slaughterhouses, confined places and hotbeds of infection

Covid-19 mobile test unit at the Westfleisch meat processing plant in Hamm, Germany, May 10.
Covid-19 mobile test unit at the Westfleisch meat processing plant in Hamm, Germany, May 10. INA FASSBENDER / hooly News

According to two new official accounts released on Wednesday May 20 and Thursday May 21, 109 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection were detected among the employees of the Kermené slaughterhouse, in Saint-Jacut-du-Mené, in the Côtes- d'Armor, out of 1,027 tested, and 56 employees of the Tradival establishment in Fleury-les-Aubrais (Loiret) were infected out of 397 screened. These cases are in addition to the 11 people tested positive in the Arrivé poultry slaughterhouse, in Essarts-en-Bocage, in Vendée. Not all of them have developed symptoms and we are far from a new wave, but these French slaughterhouses have been hotbeds of infection.

The situation is not specific to France: Germany, Australia, Spain, Ireland… in most of the countries affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, “clusters” have been identified in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, sometimes with a fatal outcome, as for three deceased employees of the Cranswick plant in South Yorkshire, UK. It’s in the United States that food workers pay the heaviest toll to the virus: FERN independent food information network, 16,850 cases were recorded there on May 21 in slaughterhouses, and 64 people died.

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As in other closed and promiscuous places, such as prisons or migrant homes, slaughterhouses seem to have been an ideal theater for the spread of the virus. In recent months, as much of the world has confined itself and demand for meat has increased in supermarkets, suppliers have continued to operate at full capacity.

Dilapidated and overcrowded habitats

The Brittany Regional Health Agency (ARS), which conducted the screenings in the Kermené slaughterhouse, ensures that all barrier gestures have been respected. The E. Leclerc store owner and supplier of meat and cold meats is one of the largest establishments of its kind in France, employing nearly 3,400 people. Employees in the meat industry are already subject to many health safety standards. Blouses, charlottes, boots and masks are part of everyday life, even outside epidemic periods.

Stéphane Douchain, FGA-CFDT union delegate at Tradival, was affected by the Covid-19 in mid-March. "Management has decided to strengthen employee protection measures from March 21, he says. The use of the mask was imposed from the parking lot and even in the changing rooms. But the downside for us is the locker room, cramped, and in which not everyone keeps the protections. " Closed on May 18, the site could reopen Monday May 25, now that all employees have been tested and positive people isolated. A plan including the reorganization of collective spaces should be presented to staff representatives on Friday.

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