About 20 activists gathered outside the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., on Saturday, protesting working conditions they call unsafe and exploitative because of the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
Organizers wanted to stand in solidarity with workers and “pay respects to livestock animals who are in the last hours of their lives.”
“This is absolutely unacceptable in that slaughterhouses are not essential,” said Trev Miller, a spokesperson for Calgary Vegan Activists.
As of Saturday, the Cargill outbreak had 953 COVID-19 cases in total: 946 recovered, five active cases and two deaths, according to Alberta Health.
Miller said his group is asking Cargill to pivot towards plant-based meals.
“They already have a line of plant-based products,” he said. “We’re just asking them to retrain the workers so that that’s what they’re producing exclusively.”
The protesters’ concerns stem from the fact that COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to people.
“Anywhere that there’s a slaughterhouse or intensive feeding operation, there is the chance for a future zoonotic outbreak,” Miller said.
In addition to health concerns, the group is worried about the environment and sustainability.
“Stopping subsidies to animal agriculture could be the silver bullet that helps against the climate emergency,” he said.
In a statement to Global News, Cargill said it is committed to keeping employees safe, feeding the world and ensuring farmers and ranchers have access to markets, all of which “requires tremendous care.”
“We have a 155-year history of nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way and our people will continue to carry out that essential work safely,” a Cargill spokesperson said.
The company said it works hard to “ensure animals are treated with respect and dignity.”
“We do not tolerate abusive behaviour directed at animals by employees, suppliers or others in our supply chains,” Cargill said.
“The humane treatment and respectful handling of animals is not only the right thing to do, [but it is also] critical to our business success. Our aim is to produce enough protein so that people can eat in a way that aligns with their food values.”