Rosderra Meats in Roscrea
A COVID-19 cluster among the staff of a bacon factory in Roscrea has been confirmed after the matter was raised in the Dáil on Thursday.
Laois/Offaly TD and Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Brian Stanley told the Dáil that approximately 120 cases of Covid-19 have been reported among the staff of Rosderra Meats in Roscrea and he called on the Minister for Agriculture to urgently put in place plans for meat factory inspections as further outbreaks in similar factories around the country are emerging.
Staff from the factory, which remains operational and located in the Parkmore area of Roscrea, told this publication “at least over 100 people” working in the plant have suffered symptoms since last month.
The Roscrea factory employs 400 people, the majority of whom are foreign nationals and is one of the longest surviving industries in the town, which has been synonymous with bacon processing since the 1980s.
Rosderra Meats said all staff in Roscrea have been tested by the HSE after concerns about the virus at the facility and issued a statement confirming a number of its staff tested positive for Covid-19 - but the company did not reveal how many staff have been affected.
Rosderra Meats said all their plants are fully regulated by the Department of Agriculture and that "stringent" control measures to protect workers are in place.
"The Agri-food sector is an essential part of our supply chain and it must continue without disruption”, Deputy Stanley said on Friday.
“This can, and must, be achieved without workers putting their lives at risk. A proper process for inspections and ensuring that public health guidelines are in place must form part of a response from the Department of Agriculture.
"We need to see a plan announced very quickly about how they intend to deal with these issues adequately", he said.
Meanwhile, concern among local people in Roscrea is growing, where people feel the outbreak has left the townspeople more vulnerable.
Trade union SIPTU is calling for the mandatory temperature testing and provision of PPE for all workers in meat and dairy processing plants.
Elsewhere, the Dawn Meats in Kilbeggan have closed the facility's boning department and the company said they "became aware of four confirmed cases of Covid-19 amongst workers in Kilbeggan” and decided to “defer production".
The company said they have implemented a series of measures to manage risks associated with Covid-19, and to maintain social distancing in their facilities “in line with procedures recommended by the HSE and other Government agencies."
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said on Thursday his department was aware of six clusters in meat processing facilities in Ireland and that protective practices such as social distancing; hand-washing etiquette; perspex screens; reduced throughput; and provision of personal protection equipment (PPE) is being implemented in all the plants.
“There has been engagement by those meat plants. HSE staff and officials from my department have been involved. The feedback to me is that there has been strong cooperation. We are aware of six clusters, five in processing plants and one in a deboning plant”, the Minister said.
Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly, Barry Cowen expressed his concern and said the Department of Agriculture should conduct an independent verification to ensure that all procedures and processes in plants across the country meet public health guidelines.
“At the outset of this pandemic I assisted Rosderra Meats in liaising with public health officials to ensure that they could put in place policies which allowed them to keep their plant open while adhering to social distancing guidelines”, Deputy Cowen said.
“Despite this a number of employees in their Roscrea plant have tested positive for Covid-19. My thoughts are with them and I wish them a speedy recovery. I understand that all employees of the plant have been tested and perhaps this is something which could be considered in other plants as the HSE continue to increase their testing capacity.
“The safety of employees has to be paramount. I understand maintaining our food supply chains is an essential service, but the health and concerns of employees must be to the forefront.
“COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we need to adapt. The Ministers for Health and Agriculture should put in place a system by which they can independently verify the health and safety procedures which are in place in plants. There must be oversight to ensure that the public health guidelines are being adhered to”, Deputy Cowen said.