Olymel closed pending test results
A security guard patrols the north gate at the Red Deer Olymel plant in the Riverside industrial area on Tuesday. The plant was closed Monday due to an animal health situation on the site.
Updated: January 03, 2011 1:31 PM
Operations at the Olymel hog processing plant in Red Deer could resume today, depending on test results, says a spokesman from the company’s head office.
Richard Vigneault, based in Montreal, said that as of Tuesday afternoon, Olymel was still waiting for results from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab in Winnipeg.
The Red Deer plant was shut down on Monday morning after CFIA inspectors found lesions on a load of hogs from a farm in Saskatchewan, said Jim Haggins, chairman of Alberta Pork.
Preliminary tests performed at the provincial lab in Edmonton on Monday ruled out foot and mouth disease, a deadly and highly virulent disease affecting cloven-hoofed animals, Haggins said on Tuesday.
But the plant remained closed pending further results from the Winnipeg lab.
While there is no confirmation of what caused the lesions, Haggins said there have been incidents of Seneca virus in Manitoba and the United States. Seneca virus produces lesions similar to foot and mouth disease, but without the disastrous results.
Deadly and highly communicable, foot and mouth disease caused billions of dollars in damages, including the destruction of thousands of cattle, sheep and pigs during outbreaks in the United Kingdom in 2001 and again in 2007.
As a precaution, Olymel employees’ boots were disinfected before they were allowed to leave the plant on Monday and all vehicles were disinfected before leaving the parking lot.
All buildings on the site are being sanitized, including Olymel and the adjoining facilities operated by Western Hog Exchange, said Haggins.
Union representative Albert Johnson said the plant’s 1,300 unionized workers were told to report for work this morning and that they would be advised at that time whether or not their shift would resume.
Workers will lose some money because of the shutdown, but the amount will be minimal because they have a weekly guarantee, said Johnson, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers local representing Olymel workers.
Haggins said truckloads of pigs destined for the Red Deer plant on Monday were diverted to Western Hog Exchange assembly yards in Balzac and Morinville.
Hogs could not be returned to their home farms, some as far away as Manitoba, because of the potential for introducing new pathogens picked up while they were in transit.
Having the assembly yards available to look after the animals meant there were no animal welfare issues, said Haggins. Problems could arise, especially on a hot, sunny day, if the trucks could not keep moving until the animals were safely unloaded, he said.
Had there not been other options available, the truckers would have kept driving around to maintain ventilation in the trailers to keep the animals comfortable, said Haggins.
He credits a livestock identification and traceability system now under development with aiding the CFIA in its efforts to track the suspect hogs back to their home farm and locate any other livestock with which they may have had contact.