Atlantic Beef Products seeing increased demand after Alberta plant closure

Atlantic Beef Products on P.E.I. is hearing from new customers across the country because of a beef plant closure in Alberta.

'We have, sort of, a moral obligation to try and keep the food chain supplied here as best we can'

Atlantic Beef Products estimates they are processing around 750 head of cattle a week. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Atlantic Beef Products is hearing from new customers after the closure of a major meat-processing plant in Alberta due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Cargill plant south of Calgary announced on Monday that it would be shut down temporarily. A worker has died and 515 people are sick amid an outbreak of COVID-19 linked to the meat-processing plant.

The facility usually processes about 4,500 head of cattle per day — more than one-third of Canada's beef-processing capacity.

Atlantic Beef Products was originally designed to process 500 head of cattle per week — and has already increased capacity to around 750 per week.

Production at the plant in Albany is already running at full capacity, says Atlantic Beef Products president Russ Mallard. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Russ Mallard, president of Atlantic Beef Products, said he has been hearing from major grocery chains looking for other suppliers. 

"It's a hole that is going to be very difficult for us to fill. In fact, there's no chance that we can fill it, because, first of all, we don't have the cattle supply locally to do it," Mallard said.

"Secondly, we don't have the processing power to do it. What we're focusing on right now is to take care of our existing customers to the best of our ability."

'Looking for efficiencies'

He said the company will supply new customers if they can. A load of ground beef will be heading off to Calgary next week, he said, which is a little bit different for the company.

But, Mallard said he wants to make sure supplies stay stocked on the shelves of Island stores.

Mallard says staff are screened before entering the plant and if they're exhibiting any symptoms, they are asked to go home and call 811. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Compared to the major processing plants — that process thousands per day — the plant in Albany can only do so much to assist, he said, and the company is looking at ways to expand to do more.

"Looking for efficiencies. Maybe hiring some additional workers to see if we can't perhaps stretch out our production day. We're looking at all the options we can right now."

Atlantic Beef Products had already initiated increased health and safety measures at the plant, like temperature checks of the workers twice a shift.

Mallard said those initiatives are important to make sure the staff stay healthy.

"Certainly, physical limitations of the space that we have, everything from locker rooms to where do you put people, and these are all considerations that we have to do because we are operating at full capacity now," Mallard said.

"There's many layers of this onion and as every day something new gets revealed across the country, the urgency of figuring out how to do more out of this footprint is becoming more pronounced."

Mallard says they are looking at ways to further stretch the production day. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Mallard is hoping beef prices will remain stable on the Island — and in the Maritimes — as consumer habits shift from restaurants to grocery stores.

He said they are doing all they can to meet the increased demand.

"We have, sort of, a moral obligation to try and keep the food chain supplied here as best we can," Mallard said.

"We may not be able to supply the whole country from this plant, but the priority is for us to continue to buy cattle from local producers."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.

  • Cough.

  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I. 

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown


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