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Meat Processing Plants

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 November 2020

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Questions (56)

Holly Cairns


56. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the measures in place to monitor the health and working conditions in meat plants to prevent further clusters of Covid-19. [33599/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, primary responsibility for public health policy and implementation rests with the Department of Health and the HSE. Statutory responsibility for health and safety in the workplace rests with the Health and Safety Authority (under the auspices of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment). Responsibility for the Health and Safety of employees lies with the management of each establishment. My Department’s statutory responsibility is to ensure that Food Business Operators (FBOs) within these premises operate in compliance with the EU’s food hygiene legislation, animal and plant health and animal welfare standards. 

A national Outbreak Control team has been established by the HSE to deal with all issues relating to Covid 19 in meat plants and my Department is represented on this committee. Any clusters of cases in individual meat plants, in common with clusters in other workplaces, are dealt with by local HSE-led outbreak control teams.  

My Department continues to supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to its own staff and contractors in Food Business premises.  PPE for Food Business personnel are supplied by the business itself.  Food Business Operators have put in place a range of protective practices and equipment to protect employee safety and these include measures such as the reduction of throughput rates at the plant, temperature checks on entry into the plant, the extension of operating hours and other safeguards such as “podding”, the provision of additional PPE, the use of perspex screens and the provision of additional facilities to support physical distancing measures.  

My Department contributes to the HSE-chaired National Outbreak Control Team as part of the whole of Government response to the pandemic, and is supporting the HSE in the context of local outbreak teams, overseeing a programme of serial testing of workers at larger food plants and other businesses. 42,190 samples have been tested under this programme to date with 219 positives detected – an overall positivity rate of 0.52%. In the week ending 23 October, 8,440 swabs taken with 72 detected cases resulting a positivity rate of 0.85%. As at 23 October, officials from my Department had completed 448 inspections on behalf of the HSA, including unannounced inspections, in DAFM-approved food premises, and these inspections are ongoing. The Department continues to provide any assistance requested by the HSE to facilitate this testing programme.

Additional support is provided by my Department to the HSE and the Health and Safety Authority in monitoring the effective implementation of all relevant guidance in DAFM-approved food plants. In ongoing engagement with the meat industry since the start of the pandemic, my officials have emphasised that the health and safety of workers must be the absolute priority. On 18 September, Meat Industry Ireland and SIPTU agreed a Code of Practice for the safe management of staff in the primary meat processing sector during the pandemic.