Canadian meat processor Olymel LP has closed the slaughterhouse in Red Deer, Alberta after a major corona outbreak among staff. Last week, hundreds of employees were found to be infected. The company has moved slaughter to a subsidiary in the northern United States.
Olymel closed the factory on Wednesday, citing force majeure - unforeseen circumstances preventing fulfillment of the contract. All staff have been fired; Canadian trade unions have already filed a defense against this. The facility can slaughter 45,000 pigs every week. Canada is the third largest exporter of pork in the world.
According to Alberta Pork, 40,000 to 50,000 pigs passed through the Red Deer plant every week. Executive Director Darcy Fitzgerald told Canadian media that just a two-week shutdown will create a significant backlog. “By March 1, we will probably be about 130,000 pigs behind,” he said.
The backlog in Alberta is already 80,000 to 90,000 pigs and Olymel hopes to reopen in four to five weeks. Olymel has begun shipping pigs it raised on its own farms to US packers to help catch up.
The coronavirus spread at the end of last year in meat factories in Canada, where workers in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants usually work closely together. Cargill Inc. temporarily closed a beef factory in Ontario in December due to the pandemic.
US pig processors should be able to handle the influx of Canadian pigs if the animals are ready for slaughter for several weeks. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States typically imports about 100,000 pigs per week from Canada. US pork companies slaughter about 2.6 million to 2.7 million pigs per week.