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FOOD SUPPLY: Mexico Keeps Migrant Workers Home as Virus Rises on Canada Farms


Move comes after hundreds of farm workers fall ill from virus | Fewer workers could be ‘huge problem’ for Canadian produce

By Jen Skerritt and Nacha Cattan for Bloomberg – Mexico plans to keep migrant workers from traveling to Canada amid a wave of coronavirus outbreaks on farms, threatening a labor squeeze in the northern nation’s fruit and vegetable industry as harvests start to ramp up.

There will be a “temporary pause” on migrant workers traveling to Canada while protocols and sanitary situations are reviewed, Daniel Millan, a spokesman for Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, said Tuesday in an email. The move comes amid concerns there are inadequate protections to keep workers safe from Covid-19 after two workers died and hundreds fell ill on farms in Ontario.

Canada’s CBC featured the dire living conditions of migrant farmworkers on its national news show on June 16.

“It’ll be a huge problem,” said Joelle Faulkner, chief executive officer of Area One Farms, an alternative asset management firm in Toronto. “Even places that do have enough labor for spring may not have enough labor for fall.”

Outbreaks among farm workers have been reported in Canada and the U.S., a risk for harvests just as the countries head into the peak of summer produce season. Canada’s fruit and vegetable industry is particularly reliant on migrant workers, who often come from Mexico, Jamaica and Guatemala to plant, tend and harvest crops. More than 60,000 workers help do everything from prune apples trees to plant asparagus.

Asparagus field. Farm worker. Harvester truck
At least 164 Mexican farmworkers became infected with COVID-19 temporarily halting the harvesting of asparagus at on major Ontario farm

Travel disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic have already delayed some migrants arriving to work on farms and as much half of Ontario’s asparagus crop did not get harvested due to the labor shortage.

“Consumers will see that either in a shortage of Canadian produce on the shelves or the price,” said Rebecca Lee, executive director of the Canadian Horticultural Council.

Canadian industry has been told by Mexican officials that the country intends to keep workers from traveling only to farms that have been affected by outbreaks, Lee said. It’s difficult to estimate how many of those farms may have been expecting more workers, she said.

There are at least three major outbreaks in Ontario with more than 280 confirmed Covid-19 cases, according to a report from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. Two migrant workers from Mexico died of Covid-19 after working on farms in Windsor, Ontario, according to the group.

“It’s not a shortage, it’s not a supply. It’s people and they’re dying,”

“It’s not a shortage, it’s not a supply. It’s people and they’re dying,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change in Toronto, which is pushing for permanent resident status for all migrant workers so they can walk away from unsafe work.

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