UK carbon dioxide shortage could ‘cancel Christmas’, warns turkey supplier
The owner of the UK’s biggest poultry supplier has added his voice to UK food producers’ concerns over a shortage of carbon dioxide gas, saying the supply of turkeys for Christmas will be affected.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said the closure of two large fertiliser plants in Teesside and Cheshire – which produce CO2 as a byproduct – due to a sharp rise in gas prices has hit supply to the food industry, already affected by a shortage of workers.
CO2 is essential to the humane slaughter of livestock, extends the shelf life of products and is vital to cooling systems for refrigeration purposes, industry leaders have said.
Boparan 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.”
He said that “the gaps on the shelves” that he had warned about in July were “getting bigger by the day”.
Boparan continued: “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 … with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, had meetings on Saturday with major energy suppliers over the gas price rises. He said on Twitter there is no “cause for immediate concern” over the supply of gas in the UK.
Earlier in the week, Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “We urgently need the secretary of state for business to convene the big CO2 manufacturers to demand that they coordinate to minimise disruption, and provide information to Britain’s businesses so contingency plans can be made.”
Boparan said: “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.”
He added: “It is irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector. We can’t just down tools because of inflation.”
Ian Wright, the chief executive of the UK Food and Drink Federation, told BBC Radio 4 on Saturday that if the government did not intervene on gas prices, “I would have thought that the impacts would be felt probably not by this time next week, but into the week after that. And of course, that’s concerning because we’re beginning to get into the pre-Christmas supply period when warehouses begin to pick up, build up their stocks, ready for the push to Christmas a few weeks later.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware of the issues faced by some businesses and are working closely with industry to provide support and advice. We have had extensive meetings with representatives from the meat production and processing sectors, and we are continuing those conversations over the weekend.
“The UK benefits from having access to highly diverse sources of gas supply to ensure households, businesses and heavy industry get the energy they need at a fair price.”