A man walks into a Cargill meat processing factory in Chambly, Que., south of Montreal, Sunday, May 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Funds to fight COVID-19 in meat plants might not move for months, feds say

The union also raised concerns the CFIA has assigned inspectors to more than one processing facility

Tens of millions of federal dollars aimed at helping food processors deal with a rash of COVID-19 outbreaks might not move until the end of September, and there are no details about what the requirements will be to qualify.

The $77.5-million Emergency Processing Fund Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week is intended to help food processors adapt to COVID-19 protocols, including gaining access to more protective equipment for workers.

It is also supposed to help upgrade and reopen shuttered meat facilities that have had to close after becoming infected by COVID-19.

On Sunday another Cargill meat-processing plant south of Montreal announced it will temporarily close its doors after at least 64 workers tested positive.

That is the second temporary closure of a Cargill plant in recent weeks. One in High River, Alta., closed after about 350 cases of the novel coronavirus were linked to it. The number eventually rose to 1,500, including nearly half the plant’s 2,000 workers. The plant has since re-opened.

READ MORE: ‘Heavy handed’ approach would force inspectors into infected meat plants: Union

Workers in meat-packing plants often work shoulder to shoulder slaughtering and butchering animals for food. Many of them also share living quarters and transportation to and from work.

Cargill Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of an American-based multinational, has said it has installed transparent shields between workers’ stations where possible, supplied protective gear, and put on shuttle buses modified for safety so workers don’t have to carpool. A company representative didn’t immediately return a call from The Canadian Press Monday.

Details about who will have access to the federal funds to improve conditions at food plants, and what the requirements will be, are still being worked out, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“The Emergency Processing Fund is being finalized and we will continue our consultations with provinces, territories and stakeholders as the parameters of the program are developed,” the federal department said in a statement in response to questions Monday.

As for when the money is expected to doled out, the department said that will happen “no later” than Sept. 30.

In the meantime the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will order non-meat inspectors into meat plants under threat of discipline, according to the union representing agriculture workers.

The agency has instructed some of its non-meat-inspection staff to train up to be deployed to meat slaughter plants that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19, the Agriculture Union said in a statement Monday, asserting that the federal food-safety agency will treat refusals as acts of insubordination.

The union, which represents more than 6,500 employees of federal agricultural agencies, called the approach ”heavy-handed” and ”unacceptable.”

“CFIA is ordering its staff to work in facilities that obviously are not safe, and without the proper personal protective gear,” president Fabian Murphy said in the release.

The union says 18 of 37 inspectors working at the Cargill plant in High River have tested positive for the virus, and so have three of six inspectors at another plant.

In a statement, the CFIA said the agency follows national and local public health advice and obeys protocols put in place at the plants to mitigate risk of exposure to the virus.

“When cases of COVID-19 occur in a food processing establishment, the CFIA works with local public health authorities to determine the level of risk of exposure for CFIA employees, and their need for self-isolation and/or referral to health services for testing,” the agency said.

The statement also noted that inspectors complete a self-assessment before and after each shift related to their health, and masks and face shields are available.

In a separate statement about ongoing plant closures due to COVID-19, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Sunday it is important essential workers feel safe.

“We fully recognize the health concerns of workers in certain meat plants. As with all essential workers — proper measures must be in place, if workers can continue to provide essential services to Canadians during these critical times,” the minister said.

Working conditions for employees in the plants are a provincial responsibility but the federal inspectors are there to make sure the food they produce is safe for consumers.

“We need the prime minister or a senior elected person to intervene to ensure their own staff, federal inspectors are safe,” Murphy said.

The Agriculture Union says it’s reached out to ministers on the matter but has not had a response.

The union also raised concerns the CFIA has assigned inspectors to more than one processing facility, which could encourage the spread of the virus from plant to plant.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Poppy donation boxes have been delivered to restaurants, cafes, stores and places of businesses in Prince Rupert by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 127 for the 2020 National Poppy Campaign. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
National poppy campaign restricted by COVID-19

Prince Rupert Royal Canadian legion expects less donations to offer vital assistance to local vets

Elena Tran 9, grade five student at Conrad Elementary School learns about Truth and Reconciliation on Oct. 21 with the story of Chanie Wenjack who died at the side of rail lines while fleeing a residential school in 1967. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Conrad Elementary students learn of ‘reconciliACTION’ during Secret Path Week

Secret Path Week from Oct. 17 to 22 commemorates the passing of Chani Wenjack and Gord Downie

More than $10,000 in donations and toys was presented to the Salvation Army by the Prince Rupert Harley riders on Oct. 20, from the 39th annual Toy Ride held on Sept 26. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Harley Riders rode to victory with $10,000 donation to Salvation Army

The 39th annual Prince Rupert Harley Riders gifted more than 280 toys from the annual Toy Ride

The Prince Rupert Port Authority Land Use Plan will guide the growth within lands and waters under its jurisdiction and facilitate Canada’s trade with the world for the next 20 years. (Photo: Supplied by Port of Prince Rupert)
Land Use Plan finalized by Port Authority

PRPA Land Use Plan plan guides the growth and trade for next 20 years within its lands and waters

Such sweetness with all this candy. Dylan Kennedy 7, with his mom Kerri Kennedy volunteer at the Halloween Fest Committee event to bag candy for students in SD 52 on Oct. 19. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
How sweet it is

Bags of candy were assembled by more than 25 Halloween Fest Volunteers for distribution to S.D. 52

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Most Read