windling Co2 supplies is a structural vulnerability affecting the UK’s food security, industry leaders have warned. The British meat industry has said food and drink businesses could grind to a halt.
Soaring gas prices have led European chemical factories to slow production, and some factories have closed. Carbon dioxide is a by-product of the chemical industry, used to stun animals before slaughter, and in vacuum-sealed meat packs sold by retailers, as well as beer and fizzy drinks.
Farmers may be forced to cull animals because of the backlog it’s causing at abattoirs.
Norway-based chemicals company Yara International will reduce ammonia production across Europe by 40 per cent, blaming record gas prices for affecting its profit margins.
US company CF Industries shut its plants in Billingham in Teesside and Ince in Cheshire, which employ about 600 workers.
Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association said, “This crisis highlights the fact that the British food supply chain is at the mercy of a small number of major fertiliser producers, four or five companies, spread across northern Europe.
“The Co2 market is opaque – we’ve had zero warning”
“We rely on a by-product from their production process to keep Britain’s food chain moving.”
He said the Co2 market is opaque and it’s not known exactly how much European Co2 the British food industry relies on, or how much is in the system at any one time, adding, “We’ve had zero warning of the planned closure of the fertiliser plants in Ince and Stockton-on-Tees and, as a result, it’s plunged the industry into chaos.”
He called on the government to demand that Co2 manufacturers coordinate to minimise disruption, “and provide information to Britain’s businesses so contingency plans can be made.”
Richard Griffiths, Chief Executive of the British Poultry Council said, “We use Co2 in the slaughter process, packaging, and chilling stages of poultry meat production. If any of those stages is slowed or interrupted then so is the food supply, it really is as simple as that.
“In the UK we produce 20 million chickens every week and it is a key part of both retail and food service. We have recently seen the effects of labour shortages have had on parts of the hospitality sector, and this new crisis will only compound the problem.”
“We are operating in a framework that’s complete madness”
The impact of increasing energy costs was highlighted in July by Ranjit Singh Boparan, founder and president at 2 Sisters Food Group, one of the UK biggest food producers.
He warned of bare supermarket shelves unless critical issues currently threatening UK food supply were solved, saying, “We are operating in a framework that’s complete madness and the government needs calling out for sticking their heads in the sand.”
He said Brexit had acutely reduced available workers across the food sector. 2 Sisters had a 15 per cent labour shortage in its 6,000-strong workforce – most of whom are in chicken and ready meal production.
Animal feed inflation was at an eight-year high, wheat, soya and other components had risen by more than 50 per cent and energy costs were up by 30 per cent.
He said Brexit had not been a success, adding, “These are unique, era-defining challenges. This cannot be sustained indefinitely.
“Producers are losing around £25 on every pig this year”
“I can see if no support is forthcoming – and urgently – from government, then shelves will be empty, food waste will rocket simply because it cannot be processed, or delivered, and the shortages we saw last year will be peanuts in comparison to what could come.”
National Pig Association members have said that they are facing the worst crisis in 25 years with producers losing, on average, around £25 on every pig this year.
As abattoirs are unable to process pigs, they continue to back up on farms in large numbers, leaving producers fearing for the welfare of their animals.
Processor representatives say they are unable to fill thousands of vacancies, despite extensive efforts to recruit local people, make the roles more attractive, and to bring in more workers from outside Europe. Butchers and drivers were in particularly short supply.
There were no signs of the staffing issues easing.