How the coronavirus pandemic could change meat processing in Canada

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The novel coronavirus pandemic has some meat processors and industry groups calling for a more regional approach to food production.

Seventy per cent of Canada’s beef processing capability lies in two plants, according to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

The Cargill Inc. facility in High River, Alta., saw more than 900 employees test positive for the new coronavirus. The plant has since reopened, but its temporary closure led to backlogs for farmers, higher consumer prices and worries about meat making it to store shelves.

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For decades, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has called for a less consolidated meat processing system.

“The pandemic is exposing the problems that were there before,” said Tim Dowling, a Kingston, Ont., area farmer and board member of NFU Local 316.

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The organization wants more small plants capable of regional processing to reduce dependence on large corporations like Cargill and the JSB plant in Brooks, Alta.

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“Now is the time to sort of secure a food system that works when there’s a crisis,” Dowling said.

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