September 6, 2021
Restrictions on Melbourne, Australia meat plants could affect farmers, meat access, according to meat council
The Premier of Victoria, Australia, Daniel Andrews, has announced recently that meat processing facilities in metropolitan Melbourne will be subject to workforce capacity restrictions — a move that would hurt farmers and restrict access to lamb and other meats for consumers, the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) said.
"Things like abattoirs, meat processing centres and very large supermarket distribution centres, cold stores, things of that nature, will be under new arrangements to limit the movement and to limit wide-spread infection in Melbourne," Andrews said in his announcement. "We will reach out and speak with all those industry stakeholders and make sure they're fully briefed."
Neither AMIC nor any of its meat processing or manufacturing member operating in Melbourne was contacted by the premier's department or the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) prior to the announcement, AMIC said in a statement.
"AMIC was advised via the Premier's website, then Agriculture Victoria, that it would be a 20% reduction in workforce, as well as increased surveillance testing with no clear direction on that process," AMIC added.
"For every day these workforce reductions are in place, there is a growing impact on the supply chain from processors, wholesalers, cold stores, independent local butchers and even supermarkets," AMIC chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said.
"AMIC acknowledges our good working relationship with Agriculture Victoria, and the Victorian ag minister, who have been responsive to AMIC's inquiries and the only department willing to speak to AMIC on these issues. However, I challenge the Victorian Government on their lack of information, lack of understanding of our industry, lack of respect and lack of consultation to the meat processing and manufacturing industry," Hutchinson said.
"On-site full vaccination rates have not been considered, even with some facilities at 80-90% of staff fully vaccinated. These great results have been completely disregarded by DHHS and the Victorian Government in risk settings.
"It beggars belief that they would turn their back on an industry investing its own money in getting people vaccinated. It does nothing to incentivise industry moving forward. Further to this, our industry has also been slapped with a mandatory 25% of surveillance testing per week, even if they have more than 80% of their workers fully vaccinated, which is over 40% of metropolitan meat processing sites."
Exemptions to the workforce capacity restriction of 20% are available on food security or animal welfare grounds. However, there is no process in place for impacted businesses to access those exemptions.
"The Victorian Government, through fleeting "whole of industry" meetings with DHHS, have repeated that the meat processing and manufacturing industry's COVIDSafe plans are "Gold Standard"… however they now refuse to review them when setting current risk measures," Hutchinson said.
"Our industry has been at the forefront of testing and vaccination, with businesses investing heavily in private providers of these services, along with workforce vaccination incentives. We are classified as a high-risk 1B priority category yet are denied help from DHHS for group onsite testing and vaccinations hubs.
"Further, we have invested millions of dollars in COVIDSafe plans, interventions, PPE and COVID Marshal training. None of this has been recognised."
The lack of consultation for the meat industry had forced processors having to reset their forecast for production, AMIC said.
AMIC predicted that, with the sustained Metro Melbourne workforce reductions, additional impact on pork processing and small goods manufacturing will occur through the supply chain, providing no guarantees to consumers on appropriate volumes of Christmas hams and pork from their independent local butcher or supermarket.
Beef will also be at risk of reduced supply now and towards Christmas.
"Maintaining these restrictions on businesses will not allow Victorians, or the majority of Australians, to have as near normal a Christmas as the Premier wants," Hutchinson said.