Canadian cattle group looks for help to weather COVID-19 as meat packers slow work

A cattle industry group says measures that helped ranchers weather the BSE crisis in the early 2000s should be brought back immediately as the COVID-19 pandemic slows down work at packing plants.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is calling for a federally co-ordinated program that would enable producers to keep their animals longer by feeding them a maintenance, rather than a growth, diet.

It says it could follow a model similar to one developed in 2004 after the discovery of BSE, or mad cow disease, in Canada forced borders to close to Canadian beef exports.

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The cattlemen’s group says capacity has been reduced at a number of beef processors across North America in the last week because of measures meant to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19.

That includes the Cargill Meat Solutions plant south of Calgary, which represents more than one-third of Canada’s beef-processing capacity and which announced this week it is idling its second shift.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 says there have been 38 cases of COVID-19 at the plant in High River and the union has called for a two-week closure with guaranteed full compensation for 2,000 workers.

“We learned many lessons during the hard years of BSE, and it is time to implement the policies that previously helped us weather the storm,” said Bob Lowe, president of the cattlemen’s group.


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