COVID's painful impact

COVID's painful impact

Horace Hines

Monday, January 25, 2021

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When the tourism industry collapsed in the wake of the global spread of the novel coronavirus last year, the economic wheels of a number of suppliers to the sector also came to a grinding halt.

Campbell's Egg Farm was one of the leading suppliers of table eggs to the hospitality sector, and with the closure of hotels, there was a pile up of more than 36,000 eggs in boxes in storage in one of the three cold rooms on the farm.

Faced with a loss of up to $100 million, Mark Campbell, the chief executive officer of Campbell's Egg Farm, was left with no other option than to slaughter most of his 38,000 chickens which he buried in a large grave at the rear of the property.

As I got wind of the developing story, I prepared to venture out to the farm, located on Carib Road in Trelawny.

I was fully compliant with the COVID-19 protocols established by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which were frequently underscored by the Jamaica Observer media managers.

Upon my arrival at the farm in April 2020, even with a face mask in place, I was greeted with a stench, normally associated with putrid flesh. As I drew closer, the obnoxious odour, which I later discovered was emanating from the grave of the dead birds, became much stronger.

Escorted around the property by the militant-looking Campbell, attired in his conventional khaki suit, I could not avoid getting the chills as I spotted the grim-faced workers, tasked with disposing the birds, making trip after trip, pushing wheelbarrows loads of the lifeless birds to be dumped into the large burial site.

It forcibly drove home the reality that the scores of barely immobile hens sprawled on the ground which grabbed my attention when I first arrived at the farm, were proverbial lambs to the slaughter, awaiting their turn to be dumped.

Still freshly etched in my memory is the high pile of dead birds, some bloodied, that I saw building up in the huge hole.

As I continued to steel up all the courage to maintain my composure after witnessing the heart-rending disposal of the birds, I realised that it was also devastating the towering Campbell, as his voice cracked up when he expressed hope that God would forgive him for the dumping of his birds.

He was quick to note that even after giving away hundreds and selling others, way below cost; he still had too many on his hands and he could no longer afford to maintain them.

I became further shaken when his voice began to quiver as he bemoaned that up to that point, the birds were producing up to their expectation, but as a result of the spread of COVID-19, he had to get rid of them.

Campbell could hardly contain his pain, ruing how difficult it was for him to witness some of his workers, who stayed on the property, but who he had to lay off; loading their possessions in taxis in preparation to head to their permanent houses.

Even though the spread of COVID-19 continued, the exposure of the egg farmer's plight by the Observer West and other media outlets evoked strong responses from the Government and members of the public, who provided wholesale and retail markets for the table eggs.

This prevented a planned move by the egg farmer to also dump the majority of the 36,000 unsold eggs in a bid to avoid any further of expenses associated with electricity cost to store them.

The domestic market which opened halted the destruction of the chickens and brought solace, to the egg farmer and this reporter who witnessed first-hand the economic ravage of COVID-19, last year.

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