06/26/2013 01:12 EDT | Updated 08/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta Floods Force Largest Canadian Beef Plant To Stop Slaughtering Cattle

HIGH RIVER, Alta. - Flooding in southern Alberta has forced the largest beef plant in Canada to stop slaughtering cattle.

Cargill Ltd.'s facility outside High River depends on large volumes of clean water from the town's treatment plant, which hasn't been working since floods heavily damaged the community.

Brigitte Burgoyne, a company spokeswoman, said the meat packer stopped slaughtering cattle last Thursday and won't be able to resume until High River's water plant is fixed.

"We are hoping to get the process up and running in the next week or so, but we still don't have a clear date as to when that will be," Burgoyne said Wednesday.

"Due to the nature of this natural flood disaster, decisions related to the resumption of beef production are going to be made on a day-to-day basis until we are back in full operation."

Cargill said on Wednesday afternoon its 2,000 union and non-union workers were to finish packaging the meat slaughtered before the plant was closed. No one has been laid off.

Peter Frost of the United Food and Commercial Workers union is one of more than 350 Cargill workers who live in High River and have been out of their homes since last week when water from the raging Highwood River engulfed most of the town.

He said it has been difficult and frustrating for workers worrying about their homes and their jobs, but people remain upbeat.

"Their spirits are high and I am very proud of them," said Frost, who is secretary treasurer of UFCW local 1118.

"We are hopeful that there is progress in regards to the flooding and that we can get back to full production as soon as possible."

Cargill said it is increasing beef production at its other plants in Ontario and the United States.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association said the Cargill shutdown shouldn't pose big problems for the beef industry unless it lasts for more than 10 days.

The floods have prompted some feedlots that supply the beef plant to delay buying cattle from producers.

John Masswohl, an association spokesman, said producers he has spoken with have been told by Cargill to keep their cattle at their ranches for the time being.

"If they (Cargill) could get it going by the end of this week or early next week the impact shouldn't be that huge in the short-term," Masswohl said.

Producers also have the option of trying to sell their cattle to the JBS Food Canada plant in Brooks, Alta.

Cargill said its plant near High River hasn't been damaged by flood waters and the facility is being used as a drop-off point for flood relief donations.

— By John Cotter in Edmonton

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