Olymel says it will be resuming operations at its hog slaughter and cutting plant at Yamachiche, Quebec on Tuesday, April 14 after closing for more than two weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The plant, which normally processes 28 thousand pigs per week, has been closed since March 29, after nine employees tested positive for the virus.
“On behalf of Olymel management, I would like to thank all of the Yamachiche plant employees, who have been following lockdown instructions since March 29 and have agreed to come back to work on April 14 in these current difficult circumstances. To everyone at the Yamachiche plant and our other Olymel plants who has tested positive for COVID-19, we wish you a speedy recovery,” says Olymel president and CEO Réjean Nadeau, in a statement on April 11.
“I salute all the employees who are helping us answer the government’s call to provide an essential service that feeds millions of people in lockdown,” he continues.
The company says it’s working with public health authorities, as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), provincial labour authorities, and the TUAC-Local 1991-P union, to implement new protocols for workers.
Employees who have been in isolation since March 29 are being called back to work based on a list of criteria approved by public health authorities, says Olymel, and employees will receive training on the new protocols when they arrive starting on Tuesday.
The company says it’s paying extra attention to the transportation of employees via shuttles from outside the Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec region. The shuttles will be required to maintain a distance of two metres between passengers.
When the required two-metre physical distance between people cannot be met inside the plant, Olymel says a mitigation measure has been implemented, such as installation of panels and/or wearing masks and protective visors. The company says it will also be increasing its monitoring, screening, and enforcement of hygiene and disinfection practices.
As for processing capacity, Olymel says it will depend on the number of employees available to perform each task.
“Olymel is working closely with partners in the hog industry to ensure that the flow of hogs continues as normally as possible in order to avoid last-resort solutions like compassionate slaughter or euthanasia at the farm,” says a company statement.
“Before the pandemic, the Yamachiche plant’s weekly slaughter capacity was 28 thousand hogs. The company is hoping to gradually return to that capacity, depending on the way the situation evolves. The priority will always be keeping its workers safe.”
The closure has created a backlog of pigs in Quebec and Ontario, as pork producers in Ontario normally ship around 20 thousand pigs into Quebec for processing each week. Olymel has declared force majeure on its contracts with Ontario farmers, meaning it’s no longer required to meet the terms of those contracts for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has also asked Quebec’s farm products council to loosen rules that place a priority on processing pigs raised within Quebec.
Olymel, which is a subsidiary of Sollio (formerly La Coop federee), employs over 14,000 people at production and processing facilities in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.
North American hog prices have plummeted in recent weeks as processing capacity has been reduced due to COVID-19, including temporary plant closures by Tyson in Iowa and Smithfield Foods in South Dakota.