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“Colossal is imperfect.”

That’s the smartly-liked chorus Temple Grandin hears when she lectures students at Colorado Insist College on the complexities of meat processing vegetation.

Her smartly-liked respond: “Colossal isn’t imperfect. Badly managed is imperfect.”

For years, she has pushed home this point: that even in a impulsively consolidating sector, the set many tiny vegetation processing 500 head of cattle a day were mothballed in favour of about a mega-products and services slaughtering 20,000 cows per day, high standards for animal security and meat quality are peaceable seemingly.

“These vegetation can enact a correct job,” the animal science professor and livestock handling educated talked about in an interview. “The size doesn’t matter very mighty that technique.”

Nonetheless it matters an awful lot in replacement recommendations. That turned into positive to Grandin so a lot of years within the past, after extensive floods crippled transportation in her home remark of Colorado and an ice storm devastated Eastern Canada.

The provision chain can address one sizable plant being closed. Nonetheless when it turns accurate into just a few vegetation you can well additionally luxuriate in a wretchedness.

Temple Grandin, animal science professor and livestock handling educated

“Even then, I wasn’t eager on a virulent illness,” she talked about. “I used to be pondering more of issues esteem energy disasters, energy grids occurring, extensive storms taking away a single plant. The provision chain can address one sizable plant being closed. Nonetheless when it turns accurate into just a few vegetation you can well additionally luxuriate in a wretchedness.”

Colossal isn’t imperfect, Grandin made up our minds. “Colossal is fragile.”

It’s a deeply painful lesson Canada’s meat business has been forced to be taught as COVID-19 sweeps by North The US and into the handful of vegetation in heed for nearly all of the nation’s meat processing.

Big swaths of the crew were infected in outbreaks at Cargill Inc.’s plant in High River, Alta., and JBS USA Holdings Inc.’s plant in Brooks, Alta., requiring total operations to shut down. Because the provision chain shuddered, multinationals Cargill and JBS — controlling 70 per cent of Canadian purple meat processing at these two Alberta vegetation by myself — raced to disappear shifts, outfit workers in maintaining equipment and retrofit products and services with plexiglass shields.

The quiz now is whether or no longer or no longer these measures can be sufficient to personal the virus or if a more main reimagining of meat offer chains is mandatory — one which may perchance maybe well contemplate more automation in processing, fewer cuts of purple meat in grocery store coolers, an unraveling of a a long time-long shift to sizable scale manufacturing — and in the end larger costs.

Will the business be modified by this? I mediate there’s absolute self belief about that

Mike von Massow, a meals economist at the College of Guelph

“Will the business be modified by this? I mediate there’s absolute self belief about that,” talked about Mike von Massow, a meals economist at the College of Guelph. “It’ll deserve to substitute to mitigate the unfold of an infection between workers which is one thing we’ve never needed to take into myth sooner than. Attach we enact it within the middle of the vegetation we’ve got? I don’t mediate we know that yet.”

At the core of the narrate is a easy wretchedness: COVID-19 flourishes in crowds. And the volume of workers within every processing plant has entirely increased as manufacturing has change into more concentrated. Certainly, correct three vegetation — the JBS and Cargill High River products and services along with Cargill’s Guelph-basically basically based operation — now characterize 85 per cent of all Canadian purple meat processing.

When sizable numbers of workers work intently together, the resolution isn’t as straightforward as thinning shifts or telling workers working elbow to elbow to stand further apart.

A meat plant has two main parts. The “abolish facet” the set the animal is slaughtered, bled and skinned and the “lower facet” the set its innards are removed and the meat is sliced, first into halves and then quarters. These “primal cuts” are then lowered into the smaller pieces considered in grocery stores — the steaks, roasts and floor purple meat bought in trays and containers.

Over the years, the business has gotten better at directing particular cuts to particular particular person markets. Certainly, Canada exports 44 per cent of its purple meat, largely to the US but additionally to Asian worldwide locations the set parts opinion to be spoil in North The US  — kidneys, hearts, tongues and tripe — plan a correct heed.

Nonetheless producing all these cuts requires the form of human ability that meat processors luxuriate in struggled to substitute.

“The piece that has essentially the most folk is the lower up,” talked about Grandin, who was the self-discipline of a Hollywood movie, starring Claire Danes, highlighting her work as an animal scientist. “On the slaughter facet, the folk are mighty further apart and it’s more straightforward to drag them apart, but on the lower-up facet they’re shoulder to shoulder.”


Beef producers squawk delayed processing as a result of COVID-19 infections of workers at killing and meat-packing vegetation is main to longer times for his or her animals on farms and costlier feeding payments.

Getty Pictures

Early an infection relieve watch over measures integrated reducing the volume of parents on every shift. Nonetheless while that may perchance maybe well also tedious the unfold of the virus, it also slowed down “the road,” — the continuous, largely linear drag with the circulation of a meatpacking plant that sees reside animals near at one door and completed products emerge from one other. With fewer individuals on “the lower,” the backlog of animals ready for processing swelled, leaving farmers to accommodate and feed them for longer than intended.

That has every hiked charges for farmers and escalated the menace of the animal rising too astronomical to be processed within the plant, the set it spends mighty of its time placing from an overhead chain that may perchance maybe well entirely address so mighty weight — a particularly vexing wretchedness for pork farmers. Certainly, while purple meat farmers can tedious the enlargement of cattle by manipulating feed, pigs develop until in the end they’ve expanded beyond the plant’s ability to address them.

“A conventional weight for a pig to be processed is 280 pounds,” talked about Grandin. “Let’s squawk I luxuriate in a 370-pound pig. I’m able to’t set them on every hook within the plant, I’ll smash the chain if I enact that and shut the plant down half of a day. Nonetheless if I set a pig on every other hook, now I’ve lower the processing whisk in half of.”


While purple meat farmers can tedious the enlargement of cattle by manipulating feed, pigs develop until in the end they’ve expanded beyond the plant’s ability to address them.

Scott Olson/Getty Pictures

Automation can also present opportunities to slit serve the ranks of workers and tedious the unfold of an infection. Certainly, robotic handling has carried out mighty to quicken operations in other areas of processing vegetation and the business has been exploring its utilize for chopping operations. Nonetheless here all all over again, there are challenges.

Cattle are much less genetically homogeneous than lamb or chickens, talked about Dave Moss, normal supervisor of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Affiliation. Which technique the pieces transferring along a conveyor belt are no longer often the same dimension or form.

For robotic machines built for uniformity, that randomness has been refined to beat.

“It’s straightforward to automate one thing if the item you are handling is continuously within the same set,” talked about Grandin. “Nonetheless on the lower facet, the meat’s no longer going to realize down that conveyor continuously within the same set. You will need individuals.”

There may perchance be an awareness that what vegetation seemed esteem pre-COVID is no longer what they will look for esteem when that is over

Chris White, president of the Canadian Meat Council

What about reducing the volume of cuts and as a result of this truth the volume of parents required to present them? Could perchance presumably we all be taught to take a quarter of an animal and butcher it at home?

That may perchance maybe well presumably imply placing off many cuts smartly-liked in other worldwide locations, spicy into our export opportunities, famend Kim O’Neil, director of purple meat and veal at the Canadian Meat Council.

It also received’t be terribly appealing to Canadians, who lack the fridge and freezer set mandatory to address sizable cuts of meat.

“We’re seeing replacement groups trying to educate the final public on straightforward the vogue to cook dinner assorted cuts,” she talked about. “Nonetheless replacement what we export, Canadians merely don’t bask in.”

That leads to the query whether or no longer safeguarding the provision chain may perchance maybe well require a more radical resolution. A more allotted model, one with smaller vegetation, would contemplate manufacturing unfold out over more products and services pretty than concentrated in only about a. That technique if one plant is wiped out by an infection, more would be on hand to backfill request.

“It’s a sound quiz, I correct don’t know if it’s the respond,” talked about von Massow.

The problem of infections, he notes, has much less to enact with the dimensions of the plant and more to enact with the structure of the technique within it, one which relies on many workers pushed in together. Certainly, smaller vegetation are entirely critical if they are in-built a formula that areas individuals further apart.

“A lot of the existing ones are in-built the same technique as the larger products and services,” he talked about.

Building a brand unique meat processing plant from the floor up — one designed with an infection relieve watch over in mind — may perchance maybe well heed between $300 and $400 million reckoning on invent, talked about Moss. What’s more, it’s no longer positive that controlling the unfold of an infection is dependent entirely on what happens on the plant floor.

“The wretchedness is that social distancing has to occur sooner than and after work and while you can well additionally relieve watch over stipulations at work, you can well additionally’t relieve watch over it when individuals drag home,” talked about Moss.

As well to to investing in temperature trying out, cleansing and sanitizing procedures and personal maintaining tools esteem gloves and masks, companies comparable to Cargill luxuriate in produced tutorial provides for workers, translating them into up to 40 languages for non permanent international workers. 

Though the vegetation are at the moment centered on bringing existing operations serve online, “the entirety is on the desk” by strategy of the long speed, along side a reorganization of offer chains, talked about Chris White, president of the Canadian Meat Council.

“There may perchance be an awareness that what vegetation seemed esteem pre-COVID isn’t what they will look for esteem when that is over,” talked about White, whose group represents all the nation’s main processors, along side Cargill and JBS. “There can be replacement discussions about automation, about whether or no longer other main changes are wanted. There can be an total-of-business technique. Nonetheless for the 2d, persons are correct trying to acquire by merely now.”

While any resolution will heed money, a reimagined offer chain of smaller vegetation positively carries the excellent heed heed of all, Grandin notes.

“How enact you assignment in smaller vegetation for the same heed? That probabilities are you’ll well presumably also’t,” she talked about. “The wretchedness is astronomical vegetation luxuriate in financial system of scale. Mounted charges comparable to structures, water, electrical energy, they drag down. Your heed per pig, per cow goes down. A more allotted offer chain can be costlier. This is the commerce off and there’s no technique to substitute this. ”

• Email: npowell@nationalpost.com | Twitter: naomi_powell

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