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Canadian beef plant suspends slaughter after worker tests positive for COVID-19

30 March 2020

Harmony Beef, a beef packing plant in Alberta, halted slaughter on Friday after an employee tested positive for coronavirus.

According to reporting from Reuters, slaughter was suspended after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) prevented some inspectors from coming to work at Harmony Beef due to the positive COVID-19 test.

The partial closure follows a positive COVID-19 test from a worker at Sanderson Farms Inc in the US earlier last week.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has led to consumer hoarding and stockpiling of staple grocery items, making meat-processing more lucrative.

According to a statement from Harmony, the Alberta Health Department notified the on 26 March that a worker, who had not been processing beef for days, had tested positive. Harmony sent the other workers in his section of the slaughter area home for 14 days even though they were non-symptomatic.

In a statement, CFIA confirmed it did not provide inspection services on Friday after it learned that a Harmony employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

Federally regulated slaughter plants are not allowed to operate without inspectors present.

The Balzac, Alberta plant can process 750 head of cattle per day, much less than bigger plants in the province owned by Cargill Ltd and JBS USA. While slaughter has halted at Harmony, it is still carrying out other types of processing.

Harmony, owned by the Vesta family, hopes to fully re-open on Monday 30 March pending talks with CFIA, he said.

Alberta produces more beef than any other Canadian province.

Meat production is so profitable currently that Cargill and JBS have added Saturday shifts, said Kevin Grier, a meat and livestock analyst.

Meat plants have gone to great lengths to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including assembly of tents and trailers to create greater distance among workers, Grier said.

Harmony screens every worker daily for symptoms and increased cleaning in the plant weeks ago, Cotton said.

The CFIA told meat-processing plants last week it would reduce the agency's staffed hours at domestic plants because of capacity constraints.

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