Thursday, May 14, 2020

Where's the Beef?

Covid-19 has focused a lot of attention on meat packing plants and the high-levels of infection experienced by their workers.

We've had a few outbreaks in Canada, two of them at Cargill packing plants. 
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing Canada’s reliance on just a few industrial slaughterhouses, food experts and a national farmers union told the Toronto Star. 
The National Farmers Union says more than 95 per cent of Canada’s beef production comes from just three processing plants, which includes two that have been hit by outbreaks.
Three packing plants in Ireland have also had Covid outbreaks.  Germany has had the same problem.

America's Centers for Disease Control report that 115 meat packing plants in 19 states have had Covid-19 outbreaks. Trump has invoked his emergency powers to compel those plants to remain open.

Now we're getting word that 40 Canadian meat inspectors have tested positive for the virus.

It used to be that governments and the private sector would offer hazard pay and other benefits to those they sent into harm's way. Shouldn't packing plants be required to do as much? Why not nursing homes to boot?


Anonymous said...

Wait - we still have meat inspectors?! I thought Harper put the packers in charge of inspecting themselves.


Rural said...

As a life long vegetarian I have no 'bones' to pick with the meat industry but as a rural resident my whole life I have seen how the 'centralization' of meat processing has hurt the small local operators. Bigger is NOT better IMHO be it in any food supply industry... or for that matter in many others!

The Disaffected Lib said...

Cap, Harper did indeed turn over the inspection function to the producers. That resulted in listeria outbreaks at Maple Leaf in 2008. I just looked it up - 57 confirmed cases, 22 deaths.

With that, Sideshow Steve beat a hasty retreat and government inspectors returned.

Toby said...

It's not just beef. However, BC is much stronger than some jurisdictions when faced with outbreaks.

"Fraser Health has ordered a poultry processing plant in Chilliwack to remain closed as officials investigate an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility."

Faced with a long shutdown, "Fraser Health has rescinded the May 2nd closure order, as the poultry plant has met the requirements of the order. The plant has reopened and is now operating at a reduced capacity while putting measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Fraser Health will continue to work closely with Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry to maintain the health and safety of staff during this pandemic."

Government can sort these problems if there is the will to do so.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Rural, you're on the money. Britain's "mad cow" problem was traced to industrial-scale meat production that saw large numbers of animals from various producers gathered, transported and mixed together where diseases could be transmitted through their mingling.

Animals that went directly from the smallholder to the nearest abattoir and on to the local market did not have this problem.

That's one of the reasons feedlot operations wind up having to use heavy quantities of antibiotics. They know the animals they receive stand a good chance of getting sick.

Few people know that most of the antibiotics produced in North America go to livestock treatment.

Anonymous said...

Rural - small operators were decimated by the Liberals in Ontario.

Owen Gray said...

In the 70's Occupational Health legislation blossomed. But in the last thirty years, much of that legislation has been gutted.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Thanks for the info, Toby.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Deregulation, Owen, was de rigueur in the neoliberal order. The invisible hand of the market was entrusted with our safety. Very clever.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Rural, there are some who foresee a return of smallholder farming. My maternal grandfather was a smallholder - beef and dairy cattle, poultry, the best field tomatoes I ever tasted, cucumbers, bell peppers, sweet and feed corn, wheat and burley tobacco. All of that on a 100 acre farm. He supplied Heinz, Green Giant and the town dairy. And they raised 8 children on that farm.

Somehow that sounds so much better than what we have today. That farm passed from my grandfather to my uncle to my cousin and, in the process, grew to 500 acres. There's not a tractor or combine to be seen on that land today. No cattle in the pasture. The farmhouses are gone. The barns are gone. Every inch of it is now covered in greenhouses, gobbled up by some agricultural corporation.