Thursday, 21 May 2020
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants: Statements
Michael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
The coronavirus has raised many questions. I fully respect it is impossible for the Minister or anyone else to have all of the answers. Every effort has to be made to keep the food chain open, especially when farmers are going through such a serious financial crisis. I thank each and every meat plant worker for keeping the meat chain open by working through this crisis.
On 19 March, I raised in this House the worries of the people of Castletownbere that some of the fishermen on foreign fishing vessels offloading fish could have the virus. We saw last week that my worries were justified as a Spanish-registered trawler offloaded fish in Castletownbere and most of its crew had the coronavirus. Some of them had the virus even before they left Spain but it was not reported ahead in Castletownbere. This has to stop. The people of Castletownbere and its surrounds have to be satisfied that all necessary protective measures are in place when foreign vessels arrive in their port. Some health testing measures must be in place at the ports when fishermen have to leave their vessels. I am delighted to see that Staunton Foods of Timoleague in west Cork, one of the country's biggest pork processing plants with 200 employees, has reported that it is coronavirus free. Well done to the management there for doing its best to protect its staff. I also hope this is the case with ABP in Bandon, which has more than 250 staff from Bandon and its surrounds.
An issue that has arisen with Covid-19 clusters in meat factories is that of the accommodation of workers, many of whom are low-paid and are sharing living accommodation.
What steps are being taken to ensure the guidelines on social isolation can be adhered to in this instance?
To ease the worry of the consumer, I can state there are excellent Irish meat products sold in west Cork and throughout the country in butcher shops and ordinary grocery shops. I have been told that if some members of staff have the coronavirus in a meat factory, they cannot pass it on via the meat products. Is this the case?