One of Canada’s largest slaughterhouses is halting operations after hundreds of people connected to the facility were infected with the novel coronavirus and one died from COVID-19, marking the first major shutdown in the country’s food supply chain.
Cargill Ltd. on Monday said it is temporarily closing its meat-processing plant in High River, Alta. The facility churns out roughly 40 per cent of Western Canada’s processed beef and is a key part of the province’s agriculture industry. Alberta has linked 484 cases of COVID-19 to this plant and dozens more at a competing facility.
The president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said the closing of the facility is “devastating” for the country’s food system, which is already under strain amid the pandemic. “[The supply chain] normally runs tickety-boo and no one has to think about it,” Mary Robinson said. “These systems are so efficient and so well-run, and as soon as we start mucking around, we’re going to have problems.”
The High River plant is one of several slaughterhouses in North America to close or slow its assembly lines because employees, who work elbow to elbow, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Also hit by the pandemic is JBS Canada, one of the largest beef companies in the country. So far, 67 people linked to JBS’s operations in Brooks, Alta., have contracted COVID-19, according to the province. JBS did not return a message seeking comment.
The idling of the High River facility, even temporarily, threatens to cause ripple effects along the food supply chain, both forward and backward. Consumers might see diminished stock and higher prices at the grocery store, and farmers face the prospect of financial hardship. If producers cannot find a processor to take their animals when they are ready for market, they will incur higher feed and labour costs. Some industry groups warn that a backlog of live animals on farms could also prompt producers to make hard decisions around culling some of their cattle.
Jon Nash, the head of Cargill’s North American protein division, said the company has begun the process of temporarily idling the High River facility. “We are working with farmers and ranchers, our customers and our employees to supply food in this time of crisis and keep markets moving,” he said in a statement.
Cargill, a global agriculture company with headquarters in Minnesota, said the High River plant will process about three million meals with products currently in the facility in order to prevent food waste. The firm did not provide details on how long the closure would last. The facility employs 2,000 people who typically process 4,500 head of cattle each day; many of the labourers are temporary foreign workers and immigrants tied to the city’s Filipino community.
Meat-processing companies have taken measures to create space between workers, including erecting individual stalls in cafeterias, but employees for the most part work in close quarters. The job site, then, is ripe for the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, to spread. The union had been urging Cargill to suspend operations to protect its workers.
“It is about time,” said Thomas Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, noting there were 38 cases of COVID-19 linked to the plant on Easter Sunday.
The head of the Syndicat Agriculture Union, which represents federal food inspectors, said he sent two letters in the past week to federal cabinet ministers asking them to implement consistent protocols across all processing plants that have sick employees. Fabian Murphy said the union wants facilities to immediately shut down for 14 days after an employee tests positive for the virus. He is also advocating for inspectors and workers to be supplied with personal protective equipment. (Inspectors must be on site during slaughter activities.)
“The [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] is leaving it up to the plants to make a determination of whether they can operate safely or not,” Mr. Murphy said. “I don’t think that’s the right call. … I think the government could have stepped in sooner and taken decisive action.” The CFIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday night.
Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said carpooling and the coronavirus spreading in households where infected people are unable to isolate from others have played a notable role in the outbreak in High River. Many of the people tied to processing plants with COVID-19 were exposed to the virus before the facilities implemented safety measures, she said.
“We will continue to see new cases linked to this outbreak over the coming days,” Dr. Hinshaw said.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, which represents 63,000 beef farms and feedlots, said Cargill was in touch on Monday to communicate that the plant would be shut down for a “short period of time.” Dennis Laycraft, the association’s executive vice-president, said that while he hopes the slaughterhouse will reopen soon, farmers need to prepare for the possibility that the plant could stay closed for weeks. And each week, he said, adds about 25,000 cattle to the backlog on Canadian farms.
“Every part of the industry is being impacted,” he said in a virtual town hall Monday. “We’re reaching out, literally as we speak, to the government to stress the urgency in getting moving on a number of measures we’ve been presenting over the last number of weeks.”
The association is urging Ottawa to implement what is known as a set-aside program, which would allow farmers to keep their livestock longer and feed the animals a forage-heavy maintenance diet instead of the higher-calorie growth diet that typically precedes slaughter. The program would be reminiscent of the one used during the BSE crisis of the early 2000s, when slaughterhouse capacity was down.
Without a set-aside program to slow down the supply chain, producers could be looking at a half-billion dollars in market losses before the end of June, Mr. Laycraft said.
The diminished processing capacity may also become apparent to consumers when they visit their local grocery store. Ms. Robinson said that while there is meat in storage that can be drawn upon in the short term, those inventories will not hold indefinitely. “The storm is not tomorrow,” she said. “The impact of these decisions being made today are going to be felt in the medium and longer term.”
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Fixed COVID-19 hydro rate coming to Ontario – BlackburnNews.com
Fixed COVID-19 hydro rate coming to Ontario
May 30, 2020 3:00pm
The province is introducing new electricity rate relief measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario ratepayers will now pay a fixed price of 12.8 cents per kWh at all times of the day.
Referred to as the COVID-19 Recovery Rate, the pricing will be automatically applied to all time-of-use customers starting on June 1 and be in effect until October 31.
According to a release by the provincial government on Saturday afternoon, the fixed rate is based on the average cost of electricity, set by the Ontario Energy Board.
“Since March 24, 2020, we have invested just over $175 million to deliver emergency rate relief to residential, farm and small business electricity consumers by suspending time-of-use electricity pricing…As Ontarians continue to work and learn from home, we are extending the suspension of time-of-use price to provide consumers with greater stability and predictability with their electricity bills,” Greg Rickford, minister of energy, northern development and mines, said in the news release.
More information about the COVID-19 Recovery Rate is expected to be announced during Premier Doug Ford’s daily briefing on Monday.
Son of 2 Portapique victims says 2011 warning on gunman should have prevented attack – CBC.ca
The son of two people killed in last month’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia believes a 2011 warning to police that gunman Gabriel Wortman had a stash of guns and wanted “to kill a cop” should have prevented the tragedy from ever happening.
The tip, according to records recently obtained by CBC News, was sent to police agencies across Nova Scotia, but RCMP can’t say what, if anything, was done with it.
“I’m angry more than anything. I’m angry that 22 people lost their lives and I really, truly believe that this could have been prevented,” said Ryan Farrington, whose mother and stepfather, Dawn Madsen and Frank Gulenchyn, were killed in the April 18-19 massacre.
Farrington’s parents lived in Portapique, N.S., and moved from Oshawa, Ont., 10 years ago. Farrington’s mother was originally from Nova Scotia and always wanted to move back. The couple loved living by the ocean.
Farrington said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the tragedy, as well as the 2011 tip.
An RCMP spokesperson said the force typically only keeps warnings like that for two years.
“We can’t speak about specifics of the follow-up to the 2011 bulletin because our database records have been purged as per our retention policies,” Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in an email.
“Preliminary indications are that we were aware and at minimum provided assistance to [Halifax Regional Police], which aligns with the RCMP’s approach for such enquiries (sic).”
The tip was initially sent to the Truro Police Service, who then shared it with the Criminal Intelligence Service of Nova Scotia, a network of policing agencies that includes the RCMP.
Halifax Regional Police did investigate the tip at the time because Wortman has a home in Dartmouth, but determined any information about weapons was related to his cottage property in Portapique, which was outside its jurisdiction. Halifax Regional Police said that information was shared with the RCMP.
“I don’t understand why [the 2011 bulletin] would be erased after two years, knowing that there is a highly volatile person in the area, especially mainly with the weapons being at his Portapique addresses,” Farrington said.
He said he was told by RCMP that the Truro police had information that could have prevented the massacre, but that it wasn’t shared with them. The Truro Police Service said they never had any direct dealings with Wortman, who lived outside their coverage area, but shared all the information available nine years ago with other police agencies because of how serious it was.
The documents obtained by CBC through access to information show that one day after the 2011 bulletin, someone at the RCMP followed up with Cpl. Greg Densmore, the Truro officer who wrote the officer safety bulletin. In that exchange Densmore passed along details about the truck and jeep Wortman is believed to have used to drive between Dartmouth and Portapique.
“There’s just so much we need to know and we’re not getting answers,” Farrington said.
He hopes the federal government calls a public inquiry that would address questions such as what the RCMP knew and when, how Wortman was able to bring in weapons illegally across the Canada-U.S. border, how he was able to get a police uniform and outfit his vehicle to look like an RCMP cruiser.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey told CBC’s Mainstreet on Friday that an inquiry into the shooting should be handled by the federal government because there are limits to what the province could do.
Furey, who is a retired Mountie, said many of the major players involved in the situation are federal agents, including the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and the firearms registry.
He said an inquiry should be collaborative so the agencies that answer to different levels of government would be compelled to answer questions and implement any recommendations made.
Furey would not say if Nova Scotia would seek an inquiry if the federal government doesn’t.
“Those would be circumstances I would address at the time,” he said.
If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.
Alberta handing out masks at drive-thrus – Canada News – Castanet.net
Alberta is planning to distribute 20 million non-medical masks for free at hundreds of drive-thru fast-food restaurants.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro says it’s one more way to keep Albertans safe as the economy reopens following shutdowns forced by COVID-19.
“As the province relaunches and we all adapt to our new normal, we all may sometimes find ourselves where physical distancing may not be possible,” Shandro told a news conference Friday.
“For example, riding transit in the province or shopping … where it may be difficult to maintain two metres between people at all times.
“Mask use is not mandatory, but we would like Albertans to have the option of wearing a mask if they choose.”
Shandro said that starting in early June, people will be able to use drive-thru lanes at McDonald’s, A&W and Tim Hortons to pick up single use, three-layer, non-medical masks designed to filter germs and pollution particles.
The masks come in packages of four, and one package will be handed out per person.
No food purchase is necessary to obtain them, said Shandro, and no money is going to the restaurant chains for pick-up or distribution.
At just below $1 per mask, the province is spending just under $2 million on the project. About $350,000 will be spent on getting masks to remote areas that don’t have those restaurants.
But Shandro said 95 per cent of Albertans live within 10 kilometres of a drive-thru. The participating businesses have about 600 drive-thrus in the province.
He said the masks can be picked up only in drive-thru lanes, not inside the restaurant, to maintain physical distancing.
He acknowledged that four masks per person is not enough in the long term, but will help some people get through the crunch of the crisis and that Albertans are encouraged to source their own masks in the future.
Asked how he hopes to prevent hoarding, Shandro said, “We’re not asking for folks to bring in their health-care card and get it punched to show they’ve already picked up.
“This is on the honour system.”
He said it’s acceptable for people to pick up masks on behalf of those who can’t do so in person.
Tanya Doucette, who operates eight Tim Hortons franchises in central Alberta, said customers were understanding when her staff closed in-store service and moved to drive-thru and delivery service only.
She expects the same will happen as they continue reopening in-store service to half capacity and begin distributing masks.
“We won’t be asking our team members to police the program. We’ll just ask them to follow the guidelines as they are set out by the province,” said Doucette in an interview.
“I think we can count on Albertans to utilize the program in the spirit it is meant.”
Alberta has completed the first phase of its economic relaunch. Retail shops, restaurants, day cares, barber shops, hair salons, farmers markets and places of worship have reopened with some conditions.
Outdoor gatherings are currently limited to 50 people, and indoor gatherings to 15.
The next phase is scheduled to begin June 19 with the reopening of stage and movie theatres, spas and services like manicures, pedicures and massages.
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