UK food producers' voice concern over shortage of CO2

A shortage of CO2 could threaten food supplies this Christmas, industry groups have warned
A shortage of CO2 could threaten food supplies this Christmas, industry groups have warned

The ongoing shortages of CO2 in the UK could have 'enormous knock-on effects' for the supply of food this Christmas, industry groups have warned.

A sharp increase in gas prices has caused two fertiliser plants in Cheshire and Teeside which produce CO2 as a by-product to close, impacting supply in the food chain.

Tony Will, chief executive of CF Industries, a US firm which owns the plants, held crisis talks with the government over the weekend.

There is a priority list for CO2 users in an emergency – including nuclear power, healthcare, and livestock production.

For the livestock sector, it uses the gas in the slaughter process, packaging, and chilling stages of meat production.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) warned that if any of those stages were slowed or interrupted then the supply of meat would be put to a halt.

The trade body added that the combination of existing labour shortages was 'compounding' the problem.

"The lack of CO2 could have enormous knock-on effects for crucial industries," the BPC warned.

"It is one of those things that nobody thinks about until the lack of it threatens to undermine UK food security, and so here we are.

"We have dealt with CO2 shortages before, but this feels different. We need ministers to recognise the national interest here and step in to help, because the risk of food shortages should be unthinkable.

"A commitment has been made at the highest levels of government to ‘save Christmas’ and it has to start here and now."

Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said a shortage of both CO2 and workers would affect the supply of turkeys this Christmas.

"The supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys this Christmas was already compromised as I need to find 1,000 extra workers to process supplies. Now with no CO2 supply, Christmas will be cancelled," he warned.

"The CO2 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does - that's poultry, beef, pork, as well as the wider food industry.

"Without CO2, the bottom line is there is less throughput and with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge."

However, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who met with several industry leaders over the weekend, said there was no 'cause for immediate concern' over the supply of gas.

"The UK benefits from having a diverse range of gas supply sources, with sufficient capacity to more than meet demand," he said.

"The UK’s gas system continues to operate reliably and we do not expect supply emergencies this winter."

A spokesperson for CF Industries said it did not "have an estimate for when production will resume".