Taoiseach tells ASA conference that serial testing at meat plants will resume

Taoiseach Micheal Martin says serial testing for Covid-19 at meat and food processing factories will resume next week after it was suspended this week.

He was speaking at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference which was live streamed from the Maryborough Hotel Douglas, Co. Cork today, Friday, September 11.

Speaking to a virtual audience of agriculture sector stakeholders, the Taoiseach said:

“Serial testing is something I initiated. It’s a preventative, precautionary measure. If a cluster breaks out in the meantime, mass testing will immediately take place.

The reason serial testing has been rescheduled to next week is because the community testing demand has gone up. In other words people with symptoms are presenting more and more to GPs.

“It’s a fundamental principle of public health that you allocate your testing resources to the community prevalence of the virus and particularly people who are symptomatic, they need it first,” adds the Taoiseach.

The ASA is a voluntary organisation and is the professional body for graduates in agricultural, horticultural, forestry, environmental and food science.

The theme of this year’s ASA conference is ‘Embracing Disruption in Agri-Food’ and the two-hour conference focused on the impact Covid-19, Brexit and climate change are having on the Irish agri-food industry.

The Taoiseach added:

“Last Monday there was up to 16,000, so capacity is increasing and has increased and will increase more and because of what’s going on in particular counties, there’s significant demand on the testing system, between hospitals and the community.

“Testing will recommence next week,” he concluded.

Informing the Minister for Agriculture

There had been some concern in the sector that the newly appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue had not been kept up to speed with the decision to suspend Covid-19 testing at food processing plants on Tuesday evening (September 7).

Speaking at the ASA conference today the minister said:

“My department had been informed by the HSE. I had been in briefings all that morning [Wednesday September 9] so I hadn’t the opportunity to be updated at that stage. I have been keeping very much across it.

“I have been working with my officials who are in constant contact with the HSE and in constant contact with the industry aswell.”

Response to suspension of Covid-19 testing at meat plants

The Social Democrats has previously stated that the suspension of Covid-19 testing at meat plants completely undermines assurances from the Health Service Executive (HSE) that there is capacity in the system to carry out 100,000 tests a week.

Meanwhile, trade union SIPTU has said that Meat Industry Ireland (MII) is “refusing to engage and negotiate” on issues relating to sick pay for workers in meat plants.

Ahead of its meeting with MII today, SIPTU manufacturing division organiser Greg Ennis told AgriLand that although significant progress has been made on the SIPTU charter, a protocol outlining best practices to prevent the Covid-19 spread in meat factories, there remains issues to be resolved.