Cargill reduces beef production at Alberta plant as virus spreads

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Cargill Ltd has reduced production at one of Canada’s biggest beef-packing plants, the company and the union representing workers there said on Tuesday, after several dozen workers became infected with the new coronavirus.

The Canadian arm of U.S. agribusiness Cargill temporarily idled its second production shift at High River, Alberta, on Monday, spokesman Daniel Sullivan said.

It adds to the list of roughly one dozen North American meat plants that have closed temporarily or cut production due to the pandemic.

The move came after workers unsuccessfully asked the plant and two other meat-processing companies in Alberta to close for two weeks amid concerns about their safety, said Tom Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401. Thirty-eight workers at the Cargill plant have tested positive for coronavirus, he said.

The plant is “built around efficiency,” keeping workers in close quarters and making it impossible to safely operate it under current conditions, Hesse said in an interview.

The union said the plant, which produces patties for McDonald’s Corp, is now slaughtering 1,500 head of cattle per day, down from around 4,500.

Cargill has taken steps to improve safety while staying in operation, such as testing employees’ temperatures, social distancing and staggering breaks, Jon Nash, North America lead for Cargill’s protein division, said in a statement.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Leslie Adler