Surprise over failure to name meatworks

Coronavirus cases continue to climb at Brooklyn abattoir

Agribusiness
SELF REPORTING: Victoria's Chief Health officer Professor Brett Sutton has defended his handling of the coronavirus cluster at a Melbourne abattoir, saying it's up to operators to notify the public if staff contract the virus.

SELF REPORTING: Victoria's Chief Health officer Professor Brett Sutton has defended his handling of the coronavirus cluster at a Melbourne abattoir, saying it's up to operators to notify the public if staff contract the virus.

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Public should have been notified about Cedar Meats COVID-19 outbreak: Radford.

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A Gippsland abattoir operator has expressed surprise at the Victorian government's decision not to name the meatworks at the centre of what is becoming the state's most significant coronavirus cluster.

Robert Radford, Radford's Warragul, said after it was revealed workers at a Melbourne abattoir had tested positive to coronavirus, he'd received about 20 phone calls from people inquring about which works was involved,

By the middle of the week, Cedar Meats, Brooklyn, had recorded 45 cases of coronavirus, among its 350 strong staff.

"I thought it was up to the health department or government to notify the public, as it's in everyone's interest to know where it is," Mr Radford said.

"I would think it's in everyone's best interests to notify the public, no matter where the outbreak is, as they have done with nursing homes.

"Everything else they've mentioned is open and upfront."

Cedar Meats processes and sells mutton, lamb, goat and veal to the European Union, North and South America, South-East Asia, China, the Middle East and Africa.

Staff are all being tested, and the plant is undergoing deep cleaning.

It's expected to reopen in about a fortnight.

Mr Radford said he would report any outbreak, at his plant.

"I think it's in everyone's interests, you have all your workers, and related families, subcontractors and everyone involved in the day to day running of the plant," he said.

There were also livestock transporters to consider.

"I feel sorry for the boys down there (at Cedar Meats)."

He said the Warragul plant was doing everything necessary to avoid introducing coronavirus to the plant.

"I have extra staff doing everything we have to do, as well as social distancing, sterilising and handwashing," he sai.

'If anyone shows any symptoms of any sickness, they are not to come to work."

Authorities response

But Victoria's Chief Health officer Professor Brett Sutton defended his handling of the coronavirus cluster at a Melbourne abattoir, saying it's up to operators to notify the public if staff contract the virus.

Premier Daniel Andrews also said he believed the outbreak had been handled appropriately, at all stages.

Prof Sutton said meatworks were particularly vulnerable, with extensive outbreaks in America.

"As soon as that cluster was identified, (Cedar Meats) have been moving to a shutdown at the earliest possible time," Prof Sutton said.

"There were some logistic constraints with having everyone cease work immediately.

"You need a minimum staff on-site, to make sure animal welfare is being looked after."

He said the plant was not identified, as authorities had the names and contact details of everyone in the site.

"We are not concerned about the general public being exposed, so there is no public health reason to name those places," he said.

"I think it's the role for that specific meatworks to say "it's us," - it's not for us to declare that it's a particular setting.

"If the meatworks wants to name itself, to make it clear it doesn't involve other places, then they are free to do so."

JBS reassurance

In a letter obtained by Stock & Land of on Victoria's biggest processors, JBS has also sought to reassure suppliers and producers.

"We thought it critically important to let everyone know that our meat facility, in Brooklyn, Victoria, continues to be 100 per cent free from coronavirus with no employee testing positive for COVID-19," JBS' southern chief operating officer Sam McConnell said.

"We continue to review and implement stringent and best practice people and food safety controls, including strict access criteria, thermal temperature and imaging testing, upgraded PPE for our people, diligent social distancing controls and company-funded flu vaccinations for our team members."

Those measures, and others JBS would continue to review and implement, gave the company confidence' business as usual" would continue, at Brooklyn, he said.

The Centre for Disease Control in America has reported more than 4,900 workers, or four per cent of the meat processing industry's workforce, have contracted the virus.

In a statement, Cedar Meatsgeneral manager Tony Kairouzsaid the plant was aware of the outbreak on April 27, after a worker sought treatment at Sunshine Hospital, as a result of a workplace injury.

He later developed symptoms and tested positive, for COVID-19.

"On Wednesday, April 29, we were informed that four of our staff had contracted Covid-19," Mr Kairouz said.

"All staff worked in one area of the plant."

The following day the company mandated all staff had to get tested for coronavirus.

By the end of Friday, May 1, all staff had been sent for testing.

Mr Kairouzsaid he was devastated his staff had been affected by coronavirus.

"From the moment we learned of COVID-19, we took every possible step, and consulted the experts, to keep our people safe and protect our business," Mr Kairouz said.

He said for the past few days, the company's focus had been on protecting staff, ensuring animal welfare and closing down the processing side of the business.

Mr Kairouz rejected claims the company had sought to hide the outbreak.

"We have been accused of hiding, we are deeply saddened by that," Mr Kairouz said.

"This is something that is not of our making, it is an outbreak of a worldwide pandemic, that has hit our people, at our plant."

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