Fears raised over Covid-19 outbreaks in Irish meat processing plants

The IFA has hit out at retailers for not showing solidarity over milk prices

There are six known coronavirus clusters at meat processing plants across the country

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6 May 2020 | 0

An outbreak of Covid-19 among workers at a Tipperary meat factory sparked concern that the virus is spreading through Irish abattoirs and meat-processing plants. However, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has responded by reassuring the public that its members have implemented a wide range of protective measures and protocols at each of their sites.

Last week, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed told the Dáil that there are six known coronavirus clusters at meat processing plants across the country. A cluster is defined as two or more cases.

According to Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on agriculture Brian Stanley, 120 workers at Ireland’s largest pork-processing plant, Rosderra Meats, had tested positive for the virus. Furthermore, 140 of the Roscrea plant’s 350 staff were off sick last week. Stanley said the first case showed up over a month ago.

Rosderra Meats confirmed that all staff had been tested at the Roscrea processing plant, but it did not confirm the number of staff that had tested positive for Covid-19. It added that production will be scaled down until all staff return to work.

However, Stanley claimed that poor social distancing measures exacerbated the spread: “Workers had to battle with management to get measures of any kind put in place, but they are still being denied two-metre distancing on the factory floor,” he said. “There is congregating and no separation in the locker rooms or washrooms.”

This comes after meat processing company Dawn Meats temporarily closed its Westmeath facility after four workers tested positive for Covid-19. Dawn Meats produces 400 million burgers for McDonald’s outlets in Europe and the UK each year.

A spokesperson for the company said the decision was made out of “an abundance of caution… No decision has yet been taken with regards to deferring any scheduled activity next week.”

The closure generated concern that Ireland’s export-driven agri-food sector will be seriously impacted by the pandemic. As Ireland’s most important domestic industry, the sector employs 170,000 people and is worth €14 billion to the economy.

According to Meat Industry Ireland (MII), its members have “prioritised the safety and wellbeing of staff, farmer suppliers and service providers by implementing a wide range of protective measures and protocols at each of their sites.

“Meat processing is considered an essential service by government in order to provide continuity of food supply in the domestic, European and international supply chains and to facilitate the orderly and welfare-friendly movement of animals from farms,” MMI said. “Continued operations in meat processing is only possible due to the incredible commitment and efforts of staff at meat plants, of farmers, hauliers and of all service providers to the industry.

MII added that production levels and processing throughput have been maintained in recent weeks in the pigmeat, lamb and poultry sectors. “Beef throughput is down about 20% on equivalent weeks last year and 30% compared to early March 2020,” the association said, “but this reduction in throughput is due to market disruption and the loss of demand from the food service market rather than any limitation on operational capacity.”

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