“Every effort” will be made to find processing capacity for hogs if Brandon’s Maple Leaf Foods plant closes due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases there says Manitoba Pork.
“I want to emphasize there is no plan being put in place to shut down the plant in Brandon,” Manitoba Pork general manager Andrew Dickson told the Co-operator in an emailed statement.
The union representing workers at the Brandon facility called for the plant to be closed last week after eight workers tested positive for COVID-19. On Aug. 10, a total of 22 workers had tested positive.
Many workers at the plant are in isolation, but during an Aug. 10 briefing provincial top doctor Brent Roussin said the company had gone beyond public health recommendations for safety measures and there were no plans to shut down the plant.
Earlier this year, the temporary closure of an Olymel pork plant in Quebec, in conjunction with major plant closures in the U.S., sent shockwaves through the pork market. As of the end of May, the Canadian Pork Council estimated that backlogs in Ontario and Quebec sat at 100,000 pigs, while farm losses were being estimated at $30 per hog sold in 2020.
“We anticipated this scenario happening… and looked at what would be a contingency plan,” Dickson said.
What the plan would look like depends on if the plant would be forced to shut down completely — e.g. could it continue to operate in a limited capacity and send product in a less-finished state to other processors — and for how long the plant stayed closed, Dickson said.
“The core challenge for example for (Maple Leaf Foods) Brandon would be to find plant processing for about 12-15,000 finished pigs each day,” Dickson said. “Once again the length of downtime will be critical in determining what provincial capacity is available.”
MPC has worked with the plants, provincial authorities and other authorities to cover various scenarios, Dickson said. There’s an acknowledgment among key stakeholders about what will need to happen in these scenarios, but detailed plans would be drawn up as events unfold.