The price of chicken and pork is likely to rise as a result of the current CO2 shortage, as industry figures warn the UK faces an “almost unprecedented” situation that could see a lack of staples such as meat, bread and salad.
Trade bodies said some supermarkets could have empty shelves by the end of the week, with most companies running on just a few days’ worth of stock.
A spokesperson for the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said the shortage will particularly affect pork and chicken “because those are the two species where CO2 is used in the full process”.
Carbon dioxide is used to stun animals for slaughter and in the food packaging process.
However, a shortage has emerged after production was paused at two fertiliser factories in northern England last week because of the rising price of natural gas.
Fertiliser plants play a crucial role in the production of carbon dioxide. The two factories in Cheshire and Teesside are responsible for 60 per cent of Britain’s CO2 supply.
“Without CO2 they literally cannot process any animals. There’s not another way of adjusting production, because factories are just set up to use CO2,” the BMPA spokesperson told i.
They added: “The prices of meat are probably going to be going up, and there will be shortages if we can’t get supplies of CO2 really, really quickly.
“Every day [companies] are depleting the stores that they’ve got, and most of the companies have only got a few days of stock.
“And it’s not just pork and chicken — CO2 is used throughout the meat industry. So everything else is going to be affected because it’s used in the packaging as well. There will certainly be more waste and shorter shelf life of products.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is set to update the House of Commons on the situation on Monday afternoon.
It comes after discussions on Sunday with Tony Will, chief executive of fertiliser company CF Industries Holdings, failed to produce a timeline for restarting production at the two UK plants.
Leading figures in the food sector have warned that time is running out to find a solution to the crisis, with supply chains already under pressure from labour shortages and a lack of HGV drivers.
“It’s the perfect storm… If supplies don’t get through from elsewhere, anything to do with pork and anything to do with chicken – there will be shortages of those,” the BMPA spokesperson told i.
“There will be less products available and, essentially, we’ll see price rises as well because there are other factors involved such as wage inflation and the labour shortage.”
They added that meat processing plants could be forced to stop production in “anywhere from one day to five days” depending on individual CO2 supplies.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said the carbon dioxide problem would have “serious consequences on the UK’s food and drink supply chain”, with shortages expected across some food products “very soon”.
“While there is no danger of us running out of food or drink, we will see the impact of this on UK shop shelves and in hospitality very soon,” he said. “Sudden and unpredictable changes to availability are very likely.”
A previous CO2 shortage in 2018 saw a beer drought during the football World Cup and forced bakery giant Warburtons to pause production of crumpets.
However, industry figures have warned that the current crisis will likely be “much worse”.
While the last shortage was largely the result of temporary shutdowns for maintenance, there are currently no plans to resume CO2 production at the two plants.
A spokesperson for the British Poultry Council (BPC) said farmers might soon be forced to cull millions of animals if slaughterhouses halt production as a result of the crisis.
“If birds can’t be slaughtered, they must be kept on farm. Then there’s going to be the potential for welfare issues to arise, so to avoid that flocks can be culled,” they said. “They don’t enter the food chain, and so there’s an issue of food waste
Asked how many animals this might affect, the spokesperson told i: “I don’t have a number on that off the bat. But we do process 20 million birds a week.”
A spokesperson for the BMPA added that it would be farmers who would shoulder the cost of culling animals.
“According to the Government, it’s actually the farmers’ issue, so they’ll have to find someone to come onto the farm and humanely cull the pigs and chickens. Then they’ve got to find somebody else to take it away.
“So not only can they not sell the animals, they’re going to have to pay to have them dealt with,” they said. “It really would be almost unprecedented.”Internet Explorer Channel Network