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Coronavirus: Beef prices won’t skyrocket, food supply expert says

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WATCH: A food supply chain expert says disruptions at major meat processing plants won't dramatically increase beef prices in Canada – May 10, 2020

A food supply chain expert said beef prices won’t skyrocket, despite the novel coronavirus causing several major meat processing plants to close and reduce staff.

On Sunday, Cargill announced its plant in Chambly, Que., would close after a COVID-19 outbreak among staff.

The closure comes about a month after the company had to shut down a major facility in High River, Alta., after more than 900 employees were diagnosed with COVID-19.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Another Cargill meat plant set to close due to COVID-19 outbreak

That plant, which handles about 70 per cent of all meat processed in the country, has since reopened, but JBS and Harmony Beef, other processors, have also shuttered plants and reduced staff to stop the spread of the virus.

Even though the country’s supply of beef has apparently been bottlenecked, Dalhousie University’s Sylvain Charlebois said prices wouldn’t be seriously affected.

“[I’m] expecting beef prices to go up by as much as eight per cent this year,” the Agri-Food Analytics lab director said.

“And they’ve already gone up by, I would say, at least four or five per cent already.”

He told Global News there are a number of reasons why prices won’t dramatically jump up.

READ MORE: Canadian farmers mull euthanasia for animals as coronavirus slows processing

First, McDonald’s Canada, a major customer of the High River plant, has started importing beef. He said that would relieve some pressure on the plant and the smaller workforce would be able to cope.

He also said any significant jump in prices would convince consumers to buy more chicken, reducing the demand, and therefore the price, of beef.

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He also noted the federal government regulates the major processing plants and that the provincially regulated abattoirs are still open.

Jordan Lohneis owns The Pig and Pantry Craft Butchery in Saskatoon and uses provincial abattoirs.

He said he only buys from Saskatchewan producers and his prices haven’t been affected.

READ MORE: Canadian dairy farmers dumping their milk as demand changes amid coronavirus pandemic

“[The major plants closing or reducing staff] doesn’t affect us directly. I’m sure it will in some sense in the end, but how that pans out is still yet to be seen,” he said.

The meat processed in the major plants mostly goes to larger restaurants and grocery stores. Lohneis said he focuses on local connections.

“We deal with directly with local farmers [and] their system and their way of raising animals and bringing them to market is completely independent of the beef in commodity form.”
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Lohneis said his business is largely unchanged, though he’s seeing regular customers buy more product and shop less frequently.

He said he’s even seeing new customers, though Charlebois warned that may change in the coming years and that it could affect more than just prices.

He said the wasted milk and talk of euthanizing livestock could cause Canadians to reevaluate their eating habits.

“All of these case studies are being served to vegan groups on a silver platter… and [the issues] may actually get people to think differently about meat consumption altogether.

With files from Hannah Jackson, Rachel D’Amore and the Canadian Press.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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