The Ontario government, in partnership with the agri-food industry, has developed a comprehensive strategy to prevent COVID-19 transmission and protect workers and the province’s food supply chain ahead of next year’s growing season.
Details of the strategy were announced, Monday, November 16th, by Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Our government understands the impact COVID-19 outbreaks have had on farm workers, farms, greenhouses and agri-businesses,” said Minister Hardeman. “Ontario’s agri-food sector has worked hard to address a difficult situation and our new strategy will help them to be even more effective in controlling this pandemic, protect our food supply chain and keep workers safe.”
Earlier this summer, Minister Hardeman established a sector leadership group, composed of representatives from the agricultural industry, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, to establish best practices and actions for the prevention and control of COVID-19 transmission in the agriculture and horticulture sector, particularly on farms. Immediate actions were taken by the leadership group, to advise on best practices, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on farms while a more comprehensive strategy was developed for the 2021 growing season.
The resulting joint government-industry Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for COVID-19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers, provides guiding principles and actions on how to ensure enhanced prevention and control on farm operations, farm worker safety and wellness, and maintaining the sustainability and viability of the agri-food sector.
The strategy is founded on three pillars related to prevention and containment: before getting on the farm, on the farm, and farm worker housing. It contains 35 actions and recognizes that all partners, governments at all levels, stakeholder organizations, farmers and workers, have a role to play in preventing and controlling COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.
The strategy will support a sustained effort and longer-term planning, to ensure Ontario has the tools needed to protect workers and prevent outbreaks in agri-food workplaces, going forward. Partners have already started implementing many of the actions in the strategy. “One of agriculture’s most valuable assets is our workforce,” stated Keith Currie, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “We respect and appreciate the efforts of the government, industry stakeholders and farm employers to protect the health and safety of our workers. It is our top priority, and by taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 on farms, the agri-food sector can focus on maintaining a strong and reliable food value chain for all Ontarians.”
“The health and safety of farm workers is top priority for fruit and vegetable growers,” said Bill George, Chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, growers have made substantial efforts to adapt their farms to protect workers from the risks presented by COVID-19. This strategy, and the commitment by the government and industry to work together, further supports the efforts of growers to protect essential farm workers and maintain domestic food production.”
“Ontario’s Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy, for COVID-19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers, demonstrates the power of collaboration between industry and government,” said George Gilvesy, Chair of the Ontario Greenhouse Growers’ Association. “The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have required extraordinary efforts, from everyone in government and across our sector, today’s announcement is a further demonstration that we are all rising to this challenge. We remain united in our unbreakable obligation to protect the health and well-being of our employees and appreciate the ongoing partnership with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the continued support of the Ministry and the commitment of our members.”
Minister Hardeman also recognized the proactive work that farmers and food processors across Ontario have undertaken to date, implementing prevention and control measures in the workplace to protect their workers. These efforts help reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Today’s announcement follows up on previous actions to control outbreaks including:
A”one stop shop” toolkit for farmers on guidance, resources and information, related to prevention, control, testing and outbreak management supports;
Proactive testing for farm workers, in the form of $26.6 million in funding to support on-farm health and safety measures, through the Agri-food Workplace Protection program;
$25.5 million in funding over three years to help minimize COVID-19 exposure risks in the workplace and support the province’s food supply chain, through the Agri-food Prevention and Control Innovation Program;
Supporting initiatives to sustain Ontario’s agri-food supply chain and helping to ensure it is responsive to challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as weather and market fluctuations;
Proactive inspections to farming operations;
Improving data sharing between Ontario and its partners, to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in affected communities.