Thursday, 21 May 2020
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants: Statements
Michael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
-----is that management in plants are co-operating. Communication with plants has been a movable feast because there were different communications on 18 March, 27 March, 9 May, which was the protocol to which the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, alluded, 15 May, which was the first specific guidance to meat plants, and 19 May, entailing Covid-19 checklists, etc. There have been different communications that we expect all plants to respond to. No one could have hit the ground running on day one with the kind of actions that were only communicated to the plants by, for example, the national outbreak control team on 15 May. In fact, early communication on Covid-19 was much milder. There has been a learning process for all of the actors involved.
To reassure the House, the teams have the authority to invoke whatever is deemed necessary. Included in this are other agencies, for example, the HSA and my Department's staff, who are working to ensure that the requisite measures are implemented.
It is unfortunate that Deputy Kerrane, who raised a question in the previous round, has left before I had a chance to reply. She made a point about my staff. Obviously, there is ongoing engagement between those of my staff who are in the locations in question and the Department via the chief veterinary officer, the deputy chief veterinary officer, etc. This reflects the dynamics of the communications. They have been working with local management as our eyes and ears to encourage management to take the necessary steps and so on. The feedback is that all of those plants are responding. Some respond on day one, others on day two, but all of them have been responding, including to subsequent communications issued to them. That is as it should be.
To answer the Minister of State, Deputy English, I have visited a plant and seen at first hand the efforts being made.
I am not sure if any of the Members who are so critical have taken time to visit plants. With regard to deep cleaning, anybody with a knowledge of the food industry will know that the level of biosecurity in the food industry generally is extraordinarily high. It is far easier to walk into a hospital than it is to walk into a food plant or food business of any sort because of the biosecurity measures that are part and parcel of the food industry. This has been enhanced by the actions that are necessary as a consequence of Covid-19.
This is a global phenomenon in meat plants. We are grappling with it. As mentioned earlier today by the Minister, Deputy Harris, it is reassuring to know that of the 828 cases that are confirmed in the meat industry - 828 being the cumulative figure - 60% are back at work. I hope that the remaining balance of cases will recover and have the opportunity to return to work as well. We cannot guarantee anything. This is an insidious virus that is difficult to combat but we are doing everything possible collectively to ensure that we protect workers and keep food supply chains functioning as well, but only functioning where the primacy of the health and welfare of those working in the industry is protected.