Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Meat industry planning for Omicron

Silver Fern Farms is preparing for the imminent arrival of the covid Omicron variant, but says it is business as usual.

Absenteeism rates of 30-40% has impacted workforces overseas where the virus is in the community, which SFF chief executive Simon Limmer warns is a significant risk for meat processors.

Silver Fern Farms is preparing for the imminent arrival of the covid Omicron variant, but says it is business as usual.

With the Government this week elevating its covid response, SFF chief executive Simon Limmer says it has introduced additional testing of staff, extended the use of personal protective equipment and hygiene protocols, including physical distancing and protective screens.

“While we’re expecting SFF won’t be immune to the impacts of Omicron being experienced offshore, we have started planning early,” Limmer said.

“We’re drawing on the range of protocols and controls developed through our experience managing covid to date, which will help us to minimise any disruption,” he says.

Absenteeism rates of 30-40% has impacted workforces overseas where the virus is in the community, which Limmer warns is a significant risk for meat processors.

“This will present challenges with our workforce being around 550 workers short already,” he said.

“As we are constrained by the historic low unemployment rate here, we’ve been asking the Government to reconsider giving good employers access to overseas workers to support the performance of the overall New Zealand economy.”

Limmer says SFF has been one of about 30 businesses trialling the use of rapid antigen testing, which will be another testing tool.

SFF’s nationwide plant network will enable stock to be shifted between plants as Omicron moves around the country.

“Our focus will be moving animals off-farm, although at times this may come at the expense of value,” he said.

“Our priority will be our fully shared and valued suppliers, as well as prioritising areas with animal welfare risk.”

Moving the covid response to the red traffic light setting means new rules for stock sales in sale yards and on-farm.

A maximum of 100 people are allowed within the defined selling area, all attendees must have a valid vaccine pass and masks are encouraged to be worn if people are unable to stay one metre apart, excluding the auctioneer.

Given these restrictions, stock firms are asking that only one purchaser representative per farm attend the sale.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says more than 5785 (82%) border workers eligible for a booster vaccination at six months have received it so far.

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