JBS invests $19-million in safety measures amid COVID-19 pandemic

Sao Paulo | Reuters –Brazilian food processor JBS SA has invested more than 100 million reais ($19.3 million) in health, safety and contingency measures at all its Brazilian production units, according to a Wednesday company statement that comes as the novel coronavirus continues to ravage local meat plants.

The company said the funds were invested in dozens of actions in the last three months, which included hiring new health professionals, increasing the bus fleet to transport workers to and from plants and acquiring 180,000 face shields for employees.

The measures cover the company’s 135 production units, distribution centers, offices and other facilities in the country, where it employs 130,000 people, it said.

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JBS has suffered a string of COVID-19 outbreaks at plants in states, including Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Rondônia, which have threatened its exports.

After the pandemic started, Chinese authorities blocked imports from Brazilian meat plants as a preventative measure against the virus, including a JBS chicken facility and a JBS pork facility in southern Brazil.

Currently, there are a total of six Brazilian meat plants blocked by Chinese authorities over coronavirus concerns, including two owned by BRF <BRF S.A> and one by Marfrig .

To ensure the implementation and effectiveness of these measures, JBS said it has been conducting periodic audits of all its operating units, the statement said.

Brazilian labor prosecutors have tried to negotiate additional protection for JBS employees, urging mass testing and physical distancing among production line workers. JBS has repeatedly defended its own safety protocols.

JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, also said it hired more than 10,000 people in Brazil between March and June, to replace at-risk employees who are sheltering at home after being suspended with pay. This group includes pregnant women, people over 60 years of age and indigenous employees.

($1 = 5.18 reais)

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