Forty food inspectors — 21 of them in Alberta — have contracted COVID-19, prompting a Canadian senator to call for workers and the integrity of the food safety system to be protected.
Senator Paula Simons, who is from Edmonton, tweeted the news Wednesday that she had gleaned from the union that represents inspectors with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Among the infected are 18 of the 37 inspectors at Cargill meat plant near High River, south of Calgary, she said. That meat plant is the site of the largest single outbreak in Canada.
“Cattlemen and feed lot operators face huge problems, if packing plants can’t operate. I get that,” Simons said on Twitter.
“But we need to be certain that the beef we send to the tables of Canadians is safe and properly inspected, by healthy, experienced inspectors, and up to federal standards.”
She said she has sent a long list of questions to the CFIA and was waiting to hear back.
“Because while we can’t catch COVID from a hamburger or steak, there are plenty of other health risks that CFIA inspectors watch for,” Simons said on social media. “And long-term, we do the beef industry no favours if people don’t have confidence in the beef we produce and eat.”
CBC has reached out to the CFIA and the Agriculture Union for a response.
Earlier in May, the CFIA union called for the closure of the three Alberta meat plants with outbreak. Meat processing plants must have CFIA inspectors on site in order to operate.
Union president Fabian Murphy said inspectors were concerned about how closely workers stood by each other on processing lines.
The outbreak at the Cargill plant has been linked to more than 1,500 confirmed cases — including nearly 950 of its workers — and three deaths.
JBS Foods in Brooks, Alta., also has had a worker died and more than 600 connected cases.
Harmony Beef in Balzac, Alta., has had 38 cases among its workers as of Monday.
Alberta Health also said it had counted cases between three other Alberta meat processing plants but the numbers were too low to qualify as official outbreaks.