Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the meat industry in Canada

Last updated

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, outbreaks of the virus took place in factories operated by the meat packing industry and the poultry processing industry. These outbreaks affected multiple plants, leading to closures of some factories and disruption of others, and posing a threat to the food supply in Canada.


The Cargill beef processing plant in High River, Alberta is the largest workplace outbreak in Canada, and the over 1000 cases linked to the site are considered the single largest infection cause in North America.

Early response

Sometime in late March 2020 several industry groups, among them the Canadian Meat Council which included as regular members Cargill, JBS Foods International and the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, distributed a flyer entitled "Safeguarding the Canadian Meat Supply". The flyer, which stressed the industry's adherence to CFIA regulations, detailed measures which would be taken to do just that: [1] [2] [3]

It was produced in eight languages. It was distributed, along with a cover letter signed by seven association leaders, to meat professionals in Canada, Mexico, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan. [1]

Sometime in early April, a two-page fact sheet entitled "Food Safety and COVID-19" detailed the measures consumers should take to protect themselves and their families. It was keyed in red and made liberal use of federal government advice, and directed readers to government help lines. The industry organizations also produced a pair of videos. [1]

Overall impact

Seventy percent of Canada's beef processing facilities are concentrated in two meat processing facilities in Alberta, both of which closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic on April 20. [4] Coupled with the drop in oil prices, Alberta's financial situation was significantly affected. Experts noted as early as 8 April that the Alberta economy needs to diversify, and perhaps the government needs introduce a Provincial Sales Tax. [4] [5]

As of April 23, the Province of Alberta had launched an occupational health and safety investigation into conditions at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River. 96 employees at a JBS plant in Brooks had tested positive for COVID-19. [6] [7] [8]

Hog producers were unhappy due to closed slaughterhouses and closed restaurants, and lost money on every animal they sold. Human cases of COVID-19 disease in April "at American pork-processing plants, including in South Dakota and Iowa, have temporarily closed facilities and slashed the number of hogs being processed every day by an estimated 60,000." Manitoba hog producers were particularly unhappy because they used to market to the Americans. A finishing pig that commanded $180 in January 2020 is now worth around $130. The producers want reinstated the federal government subsidy called the "set-aside program, which compensates producers for feeding the animals they hold back (from the slaughterhouses) a maintenance diet. The program was first implemented during the BSE crisis" of 25 years before. [9]

On April 28, McDonald's Canada announced that it would begin using beef from approved sources outside of Canada, [4] to supplement their Canadian supply. [10] [11] The National Post reported that product would come from the Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay. [12] It removed Angus beef burgers from its menu, temporarily. [10]

One supermarket in Alberta noted that they were getting less supply of beef, but not a significant impact as of late April. [4]

Some pigs in eastern Canada were euthanised, as slaughterhouses closed. [13]

UFCW Local 401, which represents various beef production plants in Alberta, called for a stop work order in early May. [14]

On 11 May, the CFIA's Agriculture Union of embedded inspectors at slaughterhouses said that management is "threatening disciplinary action against employees who refuse to be reassigned to work at COVID-19-infected meat plants", while Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland said that "those who feel unsafe won't be forced back to work." [15]

On 11 May, a CBC journalist wrote that "The Cargill plant in Alberta, where there have been about 1,000 reported cases [of human COVID-19], is now considered the largest single-site outbreak in North America." [15]

On 13 May, it was reported that forty government food inspectors had contracted COVID-19, 21 of them in Alberta. [16]

Specific processors


High River plant

The town of High River had 164 cases and one death as of April 17, with some of the patients being employees of the Cargill meat packing plant. The plant continued at a reduced capacity, but no layoffs had occurred as of April 17. [17] As of April 17, there were 358 cases linked to the plant, accounting for 15% of the province's cases; [18] that ratio grew to 1 in 4 by late April. [19] United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union Local 401 lobbied unsuccessfully for the plant's closure since the point at which health authorities were aware of 38 cases linked to the facility. [18] On April 20, Cargill temporarily closed the facility after a total of 484 cases were confirmed. [20]

Fifteen residents of Eden Valley 216 and Morley were found to have COVID-19 in late April; both are Stoney Nakoda Nation communities. Contract tracing connected some of those cases to Cargill, where some members of that community work. [19] [21]

On 11 May, the Government of Alberta disclosed that a second worker from the Cargill plant had died that day. [22]

As of mid-May, 18 on-site food inspectors at the plant had contracted COVID-19. [16]

Chambly, Quebec plant

At Chambly, Quebec's Cargill plant, 64 employees were contracted the disease. [23] The plant will close by May 13 as a preventative measure, once all food is processed. [24]

Conestoga Meats

JBS Canada

In Brooks, Alberta, 7% of the population tested positive for COVID-19, with 600 workers confirmed and probable cases in the JBS Foods plant. As of May 9, 510 workers had recovered, but one worker died. [25] The plant added a shift premium of $4 an hour, but many employees skipped their shifts, forcing the company to reduce their schedule to one shift. [26] As of April 21, the company claimed that there had been no walk-offs. [27]


On May 1, it was announced that 52 employees of a Lilydale poultry plant in Coquitlam were infected by the virus. [28]

As of April 23, at least one employee of the Lilydale plant in southeast Calgary had COVID-19. [29]

Maple Leaf Foods


United Poultry Co.

Related Research Articles

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is a regulatory agency that is dedicated to the safeguarding of food, plants, and animals (FPA) in Canada, thus enhancing the health and well-being of Canada's people, environment and economy. The agency is governed by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister of Health.

Pilgrims Pride U.S.-based food company

Pilgrim's Pride Corporation is an American, multi-national food company, currently one of the largest chicken producers in the United States and Puerto Rico and the second-largest chicken producer in Mexico. It exited bankruptcy in December 2009 and relocated its U.S. headquarters to Greeley, Colorado, in 2011. It is majority-owned by JBS S.A.. Pilgrim's Pride purchased Gold N'Plump for $350 million in late November 2016.

Cargill American-based international food conglomerate

Cargill is an American privately held global food corporation based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and incorporated in Wilmington, Delaware. Founded in 1865, it is the largest privately held corporation in the United States in terms of revenue. If it were a public company, it would rank, as of 2015, number 15 on the Fortune 500, behind McKesson and ahead of AT&T. Cargill has frequently been the subject of criticism related to the environment, human rights, finance, and other ethical considerations.

Tyson Foods American food company

Tyson Foods, Inc. is an American multinational corporation based in Springdale, Arkansas, that operates in the food industry. The company is the world's second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork after JBS S.A. and annually exports the largest percentage of beef out of the United States. Together with its subsidiaries, it operates major food brands, including Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Ball Park, Wright Brand, Aidells, and State Fair. Tyson Foods ranked No. 79 in the 2020 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue.

Meat packing industry

The meat packing industry handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of meat from animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock. Poultry is generally not included. This greater part of the entire meat industry is primarily focused on producing meat for human consumption, but it also yields a variety of by-products including hides, feathers, dried blood, and, through the process of rendering, fat such as tallow and protein meals such as meat & bone meal.

Lakeside Packers is a beef producer based in Brooks, Alberta. It is owned by JBS Canada, a subsidiary of JBS S.A., a Brazilian protein company.

The meat industry are the people and companies engaged in modern industrialized livestock agriculture for the production, packing, preservation and marketing of meat. In economics, the meat industry is a fusion of primary (agriculture) and secondary (industry) activity and hard to characterize strictly in terms of either one alone. The greater part of the meat industry is the meat packing industry – the segment that handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of animals such as poultry, cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock.

Maple Leaf Foods Food packaging company

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is a Canadian consumer packaged meats company. Its head office is in Mississauga, Ontario.


JBS USA Holdings, Inc. is an American food processing company and a wholly owned subsidiary of JBS S.A., a Brazilian company that is the world's largest processor of fresh beef and pork, with more than US$50 billion in annual sales as of 2017. The subsidiary was created when JBS entered the U.S. market in 2007 with its purchase of Swift & Company.

Cargill Meat Solutions is a subsidiary of the Minneapolis-based multinational agribusiness giant Cargill Inc, that comprises Cargill's North American beef, turkey, food service and food distribution businesses. Cargill Meat Solutions' corporate office is located in Wichita, Kansas, United States. Jody Horner is the division's president.


JBS S.A. is a Brazilian company that is the largest meat processing company in the world, producing factory processed beef, chicken and pork, and also selling by-products from the processing of these meats. It is headquartered in São Paulo. It was founded in 1953 in Anápolis, Goiás. As of 2017, the company had 150 industrial plants around the world. J&F Investimentos is a 42% indirect shareholder in JBS S.A., which is listed on American stock markets as JBSAY. J&F Investimentos is wholly owned by Joesley Batista and Wesley Batista. As of May 2017, JBS S.A. remains the world's biggest butcher.

XL Foods Inc. is a Canadian meat packing company. The company is a subsidiary of Nilsson Brothers Inc. based in Edmonton, Alberta. From 2009 until 2013, XL Foods' Lakeside Packers Division was located just west of Brooks, Alberta, in Newell County. This facility was the second largest beef-processing operation in Canada. During this period the company was by far the largest employer in Brooks, employing more than 2,200 people in 2012.

Livestock Animals kept for production of meat, eggs, milk, wool, etc.

Livestock is commonly defined as domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce labor and commodities such as meat, eggs, milk, fur, leather, and wool. The term is sometimes used to refer solely to those that are bred for consumption, while other times it refers only to farmed ruminants, such as cattle, sheep and goats. Horses are considered livestock in the United States. The USDA classifies pork, veal, beef, and lamb (mutton) as livestock and all livestock as red meat. Poultry and fish are not included in the category.

Pink slime Meat by-product

Pink slime is a meat by-product used as a food additive to ground beef and beef-based processed meats, as a filler, or to reduce the overall fat content of ground beef. In the production process, heat and centrifuges remove fat from the meat in beef trimmings. The resulting paste is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill bacteria. In 2001, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the product for limited human consumption. LFTB prepared using ammonia gas is banned for human consumption in the European Union.

Devin Dreeshen

Devin Dreeshen is a Canadian politician. A member of the United Conservative Party, Dreeshen is the current Minister of Agriculture and Forestry and has represented the electoral district of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake since winning a by-election in July 2018. He was reelected in the 2019 Alberta general election to the 30th Alberta Legislature and on April 30, 2019, was appointed by Premier Jason Kenney to the Executive Council of Alberta as the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

The COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta is part of an ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The province of Alberta has the third-most cases of COVID-19 in Canada, behind only Ontario and Quebec.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the meat industry in the United States Impact of COVID-19

The meat industry has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Outbreaks of the virus have taken place in factories operated by the meat packing industry and the poultry processing industry. These outbreaks affected dozens of plants, leading to closures of some factories and disruption of others, and posed a significant threat to the meat supply in the United States. By April 27, there were at least 115 facilities with cases across 23 states, and at least 4,913 workers diagnosed positive with COVID-19, or approximately 3 percent of the workforce, with 20 deaths reported. By May 5, over 10,000 meatpacking plant workers in 29 states and working at 170 plants had tested positive for the coronavirus. At least 45 of those meat industry workers had died. As of May 20, at least 15,300 workers have been infected with COVID-19 at 192 different meatpacking plants in the United States, based on ongoing reporting by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and USA Today. At least 63 of those workers have died from the disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing viral pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a novel infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The pandemic has affected the Cities of Mississauga and Brampton, and the Town of Caledon, within the Regional Municipality of Peel. As part of the larger closure decisions in Ontario, a stay-at-home order shuttered all nonessential businesses, and caused event cancellations.

On May 30, 2021, JBS S.A., a Brazil-based meat processing company, suffered a cyberattack, disabling its beef and pork slaughterhouses. The attack impacted facilities in the United States, Canada, and Australia.


  1. 1 2 3 "Canada Beef update on COVID-19". Canada Beef. April 2020.
  2. "Safeguarding the Canadian Meat Supply". Canadian Meat Council. March 2020.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Bench, Allison (29 April 2020). "Oil and beef: Expert says Alberta must diversify as major industries hit by COVID-19". Global News. Toronto ON. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  5. Bench, Allison (8 April 2020). "Expert weighs in on Kenney's economic plan for Alberta, suggests PST could be an answer". Global News. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  6. Amanda Stephenson (April 23, 2020). "After COVID-19 outbreaks, OHS investigations under way at Cargill, JBS sites". Calgary Herald. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  7. "OPINION: The meat of the matter: Don't expect shortages in Canada". Pique Newsmagazine.
  8. Charlebois, Sylvain. "Healthy supply is meat of the matter | Saltwire".
  9. Ian, Froese (24 April 2020). "'Worst scenario I've seen in decades' for Manitoba producers as demand disappears: Pork Council GM". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  10. 1 2 "McDonald's Canada begins importing beef from U.S. amid Canadian supply issues". Toronto ON: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The Canadian Press. 29 April 2020. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  11. Fordham, Evie (29 April 2020). "McDonald's Canada faces coronavirus beef shortage, removes Angus burgers". FOX Business. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  12. Skerritt, Jen (29 April 2020). "Au revoir Angus burger: COVID-19, Alberta meatpacking shutdowns mean less beef for McDonald's". National Post. Toronto ON. Bloomberg News. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  13. Cadogan, Stephen (30 April 2020). "Disastrous turn in US meat industry shows how Covid-19 could break the food chain". Irish Examiner. Blackpool, Cork, Ireland. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  14. Franklin, Michael (5 May 2020). "'Precautions are not enough': Petition calls for closure of Brooks, Alta. facility". CTV News. Calgary AB. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  15. 1 2 Harris, Kathleen (11 May 2020). "Food inspectors could face sanctions if they refuse reassignment to COVID-19-infected meat plants, union told". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  16. 1 2 Herring, Jason (13 May 2020). "Union says 21 Alberta meat-plant inspectors have tested positive for COVID-19 Author of the article". Calgary Herald. Calgary AB. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  17. Ward, Rachel (April 17, 2020). "High River prepares for COVID-19 influx after death, meat plant outbreak" . Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  18. 1 2 Dryden, Joel (17 April 2020). "358 cases of COVID-19 now linked to Cargill meat plant". Calgary AB: CBC News. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  19. 1 2 Rieger, Sarah (27 April 2020). "1 in 4 Alberta COVID-19 cases now tied to meat plant, as outbreak spreads to nearby First Nation". Calgary AB: CBC News. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  20. Blaze Baum, Kathryn. "Cargill to close meat-packing plant at centre of Alberta outbreak". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  21. CBC News (28 April 2020). "COVID-19 outbreak at Alberta meat plant spreads to nearby First Nation" . Retrieved 12 May 2020 via YouTube.
  22. "Alberta NDP, union call for Cargill plant to be shut down pending legal review after second COVID-19 death at facility". The Globe and Mail Inc. The Canadian Press. 11 May 2020.
  23. Harris, Colin (10 May 2020). "Cargill meat-processing plant south of Montreal says 64 workers infected with COVID-19". Toronto ON: CBC News. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  24. CBC News (10 May 2020). "64 workers infected during COVID-19 outbreak, Quebec Cargill plant says" . Retrieved 11 May 2020 via YouTube.
  25. Rieger, Sarah (9 May 2020). "Asymptomatic testing centre set up in Brooks as 7% of city's population tests positive for COVID-19". Calgary AB: CBC News. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  26. "Scared to show up for work". Castanet. Kelowna BC. The Canadian Press. 22 April 2020. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  27. Franklin, Michael (21 April 2020). "No one laid off, production reduced to one shift at Brooks, Alta., meat plant". CTV News. Calgary AB. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  28. Labbé, Stefan (1 May 2020). "Caseload at Coquitlam chicken plant rises to 52, Port Coquitlam plant holds steady". Tri-City News. Port Coquitlam, BC. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  29. Fikowski, Teri (23 April 2020). "Union calls for Lilydale chicken plant closure after employee tests positive for COVID-19". CTV News. Calgary AB. Retrieved 10 May 2020.