Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the meat industry in Canada

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, outbreaks of the virus took place in factories operated by the meat packing industry and the poultry processing industry. These outbreaks affected multiple plants, leading to closures of some factories and disruption of others, and posing a threat to the food supply in Canada.

The Cargill beef processing plant in High River, Alberta is the largest workplace outbreak in Canada, and the over 1000 cases linked to the site are considered the single largest infection cause in North America.

Early response

Sometime in late March 2020 several industry groups, among them the Canadian Meat Council which included as regular members Cargill, JBS Foods International and the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, distributed a flyer entitled "Safeguarding the Canadian Meat Supply". The flyer, which stressed the industry's adherence to CFIA regulations, detailed measures which would be taken to do just that:[1][2][3]

  • Symptom monitoring - 4 points
  • Temperature monitoring - 2 points
  • Travel and exposure history - 2 points
  • Controlled entry - 3 points
  • Hand sanitation - 2 points
  • Personnel distancing - 3 points
  • Facility and equipment sanitation - 4 points

It was produced in eight languages. It was distributed, along with a cover letter signed by seven association leaders, to meat professionals in Canada, Mexico, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan.[1]

Sometime in early April, a two-page fact sheet entitled "Food Safety and COVID-19" detailed the measures consumers should take to protect themselves and their families. It was keyed in red and made liberal use of federal government advice, and directed readers to government help lines. The industry organizations also produced a pair of videos.[1]

Overall impact

Seventy percent of Canada's beef processing facilities are concentrated in two meat processing facilities in Alberta, both of which closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic on April 20.[4] Coupled with the drop in oil prices, Alberta's financial situation was significantly affected. Experts noted as early as 8 April that the Alberta economy needs to diversify, and perhaps the government needs introduce a Provincial Sales Tax.[4][5]

As of April 23, the Province of Alberta had launched an occupational health and safety investigation into conditions at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River. 96 employees at a JBS plant in Brooks had tested positive for COVID-19.[6][7][8]

Hog producers were unhappy due to closed slaughterhouses and closed restaurants, and lost money on every animal they sold. Human cases of COVID-19 disease in April "at American pork-processing plants, including in South Dakota and Iowa, have temporarily closed facilities and slashed the number of hogs being processed every day by an estimated 60,000." Manitoba hog producers were particularly unhappy because they used to market to the Americans. A finishing pig that commanded $180 in January 2020 is now worth around $130. The producers want reinstated the federal government subsidy called the "set-aside program, which compensates producers for feeding the animals they hold back (from the slaughterhouses) a maintenance diet. The program was first implemented during the BSE crisis" of 25 years before.[9]

On April 28, McDonald's Canada announced that it would begin using beef from approved sources outside of Canada,[4] to supplement their Canadian supply.[10][11] The National Post reported that product would come from the Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay.[12] It removed Angus beef burgers from its menu, temporarily.[10]

One supermarket in Alberta noted that they were getting less supply of beef, but not a significant impact as of late April.[4]

Some pigs in eastern Canada were euthanised, as slaughterhouses closed.[13]

UFCW Local 401, which represents various beef production plants in Alberta, called for a stop work order in early May.[14]

On 11 May, the CFIA's Agriculture Union of embedded inspectors at slaughterhouses said that management is "threatening disciplinary action against employees who refuse to be reassigned to work at COVID-19-infected meat plants", while Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland said that "those who feel unsafe won't be forced back to work."[15]

On 11 May, a CBC journalist wrote that "The Cargill plant in Alberta, where there have been about 1,000 reported cases [of human COVID-19], is now considered the largest single-site outbreak in North America."[15]

On 13 May, it was reported that forty government food inspectors had contracted COVID-19, 21 of them in Alberta.[16]

Specific processors


High River plant

The town of High River had 164 cases and one death as of April 17, with some of the patients being employees of the Cargill meat packing plant. The plant continued at a reduced capacity, but no layoffs had occurred as of April 17.[17] As of April 17, there were 358 cases linked to the plant, accounting for 15% of the province's cases;[18] that ratio grew to 1 in 4 by late April.[19] United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union Local 401 lobbied unsuccessfully for the plant's closure since the point at which health authorities were aware of 38 cases linked to the facility.[18] On April 20, Cargill temporarily closed the facility after a total of 484 cases were confirmed.[20]

Fifteen residents of Eden Valley 216 and Morley were found to have COVID-19 in late April; both are Stoney Nakoda Nation communities. Contract tracing connected some of those cases to Cargill, where some members of that community work.[19][21]

On 11 May, the Government of Alberta disclosed that a second worker from the Cargill plant had died that day.[22]

As of mid-May, 18 on-site food inspectors at the plant had contracted COVID-19.[16]

Chambly, Quebec plant

At Chambly, Quebec's Cargill plant, 64 employees were contracted the disease.[23] The plant will close by May 13 as a preventative measure, once all food is processed.[24]

Conestoga Meats

JBS Canada

In Brooks, Alberta, 7% of the population tested positive for COVID-19, with 600 workers confirmed and probable cases in the JBS Foods plant. As of May 9, 510 workers had recovered, but one worker died.[25] The plant added a shift premium of $4 an hour, but many employees skipped their shifts, forcing the company to reduce their schedule to one shift.[26] As of April 21, the company claimed that there had been no walk-offs.[27]


On May 1, it was announced that 52 employees of a Lilydale poultry plant in Coquitlam were infected by the virus.[28]

As of April 23, at least one employee of the Lilydale plant in southeast Calgary had COVID-19.[29]

Maple Leaf Foods


United Poultry Co.


  1. ^ a b c "Canada Beef update on COVID-19". Canada Beef. April 2020.
  2. ^ "Safeguarding the Canadian Meat Supply". Canadian Meat Council. March 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Bench, Allison (29 April 2020). "Oil and beef: Expert says Alberta must diversify as major industries hit by COVID-19". Global News. Toronto ON. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  5. ^ Bench, Allison (8 April 2020). "Expert weighs in on Kenney's economic plan for Alberta, suggests PST could be an answer". Global News. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  6. ^ Amanda Stephenson (April 23, 2020). "After COVID-19 outbreaks, OHS investigations under way at Cargill, JBS sites". Calgary Herald. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  7. ^ "OPINION: The meat of the matter: Don't expect shortages in Canada". Pique Newsmagazine.
  8. ^ Charlebois, Sylvain. "Healthy supply is meat of the matter | Saltwire".
  9. ^ Ian, Froese (24 April 2020). "'Worst scenario I've seen in decades' for Manitoba producers as demand disappears: Pork Council GM". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  10. ^ a b "McDonald's Canada begins importing beef from U.S. amid Canadian supply issues". Toronto ON: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The Canadian Press. 29 April 2020. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  11. ^ Fordham, Evie (29 April 2020). "McDonald's Canada faces coronavirus beef shortage, removes Angus burgers". FOX Business. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  12. ^ Skerritt, Jen (29 April 2020). "Au revoir Angus burger: COVID-19, Alberta meatpacking shutdowns mean less beef for McDonald's". National Post. Toronto ON. Bloomberg News. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  13. ^ Cadogan, Stephen (30 April 2020). "Disastrous turn in US meat industry shows how Covid-19 could break the food chain". Irish Examiner. Blackpool, Cork, Ireland. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  14. ^ Franklin, Michael (5 May 2020). "'Precautions are not enough': Petition calls for closure of Brooks, Alta. facility". CTV News. Calgary AB. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  15. ^ a b Harris, Kathleen (11 May 2020). "Food inspectors could face sanctions if they refuse reassignment to COVID-19-infected meat plants, union told". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  16. ^ a b Herring, Jason (13 May 2020). "Union says 21 Alberta meat-plant inspectors have tested positive for COVID-19 Author of the article". Calgary Herald. Calgary AB. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  17. ^ Ward, Rachel (April 17, 2020). "High River prepares for COVID-19 influx after death, meat plant outbreak". Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  18. ^ a b Dryden, Joel (17 April 2020). "358 cases of COVID-19 now linked to Cargill meat plant". Calgary AB: CBC News. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  19. ^ a b Rieger, Sarah (27 April 2020). "1 in 4 Alberta COVID-19 cases now tied to meat plant, as outbreak spreads to nearby First Nation". Calgary AB: CBC News. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  20. ^ Blaze Baum, Kathryn. "Cargill to close meat-packing plant at centre of Alberta outbreak". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  21. ^ CBC News (28 April 2020). "COVID-19 outbreak at Alberta meat plant spreads to nearby First Nation". Retrieved 12 May 2020 – via YouTube.
  22. ^ "Alberta NDP, union call for Cargill plant to be shut down pending legal review after second COVID-19 death at facility". The Globe and Mail Inc. The Canadian Press. 11 May 2020.
  23. ^ Harris, Colin (10 May 2020). "Cargill meat-processing plant south of Montreal says 64 workers infected with COVID-19". Toronto ON: CBC News. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  24. ^ CBC News (10 May 2020). "64 workers infected during COVID-19 outbreak, Quebec Cargill plant says". Retrieved 11 May 2020 – via YouTube.
  25. ^ Rieger, Sarah (9 May 2020). "Asymptomatic testing centre set up in Brooks as 7% of city's population tests positive for COVID-19". Calgary AB: CBC News. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  26. ^ "Scared to show up for work". Castanet. Kelowna BC. The Canadian Press. 22 April 2020. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  27. ^ Franklin, Michael (21 April 2020). "No one laid off, production reduced to one shift at Brooks, Alta., meat plant". CTV News. Calgary AB. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  28. ^ Labbé, Stefan (1 May 2020). "Caseload at Coquitlam chicken plant rises to 52, Port Coquitlam plant holds steady". Tri-City News. Port Coquitlam, BC. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  29. ^ Fikowski, Teri (23 April 2020). "Union calls for Lilydale chicken plant closure after employee tests positive for COVID-19". CTV News. Calgary AB. Retrieved 10 May 2020.

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Author/Creator: Geraki, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
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This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).