Guelph Cargill Plant Shutdown Temporarily Due to COVID-19

During the pandemic, almost every business has been touched and affected by COVID-19, but if we were to make a list of the *most* affected businesses, meat packing plants would be in the Top 5, if not the Top 3. After weeks of increasing concern about the extent of an outbreak there, the Cargill meat processing plant on Dunlop Drive in Guelph has been temporarily shut down after approximately 200 people there have been tested for the virus.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health has completed what’s called a full infection prevention and control (IPAC) review of the Dunlop plant. As of 2 pm on Thursday, there were 82 positive tests for COVID-19, plus 129 other people who are self-isolating out of an abundance of caution. Cargill agreed to voluntarily stop production at the effected portion of the facility.

“All outbreaks are serious. However, when we see an outbreak of this size, we must use all of the tools available to us to contain the outbreak and ensure the community at large is protected, said Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum in a statement.  “I want to thank Cargill for their complete participation in containing this outbreak. As cases rise in our region, we will be at more risk for outbreaks. That’s why we must do all we can to keep cases low and respond quickly to any outbreaks.”

For the past month, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 175 & 633 representing workers at the Cargill plant have been reporting near-daily increases to the total number of COVID cases being diagnosed at the plant.

“This was a difficult decision for our team who are operating an essential service and are committed to delivering food for local families and access to markets for farmers and ranchers,” Cargill Protein-North America Leader Jon Nash told the publication Meat+Poultry. “We care deeply about our employees and their safety. They are everyday heroes on the frontlines of our food system. Our focus now is on continuing to keep our employees safe and getting our facility back to normal operations.”

Cargill will be paying employees for the work week so long as the plant is closed according to the collective agreement. Nash added that the 1.55 million meals worth of meat at the Dunlop facility will be processed before the plant is shutdown so they can avoid creating food waste.

Still, looking at the issue more broadly, how does the shutdown of a major processing facility affect the supply chain?

“We have a highly integrated North American and international beef supply chain. When much bigger plants in the West closed, we saw small short-term price increases, but not significant impacts on supply,” explained Dr. Michael von Massow, a food economist at the University of Guelph. The big issue, von Massow added, is the effect on producers.

“This plant is the only significant packing capacity in eastern Canada. Producers will have to hold cattle longer or ship cattle significantly further for processing, which will mean much higher costs for them,” von Massow added. “It highlights the significant lack of diversity in the cattle processing industry in Canada generally, and Ontario specifically.”

On Friday, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health put the current number of active cases at 266 with 127 cases in Guelph, 47 in Wellington County, 38 in Dufferin County, and 54 that have so far been unassigned. The 7-Day Moving case count is getting dangerously close to lockdown conditions at 95.2 per 100,000, while the 7-Day Moving average for test positivity is now up to 3.2 per cent.

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