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'Megascale' slaughterhouses, meat-packing plants put beef industry at risk: Report

Last Updated Dec 16, 2020 at 1:15 pm MDT

The rapid spread of COVID-19 at Canada's meat-packing plants isn't a surprise, say union and health officials. Fabian Murphy, president of the Agriculture Union, which represents federal meat inspectors, says recent safety measures put in place are positive. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Nati Harnik

CALGARY — A new report says the consolidation of Canada’s beef processing plants has made the industry vulnerable to disease outbreaks, warning that shutdowns similar to what occurred early in the COVID-19 pandemic could “easily happen again.”

The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy study released today says creating a greater number of smaller-scale facilities scattered across the country would better insulate the food industry from a future pandemic. 

Yet the report by the Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation says “megascale” slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants benefit from economies of scale that keep prices lower for consumers. 

The study suggests that one solution could be increasing the mechanization of beef production, which would lower the risk of disease outbreaks by reducing the number of workers in facilities. 

About 70 per cent of Canada’s beef production is located in just two Alberta plants. 

The COVID-19 pandemic rattled the beef industry and raised awareness about consolidation after outbreaks forced the temporary shutdowns of meat-packing plants last spring. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2020.

The Canadian Press