VICTORIAN meat processors will have to cut back production by a third and implement significant workplace safety measures after midnight Friday this week under new Stage Four COVID-19 restrictions announced today.
In an effort to slow the growth of community coronavirus transmission across the state, Premier Daniel Andrews today outlined the businesses that will stay open, have to curtail operations or close, for the next six weeks.
Retail outlets except for those that are related to food and essential services will have to close, except for those equipped for take away and drive-through, but Mr Andrews said businesses able to remain open in a scaled back form will include meat works.
“We know that meatworks are a really significant challenge for us.
“Whether it be lamb, poultry or beef, they will move to two thirds production, so they will reduce their production by one third, and those workplaces will look very different,” Mr Andrew said.
“There will be some of the most stringent safety protocols that have been ever put in place in any industrial setting.
“Those workers will be essentially dressed as if they were a health worker – gloves and gowns, masks and shields,” he said.
“They will be working in one workplace only, they will be temperature checked, they will be tested.
“It is a proportionate response to the risk that that industry poses, but given the critical part in keeping Victorians fed and indeed, the nation fed, given that so much activity hubs out of Victoria, particularly given the drought and other challenges in other parts of the country, it is not possible to go below that two-thirds level,” Mr Andrews said.
“Cutting production by a third we still believe that people will able to have access to the products that they need.
“Again I can’t guarantee that every single product at exactly the volumes that you might like to buy will be there, but there will be enough for people to get what they need – not necessarily what they want, but what they need.”
AMIC welcomes Victorian Premier’s announcement
The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) said the restrictions would involve meatworks moving to a 33 percent reduction in peak workforce, increasing the utilisation of personal protective equipment, temperature testing and other COVID-safe work interventions, most of which were already in place in all Victorian processors.
“AMIC has been lobbying tirelessly on our member’s behalf to ensure that we remain as an essential service in the supply of food,” AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said.
“The impact of these restrictions in Victoria, AMIC believes will lead to a 30 percent reduction in supply chain throughput overall, based on discussions with our membership.
“It is our opinion that this will lead to a reduction in saleable meat in the Victorian community,” he said.
AMIC said it welcomed the Victorian Premier’s confirmation that independent retail butchers will remain open across greater Victoria as an essential service. The council said 45 percent of independent local butchers and wholesalers supply essential services, including nursing homes, hospitals or hotels.
Cedar Meats resuming operation tomorrow
West Melbourne sheep, calf and goat processor Cedar Meats will re-commence operating tomorrow after getting the all-clear from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Last Friday, the abattoir closed for the second time this year, after a staff member who worked at the plant on 22 July tested positive for COVID-19. All staff at Cedar Meats were tested for COVID-19 between 31 July and 2 August and the results show there is no transmission of coronavirus at Cedar Meats.
Cedar Meats management today welcome the announcement by the Victorian Government relating to extra safety measures for abattoirs –specifically the medical level PPE, staggering shifts and breaks, temperature checks on entry etc. Cedar Meats already has these measures in place and believes these latest test results show that these measures work, the company said.
VFF urges farmers to implement COVID-19 plans
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said VFF and agriculture recognised the gravity of being one of the few industries permitted to continue under Stage Four restrictions.
“We understand the trust that has been placed in our sector and that we are accountable for keeping Victorians fed during this state of disaster.
“We have been in constant talks with government to advocate for farmers and ensure that decision-makers understand the importance of keeping the food supply chain open and those discussions have ramped up over recent days,” he said.
“The VFF developed a detailed COVID-19 action plan for our industry which resulted in $410 million in additional Australian and Victorian Government expenditure which has enabled the agriculture industry to continue to operate.”
Mr Jochinke said farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about restrictions to their business and business interruption, labour shortages, freight and logistics problems along with issues around access to inputs.
“We know that continuity of business is emerging as a big concern for farmers which is why our discussions with government have focused on four key principles: bipartisan and comprehensive approach to border issues, smoother flow of goods and services intrastate and interstate, strategies to enable the movement of the agricultural workforce and regulatory change to ensure that agriculture and its supply chain is classified as a critical service,” he said.
“The VFF today wrote to our members to reinforce the importance of implementing COVID-19 action plans, which are critical to keeping the agriculture supply chain open.”
“Our clear guidance to farmers is to be extra vigilant as COVID-19 reaches our doorstep.”
Mr Jochinke said farmers must implement the best protective measures for their businesses and workers, including face coverings or visors for employees, ceasing communal gatherings, installing screens/curtains, furloughing of staff, physical distancing, cleaning and disinfection measures, insisting on personal hygiene and use of sanitisers, and minimizing the number of people coming onto farms.