Cargill halts second shift at High River beef plant

'Additional safety measures' also in place, company says

Cargill is temporarily idling its second shift at one of Canada’s biggest beef packing plants to “minimize the impact” of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The company announced Monday it would reduce shifts at its High River, Alta. beef plant, about 40 km south of Calgary, effective that day and until further notice.

“Our goal is to keep our employees healthy and minimize risk within the community, which has been greatly impacted by COVID-19,” a company spokesperson said via email.

The company didn’t specify the impacts of the virus on workers at the High River plant, but CBC on Monday quoted a union official as saying 29 workers, five salaried staff and four contractors are so far confirmed to have COVID-19.

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The company has also put “additional safety measures” in place, such as temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices “where possible” and offering staggered breaks and shift flexibility, Jon Nash, the North America lead for Cargill’s protein division, said Monday in an emailed statement.

Temporary wage increases and bonuses have also been made available at the plant, he said.

“While this location is working at reduced capacity and we adapt to operating during a pandemic, our work doesn’t stop,” he said, and Cargill is “working with farmers and ranchers, our customers and our employees to supply food in this time of crisis and keep markets moving.”

The High River plant “will be back to operating at full capacity as soon as is it is safe to do so,” he added.

At peak capacity, the plant employs about 2,000 people and processes about 4,500 head of cattle per day.

COVID-19 has led to temporary shutdowns at several other Canadian meat packing facilities, including Calgary-based Harmony Beef, which has since resumed operations; an Olymel pork plant at Yamachiche, Que.; and a Maple Leaf Foods poultry plant at Brampton, Ont.

The pandemic has also led to several facility closures in the U.S., most recently including a major beef packing plant operated by JBS at Greeley, Colorado.

JBS said Monday it would wind down operations at Greeley over the next two days “to ensure existing product in the facility can be used to support food supply needs,” then temporarily close the plant until April 24.

The plant employs more than 6,000 people and is the biggest employer in Colorado’s Weld County, which JBS said Monday faces a “growing outbreak” of COVID-19, with almost 740 cases to date. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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