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Coronavirus: Animal activists protest working conditions at Cargill meat-packing plant

People protest conditions at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., on Saturday, May 30, 2020.
People protest conditions at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Mike Hills/Global News

About 20 activists gathered outside the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., on Saturday, protesting working conditions they call unsafe and exploitative because of the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

READ MORE: Widow and children of Cargill worker who died from COVID-19 share heartbreak

Organizers wanted to stand in solidarity with workers and “pay respects to livestock animals who are in the last hours of their lives.”

“This is absolutely unacceptable in that slaughterhouses are not essential,” said Trev Miller, a spokesperson for Calgary Vegan Activists.

“These workers are being forced into unsafe conditions where the vast majority of them are not feeling safe.”

READ MORE: 2nd Cargill employee to die from COVID-19 ‘humble, gentle family man’

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As of Saturday, the Cargill outbreak had 953 COVID-19 cases in total: 946 recovered, five active cases and two deaths, according to Alberta Health.

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Miller said his group is asking Cargill to pivot towards plant-based meals.

“They already have a line of plant-based products,” he said. “We’re just asking them to retrain the workers so that that’s what they’re producing exclusively.”

READ MORE: 2nd death at Cargill prompts calls from Alberta NDP, union to shut down meat plant

The protesters’ concerns stem from the fact that COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to people.

“Anywhere that there’s a slaughterhouse or intensive feeding operation, there is the chance for a future zoonotic outbreak,” Miller said.

READ MORE: OHS report finds COVID-19 investigation at Cargill High River plant did not include worker representation

In addition to health concerns, the group is worried about the environment and sustainability.

“Stopping subsidies to animal agriculture could be the silver bullet that helps against the climate emergency,” he said.

READ MORE: Alberta announces 13 new COVID-19 cases, 1 more death Saturday

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In a statement to Global News, Cargill said it is committed to keeping employees safe, feeding the world and ensuring farmers and ranchers have access to markets, all of which “requires tremendous care.”

“We have a 155-year history of nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way and our people will continue to carry out that essential work safely,” a Cargill spokesperson said.

The company said it works hard to “ensure animals are treated with respect and dignity.”

“We do not tolerate abusive behaviour directed at animals by employees, suppliers or others in our supply chains,” Cargill said.

“The humane treatment and respectful handling of animals is not only the right thing to do, [but it is also] critical to our business success. Our aim is to produce enough protein so that people can eat in a way that aligns with their food values.”