FEARS of red meat shortages on southern supermarket shelves as more cases of COVID-19 are detected in abattoir and processing facilities have been played down by industry leaders keen to avert another episode of panic buying.
Victoria's largest abattoir, JBS' Brooklyn plant near the Port of Melbourne, has shut down. Yesterday, COVID testing on all staff was initiated, following a directive from Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services.
Five staff have now returned positive tests.
A single case has also been confirmed at the Lipton Drive, Thomastown, site of family-owned retailing and processing business Pacific Meat Sales and the company has opted to voluntarily shut down operations.
Pacific Meats is not an abattoir but further breaks down carcases into specific portions and packages beef, lamb, pork and veal for various brands. It also runs another site in Norwich Avenue, where it is business as usual.
The JBS plant is a multi-species operation with a daily capacity of 1,400 head of cattle and 8,200 head of small stock. It employees more than 1200 workers.
It is a major southern red meat processing plant but there are multiple facilities serving supermarkets in Victoria, general manager processing group at the Australian Meat Industry Council Mary Wu said.
Australia's red meat processing sector was an agile, flexible and highly professional industry which will be capable of providing all Australians with ongoing supplies of meat, she said.
"As an industry, we have shown we can step up to the mark and ensure no food shortages. During the first wave of the pandemic, there was a 30 per cent surge in retail red meat sales and the industry was able to meet that demand.
"Australia exports 70 per cent of the beef it produces. If the demand is here, beef is sold locally first.
"There is no shortage of red meat being produced in Australia."
Ms Wu said the processing sector was well-prepared in terms of on-site COVID management, with extensive measures in place since March.
"We will continue to produce an essential product through the current challenges," she said.
JBS' head of corporate and regulatory John Berry said the company's priority has been the safety of its people and ensuring effective communication with its people, customers and suppliers.
The United Workers Union has called for all abattoir employees to be paid pandemic leave for the duration of the shutdown.
JBS says it is operating in accordance with Victorian Government directives and workers affected by the Government's directive will receive their lawful entitlements.
In a statement, Pacific Meats said the health and safety of staff, customers, suppliers and community was also its top priority.
"We have in place a series of stringent and detailed protocols that closely follow the strict guidance of the Victorian DHHS to manage the risk of COVID-19 in our operations," the statement said.
Exceptionally high standards were in place throughout facilities, including daily deep sanitation of the sites, thermal imaging cameras to check the temperature of all staff and all production employees wearing personal protective equipment including masks.