Ontario launches 2021 COVID-19 prevention strategy for farms, greenhouses

Three of Ontario’s ministries (Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; Health; and Labour, Training and Skills Development) have committed to a strategy to prevent COVID-19 transmission, and protect workers and the province’s food supply chain ahead of next year’s growing season.

The joint government-industry Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for COVID-19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers establishes best practices and actions for the prevention and control of COVID-19 transmission in the agriculture and horticulture sector, particularly on farms.

“Our government understands the impact COVID-19 outbreaks have had on farm workers, farms, greenhouses and agri-businesses,” says Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Ontario’s agri-food sector has worked hard to address a difficult situation and our new strategy will help them to be even more effective in controlling this pandemic, protect our food supply chain and keep workers safe.”

The strategy outlines guiding principles and actions to keep workers safe, encourage testing for COVID-19, and prevent outbreaks at Ontario’s fruit and vegetable farms, especially.

There will be best management practices established before employees arrive at the farm, while they are at work, and in relation to worker housing.

“One of agriculture’s most valuable assets is our workforce,” says Keith Currie, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “We respect and appreciate the efforts of the government, industry stakeholders and farm employers to protect the health and safety of our workers. It is our top priority, and by taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 on farms, the agri-food sector can focus on maintaining a strong and reliable food value chain for all Ontarians.”

The strategy provides the roadmap for farms and farm businesses to keep workers safe, and will be implemented using existing funding through the Agri-food Workplace Protection and the Agri-food Prevention and Control Innovation Programs.

When asked about specific concerns regarding housing and enforcement during the press conference announcing the strategy, Minister Hardeman said that inspections to ensure compliance with COVID-19 workplace health and safety measures had already been ramped up during the current growing season.

Hardeman also noted that workers would be encouraged to get COVID-19 tests, with the assurance that they would maintain their jobs even if they fell ill. There is also $1.5 million committed to increased communication of wellness and testing protocols included in the existing funding.

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