Olymel’s pork-processing plant in Yamachiche is closed for two weeks, leaving many finished hogs without a destination
By Jackie Clark
The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting some food supply chains by necessitating changes in processing-plant operations in an attempt to keep workers safe and healthy.
Processing capacity “is a huge issue for us. Packing plants for the last several months have been operating at capacity and with COVID-19 and social distancing, everyone’s doing their best to be safe and that has had an effect on plants’ capacity,” Eric Schwindt, chair of Ontario Pork, told Farms.com.
Olymel, a pork and poultry production and processing company based in Quebec, announced that it would be closing one of their Quebec pork processing plants for 14 days because of “the growing number of cases of COVID-19 among plant employees, which has reached nine,” a March 29 statement from the company said.
The closure is to prevent further spread of the virus among the nearly 1,000 employees, and give them two weeks to self-isolate before returning to work. The company assured customers that food hygiene and safety was maintained throughout the situation, in a statement released on April 3.
This work stoppage is important from a public health perspective, however, it does add a challenge to the pork industry.
“Olymel’s Yamachiche plant closing because of COVID-19, that’s really put a strain on packing capacity. So we do have pigs backing up in Ontario right now and we’re working to find as many markets as we can,” Schwindt said.
“Last week and this week we were able to move some pigs, either out west or to the U.S. Not large numbers but some” pigs were sent to alternative markets, he added.
Ontario Pork is working together with other players in the industry and the government to find solutions for producers.
“The industry has been co-operating. We’re looking at how we can take the pressure off anywhere we can by slowing pigs down,” Schwindt explained. “The packing plants we work with … they’re working hard to put as many pigs through as possible by working overtime and Saturdays.”
Additionally, industry representatives “are in constant communication with the government, trying to come up with ideas. They’ve been really helpful so far in the planning process, but that doesn’t negate the fact that if this continues, we’re going to have pigs that we just do not have homes for,” he said.
At this time Ontario Pork doesn’t have any specific asks for government support. The organization is investigating all options for alternative markets for pigs that may be diverted due to plant closures. The group will continue to work with government on solutions for pig farmers.
In the meantime, Schwindt hopes producers are keeping themselves in the loop.
“Stay informed. Ontario Pork, your truckers, your marketers – we can help out and keep you up to date on what’s going on and what your options are. There are a lot of people working on the industry’s behalf to get us through this,” he said.
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