AUSTRALIA’S red meat industry has supported Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ message for workers to stay at home if they develop COVID-19 symptoms, but urged against any industry shutdowns.
At the Victorian Government’s daily COVID-19 update today, after reporting 532 new cases, including more in the red meat sector, Mr Andrews said if people continue to go to work with symptoms, some industries could be shut down.
“If we were to continue to see outbreaks, if we were to continue to see people quite obviously attending work when they shouldn’t be, then every option becomes on the table,” Mr Andrew said.
The Australian Meat Industry Council responded this afternoon, saying it reinforced the Premier’s message for workers to stay away from their workplace if they display symptoms, get tested and follow the isolation instructions.
AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said COVID-19 is a people-transmitted virus “and will be solved by people implementing and abiding by COVID Safe recommendations.”
“The impacts of any potential closures of processing plants has a flow through effect to our wholesalers and retail network chains, which ultimately impacts our farmers and producers,” he said.
“We are an essential service feeding Victorians and Australians through independent retail and supermarket chains, and the global community, daily. We take this very seriously,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“Whilst as industry we continue to remain supportive of our front-line health workers and health department staff working with our members daily, some information has been confusing for Victorians, with changing advice to workers regarding isolation.
“We do not want to see the shut-down of our industry due to changing rules that we have limited to no control over,” the AMIC leader said.
“As such, we are working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and those members that have been impacted to ensure minimal interruption to business operations and communicate a clear set of expectations and response procedures.”
The latest COVID-19 case tally in the Victorian red meat sector today included 95 cases have been linked to Somerville Retail Services in Tottenham, 71 linked to JBS Australia’s Brooklyn abattoir, 69 linked to Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown and 47 cases linked to the Australian Lamb Company plant in Colac.
In south-west Victoria, the sheep and beef processor Midfield has reported that more than 900 of its workers tested negative for the coronavirus after a meat inspector who visited the plant subsequently tested positive.
Victoria not considering industry-wide shutdowns
Premier Andrews said considering shut downs “was not the position at the moment” and high risk sites such as cool stores, meat works and abattoirs should not be singled out “to the exclusion of others”.
“It’s not just big warehouses, distribution, freight logistics centres – there are lots of different sites, there is aged care, healthcare, the list goes on,” he said.
“But next steps may well have to include closing a number of these industries if we continue to see people attending work.”
He said there had been about 200 inspections conducted by WorkSafe in the past week and employers have “a really big stake in this also.”
“We all have to work together to keep anyone who’s got symptoms away from work, otherwise businesses will have to close.
“And the thing is this, when you have an outbreak, that business will shut , they will the subject of deep-cleaning, they will be the subject of literally hunderds and thousands and hours of public health team work, contact tracing, all of that,” he said.
“There is an economic cost to that, there is a very significant public health cost also.”
Red meat sector risk management started early – AMIC
AMIC said from as early as January 2020, it commenced implementing robust risk management guidelines, to incorporate COVID-19 safety plans and measures, for the industry’s total supply chain and independent retail network.
The council said food safety and hygiene is part the sector’s core business and its members operate to very stringent standards including HACCP, Good Manufacturing Practice, and Australian Standards, verified by state and federal food safety authorities.
As an essential service, our industry has continued to operate across the entire supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic knowing that the supply of food is our community’s most basic need and this has been reflected in increased sales of red meat during the pandemic, AMIC said.
AMIC said it has noted the negative reporting by media agencies recently, particularly in Victoria, and it disputes any commentary alleging the meat industry as being a responsible party in the transmission of coronavirus, due to recent cases being brought into processing plants in Victoria.
Australia’s Food Standards agency (FSANZ) and well-respected international agencies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and World Health Organization (WHO) have publicly stated that there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is transmitted in food, and no reported cases from human contact with food, AMIC said.
“This is a public health issue and a community transmitted virus, not a meat industry or food safety issue,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“There has been an over-emphasis of cases being linked to the Australian meat industry, yet the virus is being transmitted in the community, not generated from within any particular industry.
“The Australian meat industry has extremely controlled measures in place and should not be viewed through the same lens as meat industries in other countries,” he said.
“The actual percentage of staff that make up the total amount of cases within a “cluster” linked to a meat processing facility is small relative to total community transmissions, in some cases less than 3 percent, across our red meat and smallgoods members.
“Further, there is a negligible amount reported in our independent retail butcher chain.”