A shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas means Christmas dinners could be cancelled, the owner of the UK’s biggest poultry supplier has said.
A steep rise in gas prices has caused two large fertiliser plants in Teesside and Cheshire which produce CO2 as a by-product to shut, hitting supply to the food industry.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said supply issues, as well as a shortage of workers, will affect the supply of turkeys for Christmas.
CO2 is used in the humane slaughter of livestock and to extend the shelf-life of products. It is also vital to cooling systems for refrigeration purposes, industry leaders have said.
“There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever before to try and recruit people to maintain food supplies, Mr Boparan said.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed since I spoke about this issue in July. In fact, I take no pleasure in pointing out that the gaps on the shelves I warned about then are getting bigger by the day.
“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.
“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.”
The UK benefits from having a diverse range of gas supply sources, with sufficient capacity to more than meet demand.
The UK’s gas system continues to operate reliably and we do not expect supply emergencies this winter. (2/7)
— Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) September 18, 2021
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who met with several industry leaders over the CO2 shortage on Saturday, said on Twitter there is no “cause for immediate concern” over the supply of gas in the UK.
Mr Boparan continued: “When poultry cannot be processed it means they must be kept on farms where there are potential implications for animal welfare, so the overall effect is welfare compromised and greatly reduced supply. Ready meals lose that vital shelf life. There is potential for massive food waste across the board.
“This is clearly a national security issue and unlike the labour supply crisis, where the Government response to our sector has been disappointing to say the least, it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“I’d like to see CO2 supplies prioritised for the food sector so UK supply can be maintained and for the Government to support these fertiliser plants who are saying they’ve switched off because of the rising price of natural gas.
“It really beggars belief when such a key infrastructure operation can arbitrarily decide to switch off the taps because of price inflation. It is irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector.
“We can’t just down tools because of inflation. In my businesses, you have to roll up your sleeves as best you can and tackle it head-on. Giving up and saying ‘inflation is too high’ is not an option.”
He added: “It’s tough enough having one hand tied behind our backs by simply not having enough people to supply food.
“With the CO2 on top of this, both hands are tied. Government need to act now or we’ll have another cancelled Christmas.”