Behind the scenes of Department of Agriculture efforts to introduce rapid Covid-19 testing at meat processing plants

The Department of Agriculture spent more than four months trying to convince public health authorities of the merits of introducing rapid Covid-19 testing for workers at meat processing plants.

However, they were met with “negative sentiments” and a “continued unexplained reluctance” to endorse their plans to try and tackle outbreaks in the meat industry, according to internal records.

The Department had been involved in a pilot study of a factory last year, which found particularly high risks of infection in areas where meat was cut.

It discovered that 60 of the 100 workers who tested positive for Covid-19 had been working shifts in the boning hall where chilled air was being recirculated to keep conditions cool for food hygiene reasons.

As part of its recommendations, the report said the possibility of introducing rapid testing for meat processing plants should be considered.

Internal records reveal how the department began writing to the HSE as last September recommending “mass testing of the workforce in food businesses”.