NWT’s meat supply ‘stressed’ as Covid-19 hits processing plants

With parts of the United States facing a meat shortage, supplies of some products are harder for NWT stores to come by – and you may notice an increase in price.

The issue is caused by the shutdown of some North American meat processing plants following outbreaks of Covid-19 among staff. Working conditions at such plants can make it easier for the novel coronavirus to spread.

Canada has yet to be as badly affected as the US, where some fast food outlets were forced to withdraw beef burgers from their menus and Costco, the wholesaler, placed limits on meat purchases in certain locations.


However, the Yellowknife Co-op said the Northwest Territories was seeing some impact on the flow of meat products north.

“We have started to see some indications that the supply process has been stressed,” Co-op representative Jeff Kincaid told Cabin Radio last week.

“On our bookings we have seen some prices starting to rise as well, which will most likely continue until the supply side is able to catch up a bit,” Kincaid said.

“Stores across western Canada at least have been given maximums that we can order right now, to ensure everyone will have equal access to product. We have proactively placed limits on some items, like ground beef, and will enforce these limits as necessary.”

More than 900 staff at a meat processing plant in High River, Alberta, have tested positive for the virus. That plant initially closed but has reportedly since reopened.


On Sunday, a plant in Chambly, Quebec said 64 staff had tested positive and the plant would likely close in the coming week.

“It is important to remember there is not a meat shortage, there is a processing stoppage,” said Kincaid. “Nothing has infected the animals and once the processing plants reopen, work can begin right away.”

He said the Co-op was “in great shape when the first processing plant went down” so the impact on shelves at the Yellowknife store has been limited so far.

“Multiple processing plants are working together to cover shipments in order to try to ensure outages are kept to a minimum,” said Kincaid.


Rules can be changed if needed

The NWT government has a new, emergency measure it can call on, introduced by the federal government, if meat supplies do begin to dry up should more plants be affected.

In an email to Cabin Radio, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it had reached an agreement with provincial and territorial governments, including the NWT, to move more meat between provinces and territories if necessary.

“In order to sell meat inter-provincially, a licence is required under the Safe Food for Canadians regulations,” the agency said in a statement, “but the CFIA can allow exemptions from this requirement in situations where there are shortages.”

That means meat could come north without such a licence if necessary, opening up access to more suppliers. The meat and its labelling would still have to meet federal regulations.

Decisions to allow licence exemptions “will be made on a case-by-case basis,” the CFIA said, adding: “So far, there has not been a situation that warrants the need to grant any exemptions.”

Drew Williams, a spokesperson for the territorial government, said the territory had noticed a “spike in the purchase of meat in the NWT” at the start of April, and had approached the CFIA “to flag what might be a shortage of meat products.”

Williams said that shortage never transpired, but the concern resulted in the CFIA’s emergency provisions being put in place.

“As it turns out, the rush on meat was an anomaly,” Williams said. “[Using the new provisions] remains an option but has not been used.”