant.

United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union local 401 president Thomas Hesse wrote to plant management Sunday about the situation, stating, “Our union is very bothered and deeply troubled about your Alberta workplace,” Hesse said in the letter, obtained by CBC News. 

“There is no reason to believe that hundreds of individuals in your working environment won’t soon be carrying the virus.”

The nature of the work, Hesse said, is the opposite of social distancing. He called for the plant to be shut down while maintaining full employee compensation and a meeting with stakeholders.

“Unfortunately, the employer is just not doing enough to protect its employees in this environment,” Hesse said in the letter. “You need to do more.”

Jon Nash, Cargill Protein – North America Lead, confirms that the plant is reducing its kill time by half. “As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily reduce shifts at our High River protein plant. This will allow us to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and continue follow health department guidelines. This was a difficult decision for our team, but our values are guiding our actions.

We want our employees and the community to know we care. We’ve taken extra steps to focus on safety and remain operational – including temporary wage increases, bonuses and waiving co-pays for COVID-19 testing. We also implemented additional safety measures like temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices where possible and offering staggered breaks and shift flexibility. Our facility will be back to operating at full capacity as soon as is it is safe to do so,” he says in a statement.

On March 27, 2019, Harmony Beef, at Balzac, Alta.,  was closed for three kill days due to COVID-19 positive tests within the facility.  An Olymel pork facility in Quebec is scheduled to re-open on Tuesday April 14, 2020, after being closed for just over two weeks.

More to come…

See all the agriculture coverage related to COVID-19 here

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