Independent TD Denis Naughten has expressed dismay at the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) decision to suspend the Covid-19 screening of meat plant employees, stating that “we must hunt Covid-19 out of meat plants not chase it from county to county”.

He explained:

After completing just about 10% of the serial screening programme within the meat and food processing sector, the HSE has suspended the programme.

“This is despite the fact that if this programme was done during the summer months, when there was ample capacity, it would have avoided the lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly.

“Over four months ago, I highlighted serious flaws in the management of Covid-19 infection within the meat industry.

“However, those in authority were more interested in tackling the man than addressing the fundamental problems that were occurring right across the meat processing sector.”

‘The risk posed within the sector’

Naughten continued:

The risk posed within the sector arose due to the close quarters within which people work and live, the atmosphere for survival and transmission of the virus and the large number of asymptomatic positive cases.

“Yet rather than deal with the significant Covid-19 risk the focus was on circling the wagons.

“While we must ensure that all those referred for a Covid-19 test receive it in a timely manner, unless we concentrate on potential reservoirs of infection in the food industry, we will never be able to manage it,” Naughten concluded.

HSE postpones Covid-19 testing at meat plants

Naughten’s comments come after the HSE has said that Covid-19 testing at meat plants is to be postponed, apparently on a temporary basis.

Sinn Féin TD for Tipperary Martin Browne said he was informed that the HSE decided on Tuesday (September 8) to postpone testing for Covid-19 at all food processing factories.

Also Read: HSE postpones Covid-19 testing at meat plants

According to Browne, the HSE told him: “A decision was taken [on Tuesday] nationally to postpone Covid testing at food processing plants because of the increased capacity needed at the moment to deal with people with symptoms.

“The decision to recommence Covid testing at food processing plants will also be taken at national level.”

McConalogue response to the standards in meat factories

Earlier this week, AgriLand quizzed Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue about what can be done from a department perspective to improve working standards in meat factories.

The minister said: “I think, particularly the important thing is in terms of working practices that they are doing everything that is necessary and required to absolutely minimise the risk of infection.

Meat factories have given a very strong assurance that they are and it’s very important, like with other sectors, that there is proper oversight of that as well, and inspections.

“Certainly I as minister, working with the department here and liaising with the meat sector, will be very adamant that every measure must be taken to try and ensure that protocols are closely followed which they are working to do, and also that the risk in terms of testing is the key requirement too,” concluded the minister.