Government support comes as welcome news for local meat processors


As smaller meat processing plants in Ontario start to feel the crunch of the pandemic, upper levels of government are lending a helping hand.

The governments of Ontario and Canada have introduced several different grants to help processors through the COVID-19 crisis. This includes investing over $2 million for the first stream of the Agri-Food Workplace Protection Program to go to provincially licensed meat processing plants. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs began accepting applications for the program on Tuesday.

Louis Roesch, owner of Roesch Meats and More in Kent Bridge, said the Workplace Protection Program is designed to implement new measures to protect against the virus.

“You can do different improvements on your plant structure in order to make it more COVID-19 safe, like distancing and things like that,” he explained. “Anything that you can do to improve the safety and the health of your workers and your customers and the plant itself.”

Roesch added that the funding is especially welcome news to the smaller meat processing plants in the province, that are dealing with unique struggles right now.

According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), employee outbreaks and reduced processing capabilities have resulted in a backlog of around 100,000 cattle that would otherwise be ready for market. The CCA estimates that the Canadian beef industry will lose at least half a billion dollars by June.

The JBS plant and Cargill plant, both in Alberta, have slowed down operations due to COVID-19. Together, these plants produce 70 per cent of Canada’s federally inspected beef processing capabilities, according to the CCA.

“The small plants have long been kind of left to the side and that’s kind of the predicament that we’re in right now,” said Roesch. “You’ve got three of the largest plants controlling most of the meat processing in Canada. Small plants, we’ve been here for a long time and right now we’re picking up a lot of the slack while those big plants are down. ”

Roesch said the added pressure has been one of the biggest challenges during the pandemic, with no sense of when operations will return to normal.

“To find time to get everything done is part of it. Everybody is busy in the small plants, like to two, three times their normal business…there’s no timelines, nobody knows where this is going to go in any way shape or form. It seems like you get things under control then another plant goes down,” he said.

In the meantime, as small meat processors across Ontario take things day by day, Roesch said he’s not only grateful for the support from the government but also from those in the community.

“At the small plants, we thank our customer base and appreciate their timeframe when they come that they understand that they have to be patient and wait in line in a lot of these plants in order to keep the social distancing,” said Roesch. “We’re serving as best we can across the province.”