Cargill has announced it has begun the process to temporarily idle its Guelph protein processing facility, due to “community-wide” impacts of COVID-19. The plant will close end of day December 17 for an undisclosed amount of time.
Currently, the plant has had 68 employees test positive for the virus out of 1,000 employees.
A spokesperson says that this step is being taken out of an abundance of caution. Employees are being encouraged to be tested for COVID-19, and continue to physically distance. Any employees who are sick or have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 in the last two weeks are also being told to stay home.
Employees will still be paid in full during the shutdown, the company says.
The plant has a capacity of 9,000 cattle per week, and is the major beef processor in the province.
“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily idle our Guelph protein facility. This was a difficult decision for our team who are operating an essential service and are committed to delivering food for local families and access to markets for farmers and ranchers. We care deeply about our employees and their safety. They are everyday heroes on the frontlines of our food system. Our focus now is on continuing to keep our employees safe and getting our facility back to normal operations, ” says Jon Nash, Cargill Protein – North America leader.
Cargill says it is working closely with local health officials to ensure appropriate prevention, testing, cleaning, and quarantine protocols are followed within facilities.
“Safety measures like temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, face coverings, screening between employee stations, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices where possible, offering staggered breaks and reducing carpooling have been in place for months and will remain in place when we resume full operations,” the company says in an email.
“This is a serious situation,” says Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum, AMOH of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. “I wish to express gratitude to the management, staff, and union at Cargill Limited for their full and expedient cooperation in investigating and containing this outbreak. As cases rise in our community, we all face the risk of outbreaks at work or school, as well as in our long-term care facilities. It will take all of us working together to contain this virus and keep our community safe.”
To prevent food waste, Cargill says it will process the meat already in the facility, an estimated 1.55 million meals-worth.
Beef Farmers of Ontario says it is working with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association collectively with both levels of government on potential short-term measures to help mitigate the fallout from the current situation.
“We understand that the last twelve months have been a tumultuous time for our members as we continue to navigate the lack of processing capacity in the province which has been compounded by the pandemic. In this situation, we have been working closely with Cargill and both levels of government over the last several days to find ways to support the facility, its workers and beef farmers.
As part of this support, we immediately requested that the Ontario Beef Cattle Set-Aside Program be activated for our members. This program was announced early this year by government to help manage potential backlogs in processing due to the pandemic. We will be communicating details of the program as soon as they are finalized,” says BFO in a statement. That may come as soon as next week.
BFO encourages members impacted by this situation to begin by contacting their financial institution to discuss options for short-term support.
**This story has been updated to include a quote from Beef Farmers of Ontario and Dr. Matthew Tenebaum.