From as early as January 2020, the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) commenced implementing robust risk management guidelines, to incorporate COVID-19 safety plans and measures, for the industry’s total supply chain and independent retail network.
The meat industry is uniquely positioned as one of the premier industries where food safety and hygiene is part of its core business. Its members operate to very stringent standards including HACCP, Good Manufacturing Practice, and Australian Standards, which are verified by state and federal food safety authorities.
As an essential service, the industry has continued to operate across the supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic knowing that the supply of food is our community’s most basic need and this has been reflected in increased sales of red meat during the pandemic.
AMIC has noted the negative reporting by media agencies recently, particularly in Victoria, and disputes any commentary alleging the meat industry as being a responsible party in the transmission of coronavirus, due to recent cases being brought into processing plants in Victoria.
Australia’s Food Standards agency (FSANZ) and well-respected international agencies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and World Health Organization (WHO) have publicly stated that there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is transmitted in food, and no reported cases from human contact with food.
“This is a public health issue and a community transmitted virus, not a meat industry or food safety issue,” said AMIC CEO, Patrick Hutchinson. “There has been an over-emphasis of cases being linked to the Australian meat industry, yet the virus is being transmitted in the community, not generated from within any particular industry,”
“The Australian meat industry has extremely controlled measures in place and should not be viewed through the same lens as meat industries in other countries.
“The actual percentage of staff that make up the total amount of cases within a “cluster” linked to a meat processing facility is small relative to total community transmissions, in some cases less than 3 per cent, across our red meat and smallgoods members.
“Further, there is a negligible amount reported in our independent retail butcher chain.”
Today, VIC Premier Daniel Andrews said that if people continue to go to work with symptoms, it could shut down industries.
“If we were to continue to see outbreaks, if we were to continue to see people quite obviously attending work when they shouldn’t be, then every option becomes on the table,” he said. “Next steps may well have to include closing a number of these industries if we continue to see people attending work.
“We have to work together to keep anyone who’s got symptoms away from work. Otherwise businesses will have to close.”
AMIC reinforces the VIC Premier’s message for workers to stay away from their workplace if they display symptoms, get tested and follow the isolation instructions.
“This is a people transmitted virus and will be solved by people implementing and abiding by COVID Safe recommendations,” says Hutchinson.
The primary focus of AMIC’s impacted members has been on the health and safety of its workforce, ensuring functional plans are implemented to minimise the risk of spreading the virus among staff. This includes temperature screening, daily sanitation, regular sanitisation, social distancing, and staggered shifts.
“The impacts of any potential closures of processing plants has a flow through effect to our wholesalers and retail network chains, which ultimately impacts our farmers and producers,” said Hutchinson.
“We are an essential service feeding Victorians and Australians through independent retail and supermarket chains, and the global community, daily. We take this very seriously.
“Whilst as industry we continue to remain supportive of our front-line health workers and health department staff working with our members daily, some information has been confusing for Victorians, with changing advice to workers regarding isolation.
“We do not want to see the shut-down of our industry due to changing rules that we have limited to no control over.
“As such, we are working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and those members that have been impacted to ensure minimal interruption to business operations and communicate a clear set of expectations and response procedures,” he said.
While consumer demand has been higher recently, the independent retail channel sources its product from various processing facilities across Australia and is agile to meet consumer demands.