Pork plant workers in Brazil infected with Covid-19

27-05-2020 | | |
Employees in a slaughterhouse often have to work fairly close together, which could encourage virus spread. - Photo: Hans Prinsen
Employees in a slaughterhouse often have to work fairly close together, which could encourage virus spread. - Photo: Hans Prinsen

In various states in Brazil pig and poultry slaughterhouses are among the places where Covid-19 has proved to be prevalent. In that sense, the situation is comparable to North America and Europe. So far, no pigs had to be euthanised.

The outbreaks were reported in the states Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná, all in the south of the country. These states are responsible for 65% of the total pork production in Brazil and even 70% of the total poultry production.

Paraná state: pork production reduced

In some cases, detailed information about whether pig or poultry plants were affected is currently still missing. It is certain that in Paraná state, the cooperative Frimesa had to reduce pork production by 20% due to Covid-19 infections. For these reductions, however, a solution could be found as no pigs had to be culled. In addition, GTFoods had to suspend its operations on poultry production for 14 days.

Frimesa is a pork cooperative in the south of Brazil. Read more in this background article

Santa Catarina state: 5 slaughterhouses affected

A little bit more south, in Santa Catarina state, there are reports of at least 300 workers infected at 5 slaughterhouses in the cities Ipumirim, Nova Veneza, Forquilinha, Concórdia and Chapecó. The state is the second largest poultry producer and the first in terms of pork production.

Rio Grande do Sul state: worst situation

In terms of number of contaminations, the situation appears most serious in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state. According to the State Health Department (SES) epidemiological bulletin released last week, there were 30 infected locations in all industries in the state, and 18 of them were slaughterhouses.

Altogether, animal production facilities reported 528 workers as positive for Covid-19 in Rio Grande do Sul. Another 2,595 were reported to have flu-like symptoms and were considered suspect. The plants are responsible for the highest contamination rates in the state. The meat industry employs almost 30,000 people in Rio Grande do Sul.

So far, the authorities have temporarily closed 2 poultry plants at Rio Grande do Sul’s Lajeado City – and they only recently resumed operations. Both were suppliers of Brasil Foods; one of them had to discard 100,000 animals. In addition, in Passo Fundo City, a JBS chicken unit was affected. This plant temporarily suspended operations, but resumed activities last week.

Specific characteristics related to plant work

For SES, the large number of outbreaks in the facilities can be explained by the specific characteristics related to work in those environments: “Workers carry out activities very close to each other; the environments are closed; plus the refrigeration and air renewal system and living areas such as cafeterias favour spread.”

Further cases were identified among at least 42 facilities in other Brazilian states.

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National Covid-19 prevention protocol

Francisco Turra, president of Brazil’s Animal Protein Association (ABPA), said that the pork, poultry and egg sectors are prepared to face a ‘war’. “During 30 days, no case was confirmed among 200 slaughterhouses we work with, with 500,000 workers, all over the country,” he told a local radio station.

He said the national prevention protocol for the agro-industries has been strengthened to avoid more drastic measures in plants. Turra added, “It is a hard and serious moment, but we must have responsibility to monitor it in order to assure workers health and so not to close because it threaten their own livelihood.”

On March 31, Brazil released a slaughterhouse protocol on health procedures against SARS-CoV-2. An even more strict update is to follow shortly.

Daniel Azevedo Freelance journalist Brazil