MEAT plants throughout the State are subject to the same Covid-19 protocols “as any other business or location where outbreaks occur” according to the Minister for Agriculture.
Addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue (FF) said such protocols are being consistently communicated to staff “to self-isolate and take precautions”.
He continued: “The difference with meat factories is that we have ongoing serial testing as an additional aid to oversee infection rates and to work with the factories to ensure they are minimised.”
During the debate, Senator Tim Lombard (FG, Cork South West) referred to the “lack of information that was given to the community” in Bandon following a Covid-19 outbreak at a local meat plant, where almost 70 workers tested positive.
“Leaving it up to the meat plants to decide to inform communities about what it happening is not good enough. The community of Bandon only heard that nearly 70 workers at a local plant were diagnosed as having Covid…through a leak to the media.
Senator Lombard continued: “We need to work on protocols because they are not there at the moment and it is literally left to how one particular plant or organisation wants to deal with the matter. Without a shadow of doubt some places are better than others but some just close up shop and say they have nothing to report as Covid is not an issue. We need to have some direction in order that information is given to communities in the event of an outbreak.”
Tipperary TD Martin Browne (SF), who said he took Minister McConalogue “at his word” when it came to testing levels in plants, questioned: “why is there so much secrecy?”
Deputy Browne stated: “Workers in these plants have contacted us with concern about their working conditions and members of the public in the area ask us questions continually. It seems we have gone back to the very start, whereby everything is kept hush-hush. If all this testing is ongoing and everything is clear and above board, why is more information not coming out?”
Taking on board what was aired by Oireachtas members, Minister McConalogue said: “We have, working in conjunction with the industry, emphasised the importance of protocols. They have gone to very significant lengths to put in place protocols to ensure their staff are kept safe and it is paramount that this continues in the time ahead.”
This morning’s Farming Independent, reporting on last Tuesday’s Agriculture Committee hearing, made reference to “a number of large (Covid-19) outbreaks in Cork and Waterford in recent weeks”.