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Brazil prosecutors target BRF, raise specter of meat plant closures

Brazilian state prosecutors sought to close two meat plants on Monday, raising the specter of more meat packers suspending operations because the novel coroanvirus has spread among workers and surrounding communities.

5 May 2020, at 1:23pm

Prosecutors in Rio Grande do Sul filed a lawsuit to close the plants for at least 15 days to contain the virus and protect meatpackers' employees and their families, according to a statement from the prosecutor's office.

One of the plants targeted is a processing facility operated by BRF SA in Lajeado and another plant is run by a non-listed meat-packer in the same town.

A judge has not yet ruled on the request, which follows a labor inspectors' order to close a JBS SA plant on April 24 over similar health concerns.

BRF told Reuters it had not been notified of the lawsuit.

In a statement, it reaffirmed its commitment to workers' safety by enforcing the mandatory use of masks and observance of minimum distancing between people on factory premises, among other measures.

The request to close the facilities in Lajeado, signed by Prosecutor Sérgio Diefenbach, marks another move to contain the spread of novel coronavirus at meat processing plants in Southern Brazil, home to dozens of pork and poultryslaughterhouses.

Diefenbach said the number of local coronavirus cases suggest the two plants he wants to suspend are contamination hotspots.

He said the request to shut the Lajeado plants would strengthen state and municipal measures curbing public gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus.

"What about people who spend 6-8 hours in confinement (at the plants?)," Diefenbach said.

Health authorities in Rio Grande do Sul said last week the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, has spread to at least nine meat processors in the state, including another BRF plant in Marau.

Some 16,345 people working at the meat plants in the state could have been exposed, health authorities said at the time.

In a separate ruling seen by Reuters, a labor court imposed additional health protections on behalf of workers at yet another JBS facility in Rio Grande do Sul, located in Trindade do Sul.

That plant remains open, but JBS said in a statement to Reuters it would appeal the April 30 ruling as it is in compliance with the government's health guidelines and best practices.