Food shortages ‘by end of week' as CO2 crisis grows

© Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images The British Retail Consortium, which represents the major chains, said it expected to see food shortages within days – Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Shoppers face a shortage of meat and even ready-made pizzas long before Christmas if the carbon dioxide crisis continues, supermarket bosses and producers wanted on Monday.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the major chains, said it expected to see food shortages by the end of the week, while pork suppliers warned of “farmageddon” within 10 days. 

Pig farmers have threatened to slaughter animals on their land for render because of a growing backlog at abattoirs and processing plants.

The boss of Iceland said he expected supermarket shelves to begin to empty in the “coming days” as shortages of carbon dioxide, compounded by a lack of haulage drivers, hit the high street.

Richard Walker said: “This is no longer about whether or not Christmas will be ok – it’s about keeping the wheels turning and the lights on so we can actually get to Christmas. This could become a problem over the coming days and weeks, so this is not an issue that’s months away.”

Carbon dioxide has a variety of critical uses in the food and drink industry, including putting fizz into beer, stunning and killing animals for meat and in packaging to lengthen the shelf life of fresh foods.

But the UK has been hit by a shortage as a consequence of the closure of two fertiliser plants, which manufactured the gas in vast quantities as a by-product. The plants, which made about 60 per cent of the UK’s carbon dioxide supply, ceased production after the spike in gas prices made them uneconomical to run.

The National Pig Association (NPA) said there were already 100,000 pigs awaiting slaughter at abattoirs due to a shortage of labour and now of carbon dioxide.  If the backlog gets any bigger, pigs will have to be slaughtered on the farm and cannot then be put into the food chain.

Rob Mutimer, the NPA chairman, said: “If the situation doesn’t change, it’s going to spiral completely out of control. And the only endgame there is we as farmers are going to end up slaughtering our livestock, not for the food chain but to put them into rendering, to dispose of carcasses like what happened in foot and mouth.”

David Limpars, the NPA’s technical operations director, said the industry was facing “farmageddon” within 10 working days, with fresh meat, including sausages and pork chops, the first to disappear from supermarket shelves.

A spokesman for the British Poultry Council said: “We hope we don’t see any shortages, but if CO2 supplies become tighter we will see evidence of that in the next week. 

“Christmas will be affected by this. We know CO2 demand increases across the board [in the run-up to Christmas], so that is quite an issue. We will see chicken and turkey shortages unless something dramatic happens.”

Meanwhile, one supermarket chain said that products such as ready-made pizzas could be at risk if the issues were not resolved swiftly, as processed cheese is already being disrupted. 

Separately, the owner of Tango, 7UP and Mountain Dew, which also makes and distributes Pepsi and Pepsi Max, is already looking to source additional gas from alternative suppliers.

Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Important parts of the food and drink supply chain – already under significant pressure from the impacts of labour shortages – are now seriously compromised by disruptions in the supply of CO2. 

“Two thirds of the CO2 volume that normally supplies the food and drink industry is now not available following the suspension of manufacturing by key producers.”

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