Canadian pork producers seek Ottawa's support amid severe supply chain disruption
The Canadian government won’t force meat-processing plants to stay open as essential services if the health of workers is at risk, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, taking a different approach to supply shortages than the Trump administration.
Canada’s agriculture ministry is working with companies and the provincial authorities to ensure there are no shortages, Trudeau said Wednesday in Ottawa. He acknowledged the pandemic is causing disruptions across many industries, including food. U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday that compels U.S. slaughterhouses to remain open.
“We need to make sure that those supply chains can keep functioning but we also need to make sure that the people who work in those supply chains, and will continue to need to work in difficult circumstances over the coming weeks and months as we continue to battle COVID-19, are kept safe,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa.
The spread of COVID-19 has shut down one of Canada’s largest beef processing plants and forced some poultry and pork facilities to temporarily idle or slow output. Last week, Cargill was forced to close its High River facility, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the nation’s beef processing capacity, while JBS SA’s beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, is running at about half capacity.
Meanwhile, plants across the U.S. have shut because of the coronavirus, wiping out about 25 per cent of America’s pork-processing capacity and 10 per cent for beef, raising the prospect of meat shortages at grocery stores. Given the high concentration of meat and poultry processors in a relatively small number of facilities, the closure of any of the plants could disrupt food supplies, according to a White House statement.
When asked if he would ease food safety regulations that allow meat inspected by provincial regulators to be sold only in that specific province, Trudeau said his concern is about worker safety.
“The preoccupation and challenges we’re facing isn’t as much around the safety of food produced, which continues to be ensured, but the safety of the workers working in those plants because of COVID-19,” Trudeau said. “That is something that requires a little more work and a little more coordination.”
The disruptions have left thousands of cows backing up on Canadian farms because they can’t go to slaughter and prompted McDonald’s Corp.’s Canadian unit to start importing beef to supplement tight domestic supplies. The high concentration in Canada’s beef processing sector is putting supplies at risk as the two Alberta plants have 85 per cent of Canada’s beef slaughter capacity, according to the National Farmers Union.