Cedar Meats planning to reopen soon

Cedar Meats GM upbeat about avoiding coronavirus shutdown impact

Coronavirus
COVID CLUSTER: Premier Daniel Andrews says the Cedar Meats coronavirus cluster shows the highly infectious nature of the virus.

COVID CLUSTER: Premier Daniel Andrews says the Cedar Meats coronavirus cluster shows the highly infectious nature of the virus.

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Cedar Meats manager hopes to lift shutdown soon.

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The general manager of the Brooklyn abattoir, at the centre of Victoria's largest coronavirus cluster, says he remains hopeful of reopening the plant in less than a fortnight.

Late yesterday, there were 62 cases linked to the works.

The company 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.

Cedar Meats domestic supply is minimal.

The company's general manager Tony Kairouz said Cedar Meats had done everything it could to avoid coronavirus affecting the business.

"As a significant Victorian processor, with plans to further expand into regional Victoria shortly, we value and respect our position in the supply chain," Mr Kairouz said.

"We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact on our broader staff, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders."

He said the plan was to reopen on Monday, May 18, to continue to provide a quality meat product to the world and a safe working environment for staff and visitors to the site.

"We do not anticipate this to have an impact," he said.

"To date, we have had an overwhelming number of customers contact us with messages of support."

Mr Kairouz said primary producers were a vital partner to the business.

"We cannot survive without them, and they will struggle to survive without us," he said.

"Being an exporter to most countries around the world, we are able to compete and achieve a world market price for our product.

"Without exporters like us, the offtake for our farmers becomes more limited."

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Inspection process

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Cedar Meats would be allowed to reopen, once it had gone through all the cleaning processes required.

"We need to be satisfied, through WorkSafe and any other auditing or inspection process, that it's up to standard, so that people can go back to work safely," Prof Sutton said.

In America, there had been hundreds of outbreaks in meatworks.

Prof Sutton pointed out the risk of transmission was intrinsically higher in a meatworks.

"It's difficult to manage - the nature of the work means there are some workers who need to be in close contact, and for prolonged periods, so I think that's part of the risks of transmission here," he said.

As abattoirs were deemed an essential service, exemptions to social distancing were permitted, for specific procedures.

"For certain purposes, they will be closer than a metre and a half - the nature of the work brings them into a higher risk setting," Prof Sutton said.

Mr Kairouz said every one of the plant's 350 staff had been tested by May 1, a week after the first cases in what became the cluster were identified.

The company had started winding down its operations, with a reduced kill that day.

Some staff were required to remain on-site, to meet animal welfare obligations.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the Cedar Meats cluster showed the highly infectious nature of the virus.

"It spreads rapidly, it can get away from you, very, very quickly," Mr Andrews said.

He said aggressive contact tracing began, as soon as health authorities determined there was an outbreak at Cedar Meats.

"It's a massive exercise, its complex, sometimes links that seem obvious are not links, at all," Mr Andrews said.

More than 1000 "coronavirus detectives" were following up thousands of leads on the potential contacts of all Victorians who had tested positive to COVID-19.

"Sometimes this will get away from you in giving workplaces, or a given household, or a given setting," Mr Andrews said.

Call for calm

The Australian Meat Industry Council head has called for industry calm over the closure of Cedar Meats.

AMIC chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said there was no cause for concern, as the industry had been at the forefront of COVID-19 management.

"It's just like any worksite in Australia, it's just that it's a meatworks," Mr Hutchinson said.

"It could have been a construction site, it could have been an industrial centre, it could have been a post office - it could have been anything."

Additional sanitisation and microbiological management was occurring at plants.

"Three-quarters of the plants are voluntarily temperature testing every employer coming in and out of the site, and ensuring non-essential visitors are not allowed on their plants.

"That goes for small, medium and large plants."

The outbreak was being effectively managed by authorities, he said.

"There are no adverse animal welfare issues, that was all managed prior to the closedown, as was the flow of product."

Victorian Farmers Federation livestock council chairman Len Vallance said he wasn't worried about the outbreak.

"Abattoirs in Victoria are probably the cleanest in Australia, and certainly have the strongest regulatory framework around them," he said

Victorian meatworks were probably the best placed in Australia, to deal with such issues.

"Some people are trying to make a comparison with America, but there is no comparison whatever, in the hygiene standards for plant staff," he said.

"We are miles ahead."

Mr Vallance said the livestock industry was "well practiced" in permanent lockdown for foot and mouth, anthrax and other diseases.

The coronavirus outbreak was a reminder that diseases could be spread rapidly, particularly through farm invasions by activists, he said.

"Our greatest fear is to have an outbreak on our farms," Mr Vallance said.

Safe meat

Meanwhile, federal, state and territory agricultural ministers have moved to reassure Australians that there was no evidence that COVID-19 could be transmitted by food.

"That is the position of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand and other international food regulators," Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said.

"The Victorian regulatory authority and the federal Department of Agriculture does not intend to initiate a recall of any product produced at Cedar Meats as the products are safe."

Ministers heard that there was no animal welfare impact because the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services allowed the establishment to remain open to process or transfer all animals in holding yards.

"There was an agreement by all state and territory ministers to convene a review of business continuity involving state agriculture, workplace health and safety, health officials and the meat industry," Mr Littleproud said.

"And the Commonwealth will be involved too, as it has responsibility around meat exports and certification.

"We will remain agile to the concerns and issues that arise out of COVID-19 to make sure that lives and livelihoods are saved."

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