Santa Catarina, Brazil’s largest pork-producing state and No. 2 for poultry, may scrap local rules aimed at protecting food plant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s labor prosecutors said on Wednesday, a move that would affect an estimated 480,000 meatpackers and related workers.
The Santa Catarina government and the state health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Regulation 312, enacted by the state in May, determined that Santa Catarina meatpackers should remove pregnant women and Indigenous workers from food factories while enforcing 1.5-meter (4.9-foot) minimum distancing between employees on plant premises.
Other provisions include supplying personal protective equipment, and immediately notifying suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the local health authorities.
If the regulation is revoked, meat companies in the state, which include BRF SA and JBS SA, would only have to abide with federal rules issued in June for slaughterhouses to operate amid the pandemic, prosecutors said. Critics have said those lack sufficient physical distancing and mass testing provisions, however.
Ricardo Santin, director at meat lobby group ABPA, defended the possible scrapping in an interview, saying the move would “harmonize” state and federal regulations.
“We were upset with the labor prosecutors when they claimed it would be backtracking. The federal rules were made by specialists that included health professionals,” he said.
In May, a JBS chicken plant in Santa Catarina, with about 1,500 employees, was temporarily closed after an outbreak of COVID-19.
Similar outbreaks elsewhere has led China, the main destination of Brazil’s meat exports, to stop buying products from six Brazilian plants in the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Mato Grosso.
Slaughterhouse workers are three times more likely to catch the virus than peers in other industries, Santa Catarina labor prosecutors said, citing a study conducted in neighboring Rio Grande do Sul.