Brandon pork plant’s exports to China suspended

Chinese protocols call for temporary pause, Maple Leaf says

New Chinese rules for exporters and a number of COVID-19 cases among its workers have led Maple Leaf Foods to temporarily halt pork traffic to China from its biggest hog plant.

The company said Tuesday it has “temporarily suspended pork exports to China on a voluntary basis due to recent protocols adopted by the Chinese government for Canadian processors.”

China’s protocol “requires any plant reporting a COVID-19 positive case suspend exports to China temporarily,” the company said in a release.

“We respect China’s new import protocols for Canadian products and are working co-operatively with Canadian and Chinese authorities to resume exports quickly,” company CEO Michael McCain said.

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The Brandon plant, with capacity to handle up to 90,000 hogs per week, is the largest hog slaughter facility in Manitoba, which is Canada’s biggest hog-producing province in terms of pigs marketed.

The plant is also the main supplier of fresh pork for Toronto-based Maple Leaf’s other Canadian processing facilities and exports. Along with China, the Brandon plant is also federally licensed to export to the U.S., Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and South Africa.

The plant has seen several COVID-19 cases among staff in recent weeks, starting with a single case reported over the August long weekend.

By Aug. 10, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 832, the union representing production employees at the Brandon plant, said the case number had risen to 23.

As of Monday, Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said there are 56 COVID cases connected to an unnamed “place of business” at Brandon. The place in question has been widely reported to be the Maple Leaf plant.

Roussin reiterated Monday there’s no evidence of “workplace transmission” involved in the cases connected to the unnamed place.

Maple Leaf said its business has been “impacted by short-term increases in absenteeism” but emphasized in Tuesday’s release it believes that to be “a short-term situation and not a material financial event.”

Health experts, the company added, “have been unequivocal about the fact that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through food products.”

As of Tuesday morning, Manitoba has reported a total of 748 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 11 deaths. Of those cases, 235 are considered active, with eight in hospital.

The Prairie Mountain Regional Health Authority, which includes Brandon, has seen a total of 204 cases since the start of the pandemic, including one death. Of the total cases, 101 are considered active, with two people in hospital.

Maple Leaf said Tuesday it’s “continuing its rigorous safety efforts… to prevent workplace transmission amidst the recent COVID-19 cluster occurring in the community”and is “extending its efforts to reduce spread of COVID-19 within the community.”

It said it plans to do so by “reinforcing the importance of precautions such as social distancing,” and by making 500,000 free masks available to community members. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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