By Ana Mano
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian food processor BRF SA confirmed it has made wearing a face mask "optional" at its Carambei chicken plant starting Sunday, according to a statement sent to Reuters on Tuesday.
The move had been detailed in an internal memo seen by Reuters earlier.
The company said the plan reflects an improvement in COVID-19 indicators in Brazil, a high rate of employees with a complete vaccination cycle, and recommendations from health authorities.
Other major meatpackers in Brazil have not changed their worker protection policies yet.
JBS SA, the world's largest meat producer, told Reuters it is keeping mask requirements at its units as part of its COVID prevention protocol. Beef processors Minerva and Marfrig said the same in separate statements.
Aurora, a privately-owned pork and poultry processor, is maintaining mask use "at its main plants as these are units that export to countries that require it."
China, which has selectively banned meat plants in Brazil and other countries over COVID concerns since the start of the pandemic, continues to enforce strict measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
BRF's Carambei plant is authorized to export chicken products to Hong Kong, Egypt and South Africa, among others, according to the Brazilian Agriculture Ministry's website.
The use of face masks in Carambei will continue to be mandatory for workers in risk groups, including over 60-year-olds or immunosuppressed individuals, BRF said.
Suspending mandatory use of face masks would be in line with an amended national agreement signed between the company and labor prosecutors relative to COVID protocols, according to the Carambei labor union, which cited information from BRF.
The labor prosecutor's office in Parana deferred questions to labor prosecutors in neighboring Santa Catarina state, which did not return a request for comment.
When COVID-19 infections started to ravage Brazilian meat plants in 2020, some companies, including BRF, signed agreements with labor prosecutors in different states aimed at improving on-site worker protections.
(Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Brad Haynes, Bernadette Baum and Bernard Orr)