The packing industry is crucial to the entire food value chain in agriculture and, with that, comes the importance of government inspectors. The question is, what happens if these inspectors contract COVID-19 or if they aren’t able to work due to the risk of contracting the virus?
The issue was highlighted with the partial closure of Harmony Beef, at Balzac, Alta.
The federal and Alberta governments announced on Wednesday (April 1) that to ensure the continuous operation of Alberta’s food supply chain, the provincial government is partnering with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to increase food inspector capacity.
Minister of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen, says there are many moving parts to our supply chain, and the province is working closely with major food processors to ensure the capacity is met.
“We are training up our provincial meat inspectors to be able to work not only in our provincial abattoirs and provincial facilities, but also federal CFIA export-orientated facilities. This is so we wouldn’t see a disruption due to any inspector issues, or not having enough inspectors if some of them contract COVID-19. So we are doing a lot of preparatory work for anticipating the worst, because we want to make sure that our vital food supply chain remains intact,” he says.
The province says training will begin soon, which will allow provincial meat inspectors to be redeployed into high-priority federally-licensed plants in Alberta as needed.
Dreeshen says he gives the credit of this plan to the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Marie-Claude Bibeau.
“It’s something I commend the federal agriculture minister and the CFIA president for, working with the province of Alberta on a program, in which we can quickly train up our provincial meat inspectors to be able to fill the gaps going forward in federally registered CFIA plants. ”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney agrees that it is vital to keep all aspects of the food supply chain operating. He was quoted on March 27th after the Harmony Beef closure, saying “We see a huge increase in demand for those products, and we can’t have the CFIA essentially impairing our entire livestock industry by people refusing to go on the job,” while reiterating the importance of having people provincially trained to help fill the gaps.
“By working together, our governments have ensured we have a COVID-19 contingency plan for inspection services,” says Bibeau.
Listen to the conversation between Ag Minister Devin Dreeshen and RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney, below: