German meatpacker Tönnies suspends operations following COVID-19 outbreak
18 Jun 2020 --- The COVID-19 pandemic has left a wide-sweeping mark on the global meatpacking sector, with the Germany-based Tönnies Group’s plant being the latest in a string of slaughterhouse outbreaks. In the coronavirus tests of the company’s Gütersloh district facility, four out of five tested positive. This has prompted the immediate closure of Tönnies’s facility for an indefinite period.
Crisis team leader Thomas Kuhlbusch called a coronavirus crisis team immediately on Wednesday morning. Employees of the Tönnies Gütersloh district plant, with the support of the German Red Cross (DRK) and the Malteser Hilfsdienst (MHD), took 1,050 samples on the company's premises on Tuesday. Through the course of that morning, 20 more individuals tested positive for the virus. There are currently 983 results, of which 657 are positive. Further positive results are expected by German officials.
During crisis meeting, measures were defined to immediately minimize the risk of the virus spreading. Among these terms, the district of Gütersloh has ordered the Tönnies company to close the slaughterhouse. In addition, further production in the affected companies on the premises of the Tönnies group at the Rheda-Wiedenbrück site will be suspended immediately.
Shortly after the outbreak, German Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann ordered the re-testing of all slaughterhouse employees in North Rhine-Westphalia. Sven-Georg Adenauer, District Administrator at Gütersloh, hypothesized that the virus may have been spread from workers returning from trips abroad as European border controls were relaxed in recent weeks. All 6,800 workers at the Tönnies facility had been tested four weeks ago as a precaution and only eight were positive.
In the days before the closures, tests by the company and resident doctors had noticed an upsurge of COVID-19 positive Tönnies employees and subcontractors. This had prompted the district to test, on short notice, all persons who worked on June 16 in pork and beef facilities, as well as canteen staff. So far, around 400 positive laboratory results have been obtained from this series test.
The laboratory results primarily concern workers in the Gütersloh district. As far as people in other districts and independent cities (such as the districts of Warendorf, Paderborn, Soest etc.) are concerned, the responsible health authorities have been informed at short notice following the company’s crisis talks.
FoodIngredientsFirst has reached out to Tönnies for further comment.
Global meat sector impacted
This latest outbreak at the Tönnies facility is among the largest in Germany, while more than 1,000 workers at European abattoirs have also tested positive for COVID-19 as slaughterhouses in Ireland and the UK have also seen outbreaks in recent months.
Since the onset of the pandemic, livestock and dairy sectors have seen sunken demand due to ubiquitous lockdown measures. European agri-food representatives have previously spoken out about “deteriorating” market conditions. Producers and their cooperatives have demanded urgent action from the European Commission including calls for extraordinary measures to mitigate the crisis emerging within the agri-food industry.
Meanwhile, amid escalating fears of a potential meat shortage in the US, the nation’s Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented an Executive Order issued by President Trump to make sure meat and poultry factories around the country stay open, despite widespread concerns over the spread of coronavirus within the compromised meat processing sector.
A spotlight on plant-based diets has widened during the coronavirus period, with animal meat and dairy alternatives expected by industry stakeholders to help mitigate future zoonotic pandemics. According to dairy alternative producer Edlong, COVID-19 may stand to further drive creativity and NPD in plant-based space.
For more pandemic-related industry updates, readers can visit our new daily news feed entitled “COVID-19 updates” for relevant insights needed to guide your business through this challenging period.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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