UK CO2 shortages “could cancel Christmas”, says Bernard Matthews boss

UK CO2 shortages “could cancel Christmas”, says Bernard Matthews boss

Bernard Matthews boss Ranjit Singh Boparan has voiced concerns over the current gas shortages, warning that the crisis could jeopardise food supplies unless the government intervenes.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also spoken out about the current CO2 shortages, warning of massive disruption to the supply chain when stocks of the gas run out in less than 14 days.

It is reported by the British Poultry Council (BPC) that on 16th September the owner of fertiliser plants at Billingham and Ince, CF Fertilisers, took a commercial decision to stop production due to rising wholesale prices of natural gas. CO2 is a by-product of fertiliser production, and according to BPC these two plants provide up to 60% of UK production of CO2, so this decision has compromised that supply.

The poultry meat industry uses CO2 extensively for stunning, packaging, and refrigeration. Additionally, CO2 is used for on farm culling when this becomes necessary.

Shortage of CO2 will severely impact the production of poultry meat and compromise food supply and ultimately food security in the UK. Additionally, welfare issues are of concern if animals cannot be slaughtered as planned.

“Irresponsible and catastrophic”

Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said the decision by the US owner of two of Britain’s biggest CO2 producers to halt production is “irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector.”

He 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.”

He added: “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.”

“No CO2 means no throughput”

BPC chief executive, Richard Griffiths, said: “With fewer than 100 days to go until Christmas, and already facing mounting labour shortages, the last thing British poultry production needs is more pressure. If CO2 supplies become tighter and more unpredictable then supply chains will have to slow down. Ultimately, no CO2 means no throughput.”

Griffiths explained that CO2 “is vital for hugely important sectors such as nuclear power, healthcare, and food production.” He added that these sectors are part of a priority list for CO2 supply, and BPC are asking the government to help facilitate and financially support that prioritisation to maintain food supply and avoid bird welfare issues.

The British Poultry Council is calling on government to:

  • Prioritise CO2 supplies to poultry meat production on the grounds of maintaining food supply
    and avoiding bird welfare issues
  • Financially support (until the end of the year) the UK production of CO2 through the
    continued operation of fertiliser plants.

Griffiths went on to say that the possible effect on food supply “remains uncertain.” He added: “We are working closely with Defra and BEIS to assess stock, implement contingency plans and mitigate any major impact on a sustainable supply of food. Our members are in a knife-edge situation at the moment.”

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