TORONTO -- Some of North America’s largest meat producers have been forced to close their plants or reduce production amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, prompting industry leaders to warn of “immediate and drastic” effects on Canada’s supply chain.

Beef processing capabilities have been reduced at a number of facilities in Canada and the U.S., including a temporary reduction at a Cargill meat plant in High River, Alta., where dozens of employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

“This single facility represents just over one-third of Canada’s total processing capability, so the impacts to the Canadian beef industry are expected to be immediate and drastic,” Michelle McMullen, communications manager at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), told by email Monday.

According to the CCA, other Canadian plants have reduced their operations in order to implement COVID-19 safety measures to allow for physical distancing in their plants.

Several plants in the U.S., including major producer JBS USA, have also shuttered or reduced production due to growing employee absences and mounting concerns about the virus.

With North American beef production “severely limited,” CCA president Bob Lowe is calling on the Canadian government to introduce measures to support Canadian farmers and protect the country’s supply chain.

“The Canadian beef industry is facing a period of extraordinary uncertainty,” Lowe said in an emailed statement to Monday.

“Existing programs do not address the particular threats we are facing and in fact fall quite short. These are challenging times for all Canadians; it is together that we can implement solutions to ensure healthy and affordable food continues to be readily available.”


On Sunday, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, announced plans to close a U.S. plant indefinitely due to a rash of coronavirus cases among employees and warned the country was moving “perilously close to the edge” in supplies for grocers.

“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in a statement posted to the company’s website Sunday.

“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.”

Similarly, an Olymel pork plant in Yamachiche, Que. was closed for two weeks, after nine workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Production is set to resume Tuesday with new safety measures in place.

Last week, Maple Leaf Foods suspended operations at its Brampton, Ont. poultry plant after three employees tested positive for the virus.

Requests for comment from both the Canadian Pork Council and Chicken Farmers of Canada were not immediately returned.

However, Turkey Farmers of Canada say there have been no major disruptions to the turkey supply chain in Canada, noting that farmers are taking additional precautions, including cancelling non-essential farm visits and increasing sanitation measures to protect employees.

“In terms of demand, the sector is well-placed to meet market needs. We do not see any looming shortages,” executive director Phil Boyd said in a statement sent via email Monday.

“The turkey supply chain remains intact, and TFC is working with our partners on both sides of the farmgate to ensure the sector functions as normally as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.”