‘Covid-19 is moving from the community into the factories’ – Ibec CEO

The CEO of Ibec – the business and employer umbrella group of which Meat Industry Ireland (MII) is a part of – has argued that Covid-19 is moving “from the community into the factories”.

Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, Tuesday, August 11, Danny McCoy suggested that the virus was entering meat and food processing plants through community transmission.

“This is a virus that is in our community… This is clearly a case of [Covid-19] moving from the community into the factories and back out again, so there’s no clear delineation where the virus is emanating from,” McCoy insisted.

The meat industry, as it is being portrayed, has had 10 weeks with no cases. So why would it flair up in a particular instance? It’s really across the community. We have to identify where it is occurring and, where it occurs, actually isolate those people.

Food Drink Ireland (FDI), which represents the secondary meat processing industry, is separate from MII but also comes under the Ibec group.

McCoy pointed out: “Nuance is important. It’s not just meat. These are food processing companies. There are very different types of industries within the label of ‘food’.”

The Ibec CEO also noted that the food industry is identified as an essential service, and claimed that calls for closing down meat and food processors (if the number of cases at the plant are low) is a “disproportionate response” and “will set a precedence for the winter, because we’re going to be dealing with it in schools”.

Decisions to close

Regarding the processors that have suspended operations at the moment, McCoy claimed that “in many cases a lot of pressure has come on them from the public and public representatives”.

“In each case, the HSE [Health Service Executive] is working as an outbreak team, and they’ll give the guidance… They are essential services, so the definition of essentiality is to remain open… We’re going to have to live with the virus, and control it, but [if] the one solution to risk is to stop everything, that’s actually going to cause a lot more problems,” he said.

Business risks

McCoy went on to suggest that there was a need for public health officials to be “informed about the realities of the [processor] business model”.

“Decisions taken locally, with the best intentions, can have really adverse consequences for the sustainability of that business to actually keep its customers, and to actually go back to normality,” he argued.

McCoy added: “The world doesn’t stop because we decide to deal with a local outbreak in what can often be idiosyncratic decisions taken locally.”

Testing

On the issue of testing in meat and food processors, McCoy said that testing “needs to be done inside 24 hours”.

He also suggested that informing the workers of their test results first (before the factory) would mean that the “information does not necessarily reach the decision maker in the factory in an appropriate time”.

“This is a pandemic that is a public health crisis, but if a testing regime gives rise to an economic crisis by shutting down randomly, we need to have much more nuanced protocols for this incident,” McCoy added.